This time of year there are lots of tips about how to save money on Valentine’s Day. Advice abounds about ways to show your love for free and alternative gift ideas such as coupons for kid-free days and taking over your partner’s chores for a weekend. While all of these are very valid ways to show your love and save money on Valentine’s Day, they assume that your partner will be okay with a completely frugal holiday.
Unfortunately, many people have partners who adore Valentine’s Day and who will be disappointed if they don’t get at least some of the traditional trappings. Usually these partners are the women, but I do know some men who really enjoy Valentine’s Day, too. To the lovers of Valentine’s Day, things like coupons for experiences, home-cooked dinners, and handmade cards are likely to fall flat. (I know, it shouldn’t be this way, but it often is. I’m in the camp that it should be about the gesture, not the money spent, but not everyone feels this way.) If you don’t want to end up with a bitterly disappointed partner, you’re going to have to find a way to balance your frugal nature with their need to have Valentine’s Day. Here are some ideas:
Figure out what matters most to your partner. Instead of going overboard buying flowers, cards, candy, jewelry, and dinner, figure out which gesture means the most and do that one thing. Does your partner love eating out in nice places but only gets to do so once or twice a year? Then choose dinner. If she or he loves sappy messages, then a gorgeous card with a special note from you inside is in order. Does your partner treasure tokens of love from past holidays and special occasions like earrings, bracelets, and the like? Then go for jewelry. It takes a little thought (and maybe a fact finding mission) to figure out what gesture will make the most impact, but if you choose well, you’ll win the day and you won’t have blown money on a scattershot approach to the holiday.
Be traditional, but with a frugal mindset. Instead of flowers, get your partner a flowering plant. It will likely cost less and will live for much longer than cut flowers. Instead of overpriced boxed candy, get them their favorite food. (I know someone who got his partner three boxes of Twinkies because that’s what she loved but she’d never buy them for herself. She loved it.) Many junk foods come in holiday versions these days, so you can probably find something. Instead of a super expensive ring, select a necklace with a charm that reflects something about her or your relationship. These sorts of ideas save you money, but they also show that you’re thinking about your partner and the relationship.
Get your partner something they need or want that isn’t traditional. I kid you not, the best Valentine’s Day gift I ever got was a scanner for my computer. I was in serious need of one, but just hadn’t pulled the purchase trigger yet. On Valentine’s Day, my husband bought me a scanner and I was thrilled. That was better than any jewelry could ever have been because 1) I needed it and it solved some problems for me and 2) it meant that my husband had really been listening to me and knew what I needed to make things easier. The fact that the thing was red was merely a bonus! I got the thrill of opening a present on Valentine’s Day, but it felt more frugal because it solved a need I had and, since it wasn’t over-hyped “Valentine’s stuff,” my husband was able to track it down on sale. Be willing to look beyond the traditional gifts and get your partner something they will use and enjoy.
Presentation is half the battle. Avoid anything that looks like it was thrown together at the last minute. Neatly wrap any presents in festive paper or gift bags. Put cards in their envelopes and maybe decorate the outside a little bit if you’re artistic or creative. If you’re giving something like a plant, a Valentine’s themed bow is a nice touch. If you’re going the dinner route, make your reservations well in advance so that your partner doesn’t overhear you begging the restaurant to let you in. (And make the evening smooth. Already have the car gassed up and the babysitter on call. Don’t be rushing around at the last minute trying to throw everything together.) Make it look like you put a lot of thought into your ideas and your partner will appreciate the effort.
Change the Date
See if he/she will agree to an alternate date. Instead of celebrating on February 14th, see if your partner will agree to an alternate date. Promise them the full Valentine’s experience, just a few days earlier or later. Everything form flowers to dining out is cheaper on an alternate date.
Plan ahead. If you plan ahead, you have a chance to shop the sales, use coupons at checkout online or find off-line coupons, and look for discounted gift card offers that might defray some of your costs. When you wait until the last minute, you have to pay the asking price. Plus, when you plan ahead you get the “good stuff” instead of having to pick through whatever is left over.
Be honest. If you can’t afford Valentine’s Day, or if the thought of spending money on a commercialized holiday makes you ill, be honest with your partner. It’s better that you’re honest up front so that his/her expectations don’t get too high. You partner might still be disappointed, but it’s a less crushing form of disappointment than expecting a big celebration only to get nothing.
About the worst thing you can do to a lover of Valentine’s Day is to ignore it or to slap something together at the last minute. Well, that or give them something that shows no thought whatsoever. Take your time and really think through all of your options. Chances are you can find a compromise between gross overspending and reducing your partner to tears of disappointment.
(Photo courtesy of terren in Virginia)