Queen of free: The love (and money) you save

By Cherie Lowe

It happened before 2016 even drew to a close. I can’t say that I was surprised, really, but each year the transition seems to begin a day or two sooner.

Shades of festive red and green disappear overnight and are instantly replaced with every tint of pink in the color palette. Before we can shout “Happy New Year!” at midnight and eat corned beef and cabbage on the first day of a new trip around the sun, marketers already are vying for our attention for the next seasonal celebration.

Late in December, Valentine’s Day arrives in all of its cupid-bespeckled glory. Candy, stuffed animals, boxed baking mixes and specialty items galore crowd the shelves, each shouting, “You must have me to really express your emotions and feel loved.”

I have mixed sentiments on holiday spending. I love a good party. Sharing love with those closest to you should be done on a regular basis and, in my opinion, with much fanfare. On the flip side, we minimize an ugly massacre of many centuries ago with candy shaped like hearts. History is fun!

I’m not a complete and total Scrooge (is there a Dickensian equivalent for Feb. 14?). I think there are plenty of ways to share the love without getting caught up in consumerism, though.

Off Hours Pay Dividends

Much fuss is made over a holiday’s actual date. But if you break the mold, you might spare your budget. I managed to pick up wrapping paper on clearance after Christmas this year. As I held the 90-percent-off rolls in my hands, I marveled at the fact that I was about to pay $0.29 for something people had snapped up less than 10 days before at an extreme markup.

While you may have a date specific for the Valentines your child needs to take to school, grown-up celebrations can wait. Retailers clear out the goods fairly quickly to make room for chocolate bunnies and pastel eggs. Within a day or two after Valentine’s Day passes, you can either stock up for next year or purchase your sweetheart a special treat for much less cash.

You can also spare yourself extra cash and time if you choose to have a special dinner with your beloved on another night or even time. Take advantage of economical lunch menu prices instead of going out in the evening hours. If your kids are school aged, you’ll also dodge the expense of hiring a babysitter, too.

DIY Your Greetings

I’ve learned that in nine out of 10 scenarios, D.I.Y. = Just Don’t Do It for me. The Pinterest craft never turns out quite the same, the gourmet recipe falls flat, the home improvement project yields less than desired results. However, I can handle writing letters and printing things from the internet. For this reason, I feel up to the task of homemade Valentines.

For the kids, printable greetings for every character, sentiment and age level exist. You only need supply the ink and the paper. If you’re printing hundreds, you’d be better off purchasing the manufactured variety. However, for a classroom of twenty or thirty, you can easily take care of the task at home.

For the adults in your life, writing a letter of specifics might be a much better fit than a greeting card of generalizations. You could get out the glitter and the construction paper for your very own design or even just type out a letter in a Word document. Your memories, your admirations, your loving encouragement expressed by your own hand (or keyboard) mean more than any cute card.

Spend on Experiences

The longer you’ve been married, the more you know it’s true. The older your kids get, the more obvious it becomes. Space is limited and finite. While the adorable stuffed animal seems like a perfect buy, in the end, it becomes stuffed in a closet with a menagerie of precious nonliving pets. Recently, I asked my youngest daughter to slim down her collection and she brought out a two-inch long moose and two treasured toys from my childhood.

Be mindful of what you bring into your home, because a recent Forbes article indicates that clutter costs you more than a messy closet. From missed bills and late fees, to buying organizational containers and furniture, clutter costs cold hard cash.

So if you’ve budgeted to mark the day of love, consider spending time together instead of spending on things. Movies, concerts or even museum memberships are a better fit than knickknacks or trinkets.

Do not hear me incorrectly. I’m not giving you a free pass to skip Valentine’s Day altogether. I don’t want any emails from your irate spouse about how I’ve sucked all of the joy out of life. No, instead I encourage you to travel those seasonal aisles, aware of the amount of cash you’re spending and how long you’ll keep what you’re purchasing. Getting caught up in the spirit of the season is easy, even for a frugal pro like me. Make your expressions of love count.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net.