We don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, which I’m sure surprises no one given our status as chief frugal weirdos. I could rant about how dumb of a holiday Valentine’s Day is (very dumb) and how terrible of a deal it is to eat out on February 14th (rather terrible indeed). But what I really want to talk about is why my relationship with Mr. Frugalwoods doesn’t need Valentine’s Day.
Here’s the thing: every convention of Valentine’s Day has the opposite effect of what’s intended. The forced consumerism of this fabricated holiday does nothing to foster a true bond with your partner. And, if you feel like you have to go out on February 14th and spend a ton of money, there might be something else going on in your relationship that should be addressed. Since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, I wanted to do a frugal analysis of this most oddly consumeristic of holidays.
Sidenote: we’re just back from a week in sunny San Diego visiting my family and so all of the photos in this post are from our trip. Also, since we don’t celebrate V Day, I don’t have any Valentine’s-related photos… Furthermore, there’s a blizzard happening here in Boston right now, so the palm trees are a nice juxtaposition.
Heart Strings are Connected to the Purse Strings
The charade of Valentine’s Day is beyond ridiculous. It’s intended to tug at your heart strings, which for many people, are directly tied to the purse strings. But what’s the point? To impress each other? To prove the depth of your love to other people? It seems to me that sending overpriced flowers to your lover on Valentine’s Day is more an opportunity to show off your devotion to colleagues. “Oh yes, my partner loves me so much that they wasted $100 on tacky roses.” I mean seriously. Ok whoops, maybe I did rant just a tiny bit there.
Mr Frugalwoods and I have gone out for exactly one Valentine’s Day over the course of our entire 10-year+ relationship. Guess which one it was? The very first. We were young (no seriously, we were only 20), in love (maybe not quite love yet), and we wanted to do all those things you’re supposed to do in a relationship. Aha–there’s that pesky societal convention: what you’re supposed to do.
Go Against the Grain and Save Dough
I firmly believe that going against prevailing societal norms yields greater happiness and freedom. Avoiding the ladder of endless lifestyle inflation and the carousel of consumerism enables Mr. FW and I to carve out a meaningful, fulfilling life on our own terms–not a life governed by the mindless accumulation of stuff.
Parallel to our disavowal of the need to spend money is our belief in the preposterousness of Valentine’s Day. Since everyone else follows the herd and trots out to dinner on February 14th, that night has got to be the worst deal for dining out. Since we never eat out, I realize my protestations are a bit superfluous. But if you do typically eat out, you could not pick a more horrendous night to be in a restaurant (unless you happen to work at one, in which case I imagine the tips are fabulous).
One of our core frugal weirdo tactics is figuring out when all the normal, spendy people are doing something and then doing the exact opposite. We don’t fly at Christmastime, we travel abroad over Thanksgiving, and we certainly don’t observe Valentine’s Day on 2/14.
The Value of Genuine Intimacy
One of the reasons Mr. FW and I (before I was Mrs. FW) dined out on the societally prescribed day of romance was the very nature of our relationship. It was nascent, immature (just like us), and not yet on solid footing. In other words, we needed (or felt we needed) the crutch of faux intimacy that the hyper-commercialized Valentine’s Day provides.
The synthetic idea of love that the holiday parrots can sadly be employed as a substitute for truly connecting with one’s partner. The mere idea that arbitrarily giving each other random chocolates* and stuffed bears will forge closeness is blatantly absurd.
*For the record, I do love chocolate and anyone is welcome to gift me some at any time other than Valentine’s Day. Especially if it was on sale and has caramel and/or sea salt–or any type of peanut butter. It helps that I know Mr. FW is reading this.
For us, once our relationship hit a certain level of maturity and intimacy, things like Valentine’s Day diminished in importance. We usually don’t exchange Christmas, birthday, or anniversary gifts either for this same reason. But our avoidance of these codes of conduct doesn’t mean we neglect our marriage.
I’ve actually found that the inverse is true. The less we rely on pre-fabricated tools for intimacy, the more creative and memorable our demonstrations of love for each other have become (for example, the year I gave Mr. FW a tank piston for Christmas). It’s like sending a greeting card with a message transcribed by a corporation versus writing a poem from the heart (something my dad has done almost all 48 years of his marriage to my mom).
Learning From the Past
Mr. Frugalwoods and I haven’t always been in such a rosy relationship position and we made a list of the reasons why we struggled to connect with each other in the past.
Characteristics of the bad times in the Frugalwoods marriage:
Lost sight of our shared goals (or didn’t have them at all)
- Didn’t feel connected to each other
- Couldn’t communicate clearly
- Didn’t spend enough time together
- Weren’t invested in projects together
- Didn’t demonstrate enough respect for one another
No overpriced restaurant meal or flowers will fix a relationship that’s hurting like ours once was. Quite the contrary, we found that artificial, materialistic activities had the opposite effect–their triteness made us feel even more distant and out of touch with each other.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day seemed a hollow gesture to both of us and it didn’t address the more serious challenges we were facing. The consumer orgy of Valentine’s Day is the anti-cure for relationship blues and, in some instances, serves as a smoke screen to gloss over true fractures in a partnership.
The One Thing We Don’t Have On Autopilot
So if you’re not going to celebrate Valen-day, how do you foster a strong marriage? Despite my evangelization of optimized frugal efficiency in the arenas of money management, meal planning, and other rote daily procedures, I do not advocate putting your marriage on autopilot. That’s essentially what Mr. FW and I did a few years ago and our relationship suffered tremendously. As we learned, a marriage needs to be actively nurtured and cultivated in order to thrive (apologies for the garden analogies… what can I say, they’re apt!).
I think it’s imperative to do special things to enhance your relationship. And so, in theory, having a day where you focus on your partner and what they mean to you is a marvelous thing.
But for us, it’s not going to happen on Valentine’s Day. Furthermore, it’s not going to happen on just one day of the year. It’s more of an all-encompassing, everyday affair here at Frugalwoods HQ and we affirm our love for each other regularly.
So how do we do it? Through honest communication. We’ve grown closer, strengthened our marriage, and find ourselves happier than we’ve ever been. I know, I know! That’s not as exciting as a romantic getaway to Siberia or fancy beard-themed lingerie (I hope that doesn’t actually exist…), but it’s the truth. The outward, showy trappings of a “good” relationship–flowers, nights out on the town, custom interlocking heart necklaces (please tell me those don’t exist either)–don’t comprise the infrastructure of a sound partnership. Here’s what does for us.
Characteristics of the current good times in the Frugalwoods marriage:
Excellent communication norms (see our conversation outline below)
- Neither of us is a jerk (don’t underestimate the power of being nice to each other)
- We have our finances under control, to put it lightly, which means we never argue about money (financial disagreements are the leading cause of divorce)
- We’re in great health and we foster that health by eating well and exercising together
- Shared hobbies and interests (hiking, frugality, Frugal Hound, the woods, other things)
- We’re best friends (we like to hang out–see above hobbies)
- Steadfast and shared focus on our long-term goal (financial independence on a homestead!)
- Humor. Lots and lots of humor.
I’ve discussed in the past how our relationship has flourished under frugality, and it honestly has. Instead of focusing on what we’re going to buy each other, we’re focused on connecting authentically. Instead of lusting after the empty promises of lifestyle inflation, we’re committed to our shared dream of moving to our future homestead in the woods. But we haven’t arrived in this place by accident. Its taken us years of concerted communication and active work to solidify our goals and get on the same page about what we want out of life.
What Makes Our Marriage Strong (hint: it doesn’t involve spending money)
In our experience, being aligned in our long-term goals and communicating frequently is paramount to enjoying a deep connection. I’ve shared the outline we follow for our finance dates before, but it bears repeating since we apply that model to a whole host of conversation topics in our relationship.
Below are the steps we take anytime we feel disconnected, have had an argument, or its been awhile since we truly checked-in with each other. Following this roadmap helps us move past our anger/frustration and instead isolate what’s legitimately bothering us and collaborate on next steps.
The Frugalwoods relationship check-in outline:
- Recap. Review how things have been going since your last check-in. If this is your first check-in, consider the past week or month. Analyze arguments and conflicts as well as successes.
- Individual check-in. Take turns sharing your feelings about your relationship. This is a time for purely individual reflection.
- Praise and thanks. Don’t laugh–this part is important. Things might’ve gotten heated during #1 and #2, so take a moment to voice gratitude for something your partner has done recently.
- Hot topics! This is the time to dig deep and address any burning issues. Be forthright without attacking the other person.
- Explore the root of each problem.
- Use active listening phrases such as: “I understand that you feel ____ .” “I observe that you ____ .” And MOST crucially: “How can I be helpful to you in achieving ____ and what do you need from me?”
- Write down your agreed-upon next steps.
- Three wishes. Take turns articulating your “three wishes” for the future. This is an opportunity to talk about how you can achieve these aspirations together.
It might seem un-romantic to follow an outline of talking points in order to connect with your partner, but I’d argue it’s vastly more romantic than giving each other Valentine balloon bears from Walgreen’s.
We’ve only been married for 6.5 years and I know we have many more hurdles to face together, but I sincerely hope we’re girded for the challenge. I can’t imagine life without Mr. Frugalwoods (or Frugal Hound!) and I find myself working towards a deeper connection with him every single day. Just as there are always more opportunities to boost our frugality, there are always more ways to strengthen our relationship.