Valentine's on a Budget
I think Valentine's day is popular not because we love flowers and chocolate, but because coming off of the long dark month of January, we just really need to celebrate something. Fresh flowers, even if they are flown in from South America remind us that spring is not far away. Teachers and students both celebrate this last party of the school year because, it means that spring break is just a few weeks away and summer comes close after that. It feels like a turning point in the year. Technically it will be winter for another month, but you can tell its waning. I can find daffodil shoots all over my yard, and the grass has a tint of green everywhere the snow has melted. The irises and periwinkle vines stay green most of the winter, they are just waiting for a little warm weather to give them permission to grow. The buds on the trees are swelling, and on warm days birds are everywhere. The kids want their bikes out on warm sunny days, and everyone is planning their summer activities.
With all the excitement for a celebration aside, sometimes this holiday drives me crazy. I can't be the first one to think that holidays in general are an escalating consumer problem in our culture. I know I am sensitive because I am on a tight budget, but when I was in grade school we exchanged Valentine cards, maybe a few people added candy, but not every card had candy or toys. Cards were the valentine! Now that I am a parent, I feel if I send my child to school with plain valentine cards, then I am the lame parent. Who gets to decide what is lame and why does buying cheap trinkets make it not lame? I'm sure I'm not the only parent who doesn't like cheap plastic toys and candy all over the floor, so why do I sponsor this event every year? That is just the grade school side of this holiday. Peer pressure to conform does not stop when you age out of valentine boxes and conversation hearts. It gets worse!
Valentine's day seems to be mandatory if you are in love, want to be in love, or are somehow attached to someone you are supposed to love. Do they like you? Who gives a gift first? Are the gifts you gave each other of equal value, or is one of you more romantic than the other? The peer pressure to compete on this one day is ridiculous. Whose sweetheart had the best flower arrangement, chocolates, or flower arrangement made from chocolates? Who had the most exotic dinner or most fabulous date or was gifted diamonds? If coming up with a great gift was not enough stress for you, then there is the additional peer pressure to tell the world how much your sweetheart loves you by posting where you ate or what you got on some social media feed. All of this competing and comparing causes me stress which is compounded when you are living on a tight budget. It leaves those without these baubles of consumerism in doubt about whether or not they measure up in this highly competitive consumer culture. Steven and I signed a presents non-proliferation treaty for this holiday years ago.
That doesn't mean we don't celebrate anything, it just means that it takes a little creativity and a good sense of humor to have a good time. Our current self-imposed budget restrictions do not allow for much in the way holiday spending. I have spent some time this week thinking of how we could meet expectations and be socially acceptable, and still stay in budget. I came up with a good plan for the kids. I let them make dipped marshmallows on sticks. I had the marshmallows, I spent some money for the strawberry melts, sticks and sprinkles, and the kids had a fun evening making their own treats. Its a win for me if it doubles as an activity and they do the work. Food is not allowed in elementary school parties so I found unused glow sticks left over from one of our summer activities last year. Amanda will put the glow sticks in gift bags I bought last year after the holiday for 90% off and all her friends will think they are great! We'll have waffles with fresh sliced strawberries and vanilla cashew cream for a fun valentine meal and all my kids will feel happy.
The adult side of this holiday is challenging too. If you are dating and someone brings you flowers or chocolates then you feel loved and adored. When you are married and on a budget and share the same checking account, this expression of love does not feel the same. "You spent $100 for what?!" We have lots of fun and buy gifts occasionally, we just choose not to do it when it is expensive and crowded.
I don't like crowds, Steven doesn't like eating out. Are you prepared for this? You might need to sit down for this news. We have never gone out to eat on Valentine's Day. I can't remember one time. I don't even feel bad, not even a little. I also do not buy him chocolate, and he does not buy me roses or jewelry on Valentine's day ever. One, we're trying to eat healthy, so chocolate feels like sabotage. Two, I love flowers but I really like growing them, so the same money spent on seeds or perennial flowers, or even strawberry plants means more to me. If your asking if omitting these cultural conventions has resulted in some relationship damage, relax! We will have been happily married for 22 years this summer.
If you really love chocolate, or eating out, or flowers, do what makes you happy, but we jumped off this budget train wreck of cultural expectations for holidays a long, long time ago. Turn off the ads. Figure out what your sweetheart really loves. I'd bet my whole budget it looks more like time spent together than money spent on anything else. We'll buy fresh flowers again when the price isn't so high. I'm going to grow a whole garden full of cut flowers this summer, Steven already bought me the seeds. We'll go out to eat when it's not so crowded and cold. We'd rather spend time at home with our family, or loaning out our teenagers to babysit for parents who really need a minute alone with each other. Hang in there, it gets better! Now that the kids are older we can go on dates whenever we want. The point is to do what you want to do and not let advertising or others expectations drive your behavior.
Timing is Everything
Holiday spending aside, how is the rest of our budget you ask? Good question! In addition to the food that we have in food storage, we also try to keep a few months of basic necessities on hand. So if you're wondering how we're holding out on toilet paper or other hygiene items, I usually buy them in bulk so I have a buffer, and time to wait to buy what I like when it goes on sale again. If you've been following us you'll know that I have been making soaps for a few weeks, so it is with sadness and a bit of a laugh that I have to report that one of the first things I have run out of is bar soap! I have hundreds of bars made, but they won't be ready to use for a few more weeks, and since we want to stay clean in the interim, I bought four bars of soap this week.
My son's shampoo was low too, but he opted to buy his own and get what he liked. I like these financial independence moments. Just an aside, He is on a service mission for our church for 2 years, and not working during that time. So technically he is doing a two year budget challenge. He saved up enough before hand to buy his own car, pay for gas, insurance, clothing, haircuts, and other incidentals. We cover food and housing, but this is a great accomplishment. He has about 10 months left to go and still plenty of money. Great budgeting!
I like to get feedback on how we're doing, so I asked my kids at breakfast if they still liked the challenge and they said it didn't feel like anything had changed. That was good news. If my teenagers feel like they are suffering they'll let me know or they'll go out and buy a few treats on their own. Someone is always looking for a sweet treat.
We still have lots of frozen fruits and veggies left. This week my girls discovered our stash of frozen grapes. Frozen grapes are really good, and there are still a bunch left :) but I was really craving fresh fruit this week. Fortunately, strawberries, pineapple, and apples were all on sale. This week's sales are just a hint of good things to come. Most of the fresh stuff I bought this week still needs a passport to get to my house, but soon we will be eating fresh more locally.
I have seeds started in the basement and even though it is going to be super cold this week, winter won't last. I'll have sorrel coming up soon, and the little perpetual spinach, kale, and lettuces starts will be ready to set out soon. In less than a month we'll be planting peas out in the garden.
Next week we will hit the halfway point. Although all the essentials covered, we are running out of fun foods like chips and processed cold cereal so the creativity I promised is starting to kick in, after all, necessity is the mother of invention!