I do not hate Valentine’s Day. I’ll be honest with you right now, I’m rather a sucker for adorable little holidays like Halloween and V-Day. Ok, being totally honest, I like big holidays too. Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays… I’m smitten! What I do hate is the rampant commercialization of these holidays.
But for my part, I choose to tune out the endless prompts to buy more stuff. Instead, I focus on the love that springs forth when we don’t get caught up in what we’re buying and instead get caught up in the joy of what we’re doing.
My Favorite Valentine’s Day
Mr. Frugalwoods and I vacillate between “celebrating” V-Day and ignoring it entirely, but my most favorite Valentine memory is from our senior year in college. I came home from class on the afternoon of February 14th to find that Mr. FW had set something on fire in my room. He was furiously putting out several small flames by jumping around the room waving a piece of construction paper.
Turns out, he’d set my homemade card on fire with a candle he’d positioned a tad too close to said card. He was successful in stemming the flames and presented me with the charred remains of a charming paper card he’d created using markers and tape (at first I assumed he’d conned a kindergartener into drawing on the card, but then I realized it was his very own artwork. It was special).
I also noted a bucket of candy corn on my desk. Irrationally and with no sound reason at all, the ‘corn is my fave candy. Apparently he’d ranged far and wide to locate candy corn in February–a fact I didn’t doubt after we discovered it was quite stale indeed. But naturally, I ate it anyway (I’m both too frugal and too obsessed with candy corn to allow some stale-ness to get in my way).
This vignette is a perfect illustration of how we typically roll on holidays: mostly homemade, possibly a little stale, and with food always involved. I think holidays, and Valentine’s Day in particular, get a bad rap in the frugal sphere. But far from shunning them, Mr. FW and I embrace them.
While I don’t look at the calendar and think “oh yeah, I should tell Mr. FW I love him,” I do think there’s a certain amount of whimsy and fun that comes from delighting in holidays. As I write this, we don’t have anything in particular planned for Valentine’s Day this year–it’s on a Sunday so we’ll go to church and then probably take a walk or perhaps go snowshoeing. And that’ll be just fine with me. I find that discovering celebration in the smallest of things makes me a more gratitude-filled person. With no grand expectations of holidays, I’m thrilled by simple gestures and pleasures.
A Poll On How To Celebrate V-Day (without store-bought stuff)
In the vein of relishing the simple beauty of life, I polled my mom and sister for their musings on Valentine’s Day and on what makes a relationship special year after year. Rather than give store-bought things to each other, I wanted to know what they do with their spouses to foster a deep attachment that spans a lifetime.
Full disclosure: I am not so organized or smart that I thought of this idea in advance. I happened to call my mom yesterday and she and my sister were in the car together, so they put me on speaker and I figured since I had the brain trust, I’d go ahead and ask for suggestions. But we had to cut the conversation short because my sister had to go teach a ballet class, my mom had to take my niece to horseback riding, and I had to take out Frugal Hound (which has become a serious feat with Babywoods in tow–I am positive we look ridiculous). So it wasn’t exactly our most thorough of discussions, but it made me reflect that we don’t need a lot of time to make connections with the people we love. Imagine what I could do if I actually planned this stuff out! Whoa! (don’t worry, it’ll never happen).
I’ve always felt that buying gifts is rather the easy way out in the context of a relationship. Anyone can walk into a store and grab a gift. It takes a great deal more thought and care to instead do something authentic and meaningful for one’s partner. I waxed on about this at length in last year’s A Frugal Weirdo’s Anti-Valentine’s Day Manifesto (geez, I really got excited with that title, didn’t I). And Mr. FW and I find that we prefer not exchanging gifts and instead creating experiences–however modest–that serve to deepen our relationship.
Ideas for doing rather than buying:
1) Volunteer together.
My mom, who has been married to my dad for 48 years, shared that one of the most important aspects of their relationship is that they volunteer together. Huh, thought I. Not perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when you enumerate the tenets of long marriages. But she has a good point. According to my mom, aside from open communication, respect, and love (duh), volunteering yields opportunities for she and my dad to simultaneously help other people and also learn more about one another.
My mom relayed that when they volunteer together, she gets to see my dad in a new light–he’s focusing on the needs of others and working in service of them. My parents have performed a gamut of volunteer activities over the decades–everything from building houses with Habitat for Humanity to serving Thanksgiving dinners at homeless shelters to fundraising for their church.
In addition, volunteering enables my parents to spend time together engaged in a purposeful activity. It’s not focused on consuming or on money, or on their own wants and needs. It’s a beautiful way to connect with a partner that’s not only frugal (hey!), but also altruistic. Now that my parents are retired, they’re incredibly active volunteers and my mom runs a volunteer project, but they’ve always made time for service in their lives. We used to volunteer as a family quite often while I was growing up and it’s something I want to incorporate into Babywoods’ upbringing.
2) Create a memory book.
My mom said she wishes she’d written down what she and my dad did together on every special occasion and holiday during their marriage. While she might not have done that, she does have a massive collection of photo albums documenting their lives together (all organized by date and labeled!). As a person who never even prints out a photo, I’m quite impressed by her photographic fortitude.
Now I really want to make such a memory book–I’m loving the idea of flipping through it with Mr. FW in 20 years and remembering that one time when we lived in Cambridge, MA… I’ll probably just type it up in a Google doc because I am the least crafty person imaginable and if there was any requirement for it to be “cute,” I’d surely fail.
3) Commit random acts of kindness.
This was my sister’s wonderful tip as a way to squeeze in celebrating your relationship when you happen to be parenting three kids (+ one dog), working, and taking care of chickens, grape vines, and sundry other garden/farm/house projects as she and her husband are.
She suggested finding small ways to give back to your partner–perhaps by washing their car or sending them funny texts throughout the day. I adore these ideas because they don’t require any money or a huge time commitment, yet they’re profound all the same. Giving your time to your partner is a perfect way to demonstrate respect and compassion.
4) Engage in genuine conversation.
Ask each other questions, be passionate about listening, and be fully present and engaged in the conversation. Sounds majorly simple, but this is actually what I want to do this year. Mr. FW and I are so often dashing around “accomplishing” things that it’s rare for us to really sit down across from one another and engage in conversation that doesn’t necessarily have a purpose (like creating a Costco list or brainstorming techniques for teaching Frugal Hound how to do tricks).
Back when we were dating, this is pretty much the only type of conversation we had–after all we were young! in love! had no major responsibilities! But now that we’re running a household and being parents, I find that the vast majority of our conversations are, necessarily, about logistics and planning. This is good because we’re both all about planning and logistics (nothing makes either of us happier than a well-organized spreadsheet), but I want to challenge us to just enjoy one another’s company without needing to solve a household problem or come up with a specific plan-o-action.
Love People, Not Things
This Valentine’s Day, don’t fall victim to the pre-fabricated crutch of hackneyed floral arrangements and ill-advised gigantic stuffed bears (who actually buys those things anyway?). Instead, seek authentic intimacy with your partner, your family, your close friends. While I’ll admit it is sort of a dumb holiday, it can still be an opportunity to demonstrate that you care for someone–with actions rather than with material goods.