The cheapskates' guide to Valentine's Day

RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 05:00 12/02/2014
Valentine's Day
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LOVE ON A BUDGET: Showing your appreciation can only be a good thing, but it doesn't mean you have to get a second mortgage on your house.

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Is Saint Valentine's Day now a Hallmark holiday - a cynical marketing ploy to pressure people into buying more junk?

An unscientific social media poll suggests many people tend to think so.

"It's stupid, because something nice is no longer a surprise, and expected," said one.

"If you like someone, do nice s*** for them all year round, not just one orgiastic day of commercially mandated penance," said another.

But blokes, tread very carefully - that doesn't necessarily mean you're off the hook.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned (or a man, for that matter).

And although money can't buy you love, many of us will give it our best shot, come Friday.

In the United States, where consumerism borders on religious fervour, surveys suggest the average American will spend between US$134 ($162) and US$213 on their loved ones this V-Day. 

Showing your appreciation can only be a good thing, but it doesn't mean you have to get a second mortgage on your house.

Here we strip down the elements of a Valentine's Day one by one, and replace them with low-cost or free alternatives.

It's love on a budget; guaranteed to preserve both marital harmony and your credit record.

THE CARD

At least this is an authentic tradition, dating back to 18th-century England.

The difference is, ye-olde-fashioned Valentine was a hand-crafted letter or message, not a mass-produced card printed with a pre-written banality.

Paying $8 for a piece of coloured cardboard bent in half is beyond a joke - it's time to revive the old ways with a hand-made card.

You don't have to pour your heart out with a declaration of love, either. If you need inspiration, check out this Twitter stream for a mixture of bad puns and risqué jokes. 

You Save: $8

THE FLOWERS

Nothing screams "romance!" like a bunch of severed reproductive organs wrapped in cellophane and tied in a ribbon.

The appeal of flowers, which don't really have a function beyond briefly looking pretty and then dying, will forever remain a mystery to many men.

Figures from Paymark's Eftpos network show that a few years ago, Kiwis spent more than a quarter of a million dollars in florists' shops on the big day.

No doubt most of that went towards red roses, which are both woefully unoriginal and insanely over-priced.

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One florist is offering a classic dozen blooms for just $135. For the mathematically challenged, that's over $11 a stem. Don't worry though - there's free handcream included.

Another company is selling what appears to be the harvested contents of half a flower garden, under the tagline: "'Say ''I Love You' with this stunning bouquet of beauty and happiness."

The price-tag on that statement of love is a mere $400, which incidentally is also the average annual income of an Ethiopian.

Buy any bloom other than roses, and save some serious dosh. Even better still - if you have a flower garden, raid it and put together a handmade bouquet.

You Save: $50+

THE CHOCOLATES

The shops are also going wild with cute Valentines-themed confectionary, bordering on the bizarre.

You can pay $50 for a chocolate high-heeled shoe, the perfect gift for the foot-fetishist in your life.

Then there's the Chocolate Love Box Luxury Edition, which will set you back $89.90.

It promises to immerse you and your partner "in a world of chocolate heaven", which is presumably followed by immersion in a world of self-loathing and indigestion.

However, they do say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Though some would argue that's aiming slightly too high, you can't go wrong with home baking.

Heart shapes, red food colouring, maybe even sprinkles. So many possibilities.

It's cheap, it's fun, and it's a lot more thoughtful than snagging a Toblerone on your way through the supermarket checkout.

You Save: $20+

THE BLING

Some time during the 1980s, the jewellery industry decided to market Valentine's Day as the perfect occasion for giving diamonds - and the hijacking worked.

As one (hopefully) joking respondent to our social media poll said: "Diamonds, or it's Splitsville."

Like magpies, humans love shiny stuff. The Paymark figures show Kiwis drop over $1 million at jewellery retailers across the Eftpos network on February 13 and 14 alone.

Crafting your own jewellery isn't really an option, but there are plenty of other home-made gifts which can help keep the romance alive on a shoestring budget.

You just have to use your imagination. A poem or letter, hand-written and mounted in a good frame, surely beats a shoddy cubic zirconia ring.

The musically inclined can bust out their lute or mandolin and serenade their lover with a cheesy love song.

Other popular alternatives are a photo album filled with shared memories, or a booklet of vouchers to be used for favours (especially sexy ones).

You Save: $100+

THE DINNER

Going out for dinner this Friday is almost certainly a terrible idea. Not only will restaurants be jam-packed, you'll be surrounded by other lovesick couples.

The hand-holding, dreamy gazes and cloud of pheromones filling the air will put you off your fancy grub in no time.

Forget about the Valentine's Day "special" 12-course degustation and head out on a quieter evening a few days earlier or later.

Consumer New Zealand's Scott Donaldson suggests you could use a discount group-buying website voucher to lower the cost.

If you can swallow your pride long enough to do so, you're likely to save at least 50 per cent off the bill.

But it's not without risks to your romantic aspirations, he warns - you don't want to come across as cheap.

If you know your date won't be impressed, wait until he or she goes to the bathroom before you sneakily bust it out and pay.

An even better alternative is an intimate home-cooked meal, with a good bottle of plonk (or two) and some smelly candles.

If you want to make a night of it, stockpile some snacks and put on the movie you first watched together. (Unless it was something horrific and depressing, like Mr Pip - true story).

Bonus points: Package up a picnic meal and go somewhere isolated with a big warm blanket.

Unlike the US or UK's Valentine's Day, you don't have to risk freezing your extraneous appendages off by venturing into the great outdoors.

Even better, we're blessed with a stunning array of beaches for moonlit strolls, look-out points, and other strategic canoodling locations.

You Save: Up to $100

There you have it, a Valentine's Day to remember, and hopefully not for all the wrong reasons.

The goal is to walk the (admittedly thin) line between being careful with money, and being an out-and-out cheapskate.

After all, nothing kills romance faster than "forgetting" your wallet when it's time to pay for dinner.

A final word of warning - the reader chooses to ignore Valentine's Day altogether at his or her own risk. The author accepts no liability for any gouged-out eyes, broken hearts, or divorce proceedings that arise from this article.

What are your suggestions for celebrating Valentine's Day? Do you think it's too commercial?

11-02-14 1612

- Fairfax Media

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