Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A Cheap Valentine (and other gifts)

I am often told I am a cheap date.  It’s kind of a standing joke but also true.  I was always the woman saying ‘let’s go for a picnic and keep the money towards the deposit on a house.’
Consequently, Valentine’s Day is on the 15th of February or later in our house.  The reason will be obvious to you frugal folk out there. 
If you go out for dinner, buy flowers or do pretty much anything else on the 14th of Feb, or for that matter the weekend just before it (sometimes just after it too if the 15th is on the Saturday night) you can bet your bottom dollar that you will pay up to twice the price for the same thing.

A similar rip off happens with weddings.  Tell the florist the button-hole posies are for a wedding and the price can double.  I know someone who was best man and contacted a hotel to ask the price for a reception.  He then asked the price for the same facilities for a birthday party and it was a lot less.  He booked a birthday party and they brought the flowers from the church to decorate the tables.  No one missed the extra bits of razzmatazz and the happy couple started married life with a bit more cash in their pockets.

On the 15th  of February, you can get dinner for the normal price, (or go out early as we usually do and get a 2 for 1 deal at 6pm on a weekday), and oysters, red roses and valentine’s cards are all reduced in the supermarket and cost next to nothing.  Especially the oysters as they won’t keep! 

One year I came home with a large bunch of red roses from Tesco for 50p and I could have had any amount of them.  I also netted a cashmere jumper for my beloved for £2 in the sale, and a huge quantity of fresh king prawns going begging at a silly price at the fish counter that had to be eaten that day.  There were so many that we could not eat them all.  They had already been frozen, so with a flash of ingenuity I boiled them briskly in a pot and then froze them.

The thing is, it sounds mean, doesn’t it?  Do I still love him as much if we celebrate Valentine’s Day on the 15th, or if we book the birthday party instead of the wedding?  Or have we just seen too many advertisements saying things like ‘because she’s worth it?’…
My take on it is this:  the ‘mean message’ comes from subtle marketing to get us to part with money.  It happens because someone wants to make money out of us, not because it is truly mean to spend less on things like that. 
The original intention of Valentine’s Day was to let someone know you fancied them when you were too scared to say.  Just like the original intention of Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the exchange of gifts was meant to be symbolic, not a massive spending spree to be regretted when the credit card bill comes in, in January.  The original meaning has been hi-jacked by shopping.

Speaking of flowers, In an office where I once worked, we were having a whip round and each contributing £5 for flowers for someone who was in hospital.  When we contacted the florist, the £35 we had amassed was only enough to get a small bunch of flowers delivered. 

I suggested we went to the supermarket across the road and got £35 worth of flowers and took them to the hospital ourselves.  Face it, in many supermarkets you get a lot of flowers for £35.  I had florist’s cellophane and ribbon at home and could have made them up into a large bouquet.  This was not about saving money, you understand, it was about the person getting something nicer for the same money.  However the organiser of the gift thought that was ‘mean’ (I am still trying to work that one out too) and arranged for a small bunch of flowers to be delivered, then drove up to the hospital to visit empty handed.   
It used to be nice to take flowers from your garden to give to people but no doubt that is considered mean in some circles too.  It is actually nicer, and chances are the flowers will be unique and will not have been treated with pesticides or used up precious water in parts of the world where people do not have enough to drink.I once picked a selection of February flowers from my garden and gave them to my beloved on valentine's day.  how proud was I of having a wee bunch of flowers to pick in  my garden in February!  - Since you ask, snow drops, pussy willow, christmas roses and sprigs of contoneaster covered in red berries.

I still remember the lovely bunch of hand-picked flowers carefully arranged in a margarine tub with oasis in it, which someone who was totally broke took to the crematorium for me when we suffered a loss some years ago. They were the most special thing there and a lot of thought and love had gone into those flowers, as well as the courage to bring them and not to mind what others might think. 

When a close friend was getting married and I saw the florist’s price list with button holes listed at £5 each I was appalled.  That is £5 for one carnation and a bit of greenery!
I offered to make the buton holes and the bride was delighted.  She an I did it together and bought florist’s tape and two bunches of carnations for a total of £5 and added ferns and foliage from the garden.  We made all 10 button holes for £5, or 50p each and they were lovely.  There is lots of florist’s tape left to lend to someone else, too. 
The fact that it was us potential recipients of the button holes who made the suggestion gave the happy couple permission to do it without seeming mean.
I spent my money contributing to the reception as a wedding gift (I bought the champagne), which saved them a bit more money.  Like I said, it is not about being mean but getting best value and spending money on the things that matter. 
I love to get gifts that help someone get ahead, or contribute toexpenses of an event like a wedding as a gift.  this is especially handy with young people who need some money mentoring as it gives them the idea of being thrifty with money and helps them out at the same time.

In a similar vein, I bought a year’s supply of mail order nappies as a gift for a young couple who had a baby, knowing that babies get too many clothes anyway and there can never be enough nappies. they were not the sort to have re-usable nappies or that would have been an even better present. 
 I also got them some other almost-new b baby things, such as a wicker crib for virtually nothing at the car boot sale. When the couple concerned had finished with the crib, we gave it to someone else.  I got my £2($1.50) worth of pleasure out of that one! 
I now get the child concerned birthday and Christmas gifts of properly fitted leather shoes along with car boot sale toys.   This saves the parents money as well as being a nice gift, which I think is the optimum combination.
As a house-warming gift, consider things like curtain rails, blinds or linoleum, or even phone or electricity vouchers.   People are unlikely to get them from anyone else and it will save the reipient money.

So think about the person concerned and what will be useful rather than what you can find in the shops.

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