Ten minutes after the Christmas decorations were back in the attic, the Valentine’s Day advertising blitz began. The main message is that your significant other will only know that you love them if you spend a ton of money. Candy, flowers, diamonds, expensive restaurant meals… If you want to proclaim your love, you’ve got to join the madness. Nonsense.
Admittedly, I am not a Valentine’s junkie. While I appreciate the sentiment behind the holiday, I do tend to feel like it’s become just another way to push us to consume. My personal belief is that you show others how much you love them every day of the year through small and large gestures of kindness and respect. Meaning is created by spending time together (cell phones off and away, please), even if that time costs nothing.
How to do Valentine’s Day without spending a ton of money
(or compromise with a partner who loves the day)
Go back to the beginning
If you’ve been together for any length of time, you probably have memories of “the good old days.” Try going back to where you met, or where you used to go on dates when things were new. For example, the place where my husband and I met is long gone so we can’t go back there. But when we first met and were young and broke, our “big dates” were at Wendy’s. That was what we could afford for dinner out. So for a few Valentine dates, we’ve gotten dressed up and gone to Wendy’s. It’s funny and fun, and it reminds us of where we’ve been and that we still don’t need a big deal in order to have a good time.
Give them a break
To me, nothing says, “I love you,” more than someone else taking over the cooking (and cleaning up) for one day. Give your partner a break from whatever chore(s) are the most onerous to them. Cooking, cleaning, lawn mowing, leaf raking, car washing, errands, etc. are all fair game.
Give them space
Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to mean being stuck together all day. Giving the other person time and space to pursue their interests can be just as romantic. Let them spend the day playing video games, reading, napping, or indulging in whatever hobby they love, and don’t judge or complain. Time apart is just as vital to a relationship as is time together.
Instead of store-bought chocolates, try baking a dessert (cookies, brownies, cupcakes, etc.) from scratch (or at least a good mix). Hand-make a card. If you’re not an artist, use photos of the two of you. Skip the restaurant meal and make a nice meal at home. Buy a few good bath products and enjoy a spa night at home. Instead of a pricey theater movie, watch something on streaming or DVD and make special snacks while you cuddle up in your PJ’s. You don’t have to go out or buy stuff from a store to make the day meaningful. Homemade is often more meaningful and unique, anyway. (And certainly less crowded.)
If you’re an active couple, get moving together. Plan a sunset hike or bike ride. Take a picnic to the park, if you live in a climate that permits this. Even in cold, snowy areas there are active activities to do together. You can go outside and walk in the snow, bundle up and stargaze, or go do something like an indoor climbing wall. Nature centers/museums often offer things like bird walks, or trips for fossil hunting or gem mining. You can also learn new activities. Take skating lessons, learn to play pickle ball, or take a new fitness class at the local rec center.
Figure out what you’d both like to know or do better and sign up for some classes or join a club. Dance, art, music, improv, literature, flower arranging, language, local history, cooking, etc. are just a few options. You can find classes and clubs through your local community college or extension program, senior/recreation center, town website, local meetups, or the library.
Making the day meaningful for you may mean helping others. Volunteer for an activity you both enjoy or a cause you both care about. Clean a stream, walk dogs at the animal shelter, read to seniors, or work at the soup kitchen. You can also give blood together, if you’re eligible.
Spend the day dreaming of the life you want to live together. Think of the places you’d like to visit and watch some movies or travel videos about the destination. Make a meal from the destination. Drive around and look at houses you might like to someday own, or neighborhoods you’d like to live in. Or dream about moving to another city or foreign country. If you’re nearing retirement, dream about how you’ll spend your days once you’re free from work. If you’re close enough, get a cool calendar and start marking the days. Nothing gets conversation flowing like talking about the future. (Of course, if your relationship is young this sort of planning might scare some people off, so don’t get too deep too fast!)
Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be just the two of you. If you’re friends with other couples, bring them in on the fun. Host a potluck supper, have a game night, volunteer as a group, go on a group hike, or take a tour of your town together. Doing activities with other couples takes the pressure off of the big day and gives everybody a chance at some fun. If you all have kids, you can also split the cost of a babysitter! (And if you’re not coupled up, a day of friends-only activities for Valentine’s Day is a great way to ignore the couples.)
There’s no law that says you must celebrate Valentine’s Day. You don’t have to give a card or flowers, or create a special date night. If it’s not your thing, just let it go. It’s better to be honest and say, “Hey, I just can’t afford this,” (or, “I think it’s a made up holiday designed to encourage consumerism,” or whatever your real feelings on the matter might be). Honesty is far better than suffering through something just for the sake of one day. Just let your significant other know how much you care for them, on this day and all others.
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