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Thursday, February 4, 2010

5 Tips for a Frugal and Greener Valentine's Day

With Groundhog Day behind us, Valentine's Day can't be far off.  While once a saint's day honoring love and affection, the holiday has unfortunately been manipulated by the greeting card, candy, floral, lingerie, restaurant and jewelry industries into a spending frenzy stoked by guilt and manufactured tradition. Until the 19th century, Valentine's Day was observed with hand-written love notes exchanged by lovers as tokens of affection. Then in the mid-1800s, new printing techniques in Germany launched the era of mass-produced - though very beautiful - die-cut chromolithographs, copies and knock-offs of which are now incorporated into the greeting card industry's repetoire.

The holiday became further commercialized by the association of flowers, jewelry, and more recently, racy undies, along with restaurant dinners to the original sentiments of love and affection. Now husbands, fiances and boyfriends feel compelled to spend lots of money on gifts or, if one were to believe the advertising, face the wrath of a disappointed woman. Even children are sucked into the commercialism of the day with mass-produced cards featuring sappy sayings that the kids don't really get, and cheap candy handed out at classroom parties.

Enough! Let's take back Valentine's Day and make it more meaningful, less expensive and not so wasteful. Here are 5 ideas that might help do that:

1. Ban the mass-produced greeting cards. Get out your stash of construction paper, glue, glitter, ribbon, lace, buttons, sequins and even colored macaroni, and make your own Valentine's Day cards. Kids love crafts and they should be encouraged to make special cards for the people they care about...a teacher, grandparents, parents, best friends. Teachers could instruct kids to not exchange cards in class so that no one would feel left out if some didn't get as many cards as others. With just a few special cards, there will far less paper waste.

2. Ix-nay on the cheap candy. It's not worth the calories, or the few bucks a couple of bags of SweetTarts and Jolly Ranchers cost. Instead make mini-cupcakes, brownies or cookies. Have fun with a heart-shaped cake pan and lots of red icing. Try making marshmellows or fudge from scratch.  If a classroom party is planned, perhaps just a few parents can take care of the snacks to avoid waste. There are plenty of opportunities during the rest of the year for full participation. But no class needs 22 parents sending in sweets. With home-made treats (served on paper napkins made from recycled paper or even a collection of plastic plates that can be washed and reused; or contained in wax-paper bags instead of plastic Baggies), there are no nasty plastic wrappers and bags to throw away.

[Because I consider really good dark chocolate an essential food group, I fully approve of a gift of a box of chocolates on Valentine's Day. Not frugal. Probably not green. I don't care.]

3. Avoid cut flowers. Now, I love flowers. I really do. But it turns out that the average bouquet of cut flowers creates about 5 pounds of carbon before it even lands in the U.S. from Ecuador or Columbia where 80% of cut flowers sold in the U.S. originate. And if the carbon footprint of imported flowers isn't bad enough, things get really scary when you think about the amounts and types of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are used in the industrial greenhouses where most of these flowers are grown.  If the flowers don't grow near you, don't buy them. Instead, give your sweetheart a plant that will grow in your garden or on your windowsill. Or buy a couple of seed packets of his/her favorite flower. Check out the Burpee, Johnny's  or Park seed  collections on-line. Reserve a fruit tree at your local nursery for planting in the spring. Or make a contribution in your loved one's name to an organization that builds or sustains public gardens, reforestation programs or community gardens.

4. Many couples become engaged on Valentine's Day. It's a very sweet tradition. An engagement often means a ring, usually a diamond. There are all kinds of issues - political and environmental - with diamonds these day. And, of course, there is the enormous expense. An about-to-be-engaged couple might want to consider having an existing diamond in a ring or other piece of jewelry (one that has been in the family or found at an estate sale, auction or even a flea market) and having it reset. For other jewelry gifts, why not consider something hand made by a local artisan or crafter, or a vintage piece from a specialty shop, thrift or resale shop or a flea market?

5.  Eat in instead of out. Valentine's Day may only be second to Mother's Day in numbers of restaurant reservations. When restaurants are that busy, they aren't at their best. And we all know that eating out is expensive, especially if you add liquor and/or wine to your tab. Instead, plan a really special meal at home. OK, maybe it won't be romantic. And you'll still have to do the dishes. But it can still be sensational. Splurge on filet mignon or halibut. Make a gorgeous dessert (or buy one at the top baker in town). Set the table with your best china and silverware. Get dressed up. You'll still spend half of what you would on a restaurant meal and you might have leftovers for a great second meal. If you have children at home, include them and make them feel really special. Encourage them to make place cards and a centerpiece.

The point is Valentine's Day should be about you and the ones you love, not about a greeting card writer's sentiments or a store's bottom line. Create new traditions that have meaning for you.

Do you have any special things you do for Valentine's Day that are frugal and green or both?


  1. Very good post, Dee Dee. I agree with you on every point. I almost took issue on # 4 until I read what you said about using an existing diamond for an engagement ring. Great idea.

  2. Hi Pam, thanks for commenting. I thought there might be some people who would really disagree with me on this one. Especially about flowers - you can get really beautiful bouquets a the grocery store for just a few $s. But the environmental costs are enormous. About the ring - with so many of my daughters' cohort getting engaged these days, I've been hearing some pretty awful stories about engagement ring trauma. There's got to be a better way! take care. hope you'll visit again.