People often think that because I'm cheap, I don't really enjoy life. In fact, it's just the opposite. Because I don't need to spend a lot of money to enjoy life, I don't need to spend a lot of time getting a lot of money. But, you do need to know how to get the most enjoyment with the fewest bucks, and that's what this section is about.

Love Means Never Having to Say You're Cheap

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Not to detract from the romance of it all, but Valentine's Day is the commercial demon-seed of holidays. At least if you're a romantic who also happens to be a cheapskate, like me. The pressure these days to write a love note with your checkbook is palpable, and unfortunate.

People are shocked to learn that a spending-challenged guy like me has been married to the same wonderful woman for 24 years; or, as she says with that sly wink I've always adored, "almost three and half good years. Not all at once, mind you."

You might wonder if there are any Valentine's Days included in that total, since it's rumored to take the jaws-of-life to extract my wallet from my back pocket. As my poooor wife said last year on my least favorite holiday, "Jeff, I know you never promised me a rose garden, but another Chia Pet?"

["Panty Roses" available at the Dollar Store, pictured at right, combine two great gifts for a buck: A silk rose which contains a surprise - and adjustable - rose colored thong! "That's amor`e for a-less`e!" says the Ultimate Cheapskate.]


Strategically positioned between Christmas and Tax Day - the two Black Holes of outgoing cash flow (Can you hear the sucking sound?) - Valentine's Day was obviously engineered by marketers as a release valve to siphon off that thin film of personal earnings that's just beginning to gather above the red tide of our yearend holiday debt, on or about February 14th each year. But there I go again, dampening the esprit d'amore of our lover's holiday. Forgive me for accidentally pouring salt peter in your $60 box of Godiva chocolates.

Those of us with a spending phobia need to be at the top of our game when it comes time to shop for our sweethearts, determined to show our love without resorting to that most meaningless of all human gestures: Using money and stuff as a substitute for how we really feel and what we really want to say. We need to sharpen our thrift-craft like the tip of Cupid's arrow. Some pointers for the frugal at heart:

- What a difference a day makes: Consider abandoning the Gregorian Lunar Calendar and adopting the Cheapskate Lucre Calendar. All gift-giving holidays are celebrated one day after the date indicated on the traditional calendar. By celebrating Valentine's Day on February 15th, for example, heart-shaped boxes of candy are 75% off and long stemmed roses ($110 a dozen the day before) are often given away for free before being recycled into $1 bags of potpourri at the Dollar Store.

- Friends don't let friends pay retail: Avoid shopping at boutiques (which is French for "small stores with big prices") and women's apparel stores with names that contain any of the following words: chic, Rio, petite, haute, Milan, designer, palm, London, galleria, Rome, promenade, couture, fusion, Paris, or depot (unless, of course, it's proceeded by the word "home"). As a general rule of thumb, only shop for women's apparel and other gift items at stores that also sell and install radial tires, like Costco and Sam's Club; why settle for a pricey panty-of-the-month club when you can get panties-by-the-pound?

- Recycle, reduce, reuse: Remember, it's only re-gifting if you believe it's re-gifting or, in the case of intimate apparel, if it's been worn for more than one night. And not only does love grow deeper with age, but at some golden point in your relationship you can start gift wrapping things the other person has forgotten about in their closet and giving them to him/her again; you know it's the right size and they liked it at least well enough to buy it the first time around.


Last but not least, remember that it's the thought - not the price tag - that counts when gift giving, and thoughtfulness costs absolutely nothing. Need proof? As American spending on Valentine's Day topped the $14 billion mark last year, it ironically crossed paths with another skyrocketing trajectory of U.S. spending: marriage counseling also became a $14 billion annual industry that same year.

Need more proof? This year my sweetheart says she wants Chia Garfield; but only if I can find it at the Dollar General. God I love that woman.

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posted by Jeff Yeager at 7:40 AM 8 comments

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