What can you buy for £4? A coffee and a slice of cake in Costa? A magazine? A three-hour parking ticket at your local shopping centre?
Not much, that's for sure. So how can it be possible to rig out a child in an entire outfit for school for this very sum?
Every August we start seeing the supermarkets and chain stores wheeling out their back to school advertising campaigns, and the message is the same across the board: value. Actually, more than value; price crashing, cheapness, rock-bottom prices.
Which is fine, until you start really thinking about the numbers: how can they offer complete kits for under a fiver?
A recent advert for supermarket Aldi promotes its first foray into school uniforms and it appears to have undercut the competition with its £4 outfit. A round neck jumper and a pack of two plain white shirts are priced at just £1.25 each, with trousers at £1.50.
The store says the clothes work out at a cost-per-wear of just two pence a day. They are reportedly so confident that they are the cheapest uniform retailer they will apparently drop their prices further if a cheaper alternative could be found.
Speaking to the Retail Gazette, Tony Baines, managing director of corporate buying at Aldi, said: "We guarantee to offer the lowest price school uniform set, so there is no need to go to any other supermarket."
Tesco, meanwhile, are offering a skirt in 100 per cent polyester for £1.75, 100 per cent polo shirt for 75p, and sweatshirt for £2.00 from their 'basic' range, while Asda are currently stocking schoolwear from £2.
Surely we should want to purchase the best quality we can afford to ensure our kids not only look well turned out (not something that manages to look limp, shapeless and as though it has been run up out of cheap curtain fabric on the hanger, let alone on a child) but so that we are NOT re-purchasing a pair of trousers that the knees have gone through after a couple of wears?
Or is that the point – the fact they cost less than two pounds means we don't MIND re-purchasing? Or do we even think 'it's only for school – I'd rather splash out more money on their party and special occasion clothes'?
And there's no escaping the worry that somewhere, someone is paying the price for our 'bargain' – if not exploited workers in some far flung sweatshop, then us the customer with stealth price increases elsewhere in store?
My colleague Theresa tells me she is concerned with the quality and the ethics of cheap uniform, and says that there's 'no way' that when allowing for materials, transport and overheads in store that 'everyone involved can have been paid a fair wage'.
"Plus," she says, "these are the clothes that our kids actually wear most often - we should be prepared to pay a fair price for them."
I agree with her. Admittedly, most of the stores have a statement about their sourcing, and suggest that all their products are obtained by fair means. Tesco, a founder member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), says that it has a comprehensive approach to its 'Trading Fairly' policy and extends its support of 'decent labour standards' to everything it sources for its own-label brands in UK stores.
Aldi has a 'Social Monitoring Programme' which 'focuses on suppliers in high risk commodity areas', and a spokesperson told me 'all suppliers of our Back to School range are part of Aldi UK's ethical management programme' and that they 'require our suppliers to provide third party audits from all production sites of our own label clothing, shoes, toys and home textile products', they have, they said, 'received these audits from all production sites involved in producing the Back to School range'.
Asda meanwhile claim on their website that their policy ensures that when 'customers buy from Asda/Wal-Mart they know they are buying goods produced without exploitation and in acceptable and sustainable working conditions'.
Despite these assurance, I still worry about the ethics of buying into such cheap clothing, and I have to put myself in the wanting to pay a 'fair price' category. My son's school has an official supplier from whom his blazer, tie, winter coat, jumpers and sports' kit have to be purchased. I knew this when I elected to send him to that particular school, I budget for it each year, and do not have an issue with it.
His white shirts, grey trousers and grey socks can be purchased on the high street. For the past five years, I have bought these items from Marks and Spencer. The last time, I paid £8 for each pair, and two pairs lasted him the entire year. His shirts were £8 for a pack of two, and I bought two packs, along with five pairs of cotton socks for £5. So the cost of my high street uniform purchase, for an entire year, £37. Hardly excessive, when I'd think nothing of paying that for a top for myself.
But I realise I probably could have bought it all for half the price if I had chosen to rig him out at the same time as dashing into my local supermarket for a loaf of bread and a pint of milk. And if the clothing was not constantly being shoved in my face as the cheapest in town and was of comparable quality, perhaps I would have done. But as far as I am concerned, if you pay £1.75 for a shirt, you are going to get, quite simply, a £1.75 shirt.
Something mum of one Lily also takes issue with: "I wouldn't be averse to the idea of really cheap uniform if it didn't seem like it'd be made from uncomfortable rubbish fabrics like horrid polyester," she says, adding that instead, for those uniform 'extras' or spares she prefers to accept hand-me-down uniform of decent quality.
In fact, second hand school uniform sales seem to be the preferred choice over supermarket 'bargains' for many parents.
"I am big fan of our school's second hand sales," one mum told me, "Our school has one of those annoying almost everything from the school supplier uniforms and the summer dresses are £30 but I bought second hand - and after two summers' wear they're still good enough condition to be passed on again." This, to me, a much preferable option to a nasty, disposable, scratchy nylon item from a supermarket.
But ultimately, I have to ask myself this: would I go out to work in an outfit of dubious quality which cost just £4? One which I regarded as so cheap that it didn't matter what happened to it, I could just re-purchase it? Or because it wasn't the style of clothes I would chose to wear outside of work, it wasn't a problem if it was ill fitting, poorly made and looked like a sack-cloth once on? So no matter how hard the supermarket try and tempt me with their cut price uniforms, I remain resolute in my belief of buy cheap, buy twice. And that ultimately, no matter what they say, stores competing over who can produce the cheapest uniform is little more than an exercise in unethical retailing for all concerned – workers, customers and the environment.
More on Parentdish: Back to school uniforms
What do you think?
Do you agree with Kelly? Or do you think the cheaper the better and good on the supermarkets for their uniform deals?