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“Spend This, Not That” for Valentine’s Day 2014

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Although many people think that the flowers, candy and gift cartel gave birth to Valentine’s Day, its actual history dates back to the Middle Ages.

Poet Geoffrey Chaucer, frequently dubbed the Father of English literature, is also generally credited as the one who first associated early church liturgies celebrating various Christian saints named Valentinus with romantic love.

In his 1382 poem, Parelement of Foules, Chaucer wrote:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
When euery bryd comyth there to chese his make

Translation: For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate

And thus was born the greeting card industry – just kidding – and the custom of marking the closing days of winter with young lovers exchanging hand written notes of affection.

Of course, times have changed.

Simple, heartfelt romance expressed with fine paper and ink has blossomed into a $13 billion mega-industry. This year, the romantics among us will spend an average of $120 each on Valentine’s Day presents and activities.

The most common Valentine’s Day gifts are Cards (52.1%), followed by Candy (47.5%), Dining (34.6%), Flowers (34.3%) and Jewelry (17.3%).*

To be sure, nothing prohibits sweethearts from recognizing the day solely by enjoying each other’s company - perhaps on a sunset walk; exchanging personally crafted love notes; or simply talking to one another and cuddling until the wee hours of the morning. Price tag: $0.00.

Regardless of your budget, “Spend This, Not That” - a regular personal finance feature that I co-author with Dale Clarke of FreedomFastTrack.com, offers our suggestions for choosing wisely; leveraging cash outlays with infusions of creativity and imagination; spotting and utilizing savings opportunities; and above all else, making your Valentine’s Day gifts count.

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CHOCOLATES (Not That): Godiva offers Valentine’s Day chocolates in a keepsake, fabric heart-shaped box that contains 40 limited-edition heart-shaped pieces. “Make a grand romantic gesture with our…quintessential gift of love,” the chocolatier coos. Cost is $100, which includes free standard shipping.

CHOCOLATES (Spend This): That limited edition fabric heart-shaped box will have little utility once the goodies inside are gone. The box isn’t designed to be refillable and, in our experience, emits a stale smell in time.

For under $90 online, you can purchase the Sephra 16-Inch Stainless Steel 4-Pound home fondue fountain, capable of dispensing premium Belgium dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate and other delectable varieties (including liquid caramel) guaranteed to make your sweet-loving lover’s heart melt.

Plan your entire evening around the chocolate fountain, including what you’ll dip into it – strawberries, pound cake, pretzels, body parts… whatever.

Four pounds of your favorite fondue chocolate, more than enough to satiate even the most voracious chocoholic, will run you about $32.

Dishwasher safe parts are easy to clean and the fondue fountain can be used to entertain small gatherings year round – or to reenact your Valentine’s Day liaison whenever the mood is right.

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FLOWERS (Not That): 1-800-Flowers.com has a wide variety of flowers and vases available for delivery. The retailer’s listed prices may be discounted by ordering early or using a code provided to radio listeners and others. [If you must go this route, be sure to take advantage of these savings opportunities.]

In general, a dozen red roses will run you roughly $45 to $65; two dozen red roses from $60 to $80; 30 tulips $50 to $75 dollars; and orchids from $50 to $80. Shipping or local delivery is usually additional, and 1-800-Flowers.com offers combo gifts, that include flowers and your choice of stuffed animals, chocolates, other edibles and trinkets.

FLOWERS (Spend This): Reader’s Digest offers flower-lovers 8 professional tips for making their blooms stay fresh “for a few more days.” They include spritzing the petals with hair spray to increase the appearance of freshness; mixing vodka into the vase to minimize the growth of bacteria; and adding a copper penny, which mimics an acidifier.

We have a different idea: romantic plants. CBS News did a nice story supporting this alternative a couple years back, noting that “potted plants are beautiful, less pricey, and say ‘I love you’ a lot longer.”

Here are two of the recommendations CBS relayed from Master Gardener William Ross:

· Orchids: “They make a bold statement and are the perfect gift to impress a lover or secret crush. They’ll think of you for months as they examine the intricate flowers.”

· Flaming Flower: “Lush houseplants that have gorgeous blooms….with their glossy heart-shaped leaves. The sexy, showy flowers are a wonderful bonus with same heart shape.”

Call around to some area nurseries and garden centers (not florists) to pinpoint the best pricing. In general, you should expect to easily save 50% compared with the price of long-stem red roses.

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OTHER VALENTINE'S DAY IDEAS:

[Not That]: A his-and-hers day at an area spa. [Expensive. Ephemeral.]

[Spend This]: Turn your home into a spa for the night. Hire a professional in-home masseuse (Ephemeral, But Memorable). Buy luxurious his and her robes (Enduring). Light the bathtub with candles, make a mix tape of romantic music, add aromatic bath salts, and luxuriate in the privacy of your home.

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[Not That]: Dinner out at a fancy and (on Valentine’s Day) sure to be crowded restaurant. [Expensive. Conventional.]

[Spend This]: Pack a picnic basket with gourmet cuisine, locate a romantic and secluded spot, roll out a blanket, and watch the sun set. If you live in a cold-weather state, picnic in the (freshly washed and vacuumed) car under the stars. Look for a lovely vista where you can admire the lights of the city. (Less Expensive, Memorable)

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[Not That]: Catch a romantic movie or attend a play. [Limited Selection, Lacks Intimacy.]

[Spend This]: Download a romantic movie [Wide Selection, Inexpensive] and “act it out.” If the on-screen couple drinks wine, stock that wine. If they feed one another Chinese takeout using chopsticks, then do likewise. If they get wildly passionate on the kitchen table, then you can take it from there. [Originality]

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[Not That]: Present her with jewelry. [Expensive. Conventional. Enduring.]

[Spend This]: High-class, professional boudoir photography is a sexy way to create long-lasting and romantic memories. [Less Expensive. Less Conventional. Enduring] If you must give her jewelry (which is always overpriced), then buy her a [Relatively Less Expensive] locket to hold your boudoir souvenir.

Alternative: On a particularly tight budget? Why not squeeze together into a photo booth at a nearby mall for some laughs, hugging and smooching? Later, when your finances improve, you can enlarge the photo strips, which make wonderful, memorable wall hangings. [Inexpensive. Original. Enduring.]

Go ahead and make it an annual Valentine’s Day ritual. In time, the photo strips will prove a lovely, evolving memento of your romantic selves.

Alternative II: This is a blend of Idea #1 and Idea #2, for those with a taste for adventure and a budget to match. Why not rent a photo booth for the night and use your imagination as to what types of photo strips to capture?

There are vendors in most mid-size and large cities who’ll rent and deliver to you a fully equipped, self-contained “photo studio in a box.” Costs vary, but you’re likely to spend $500 to $1,000. Consider hosting a Valentine’s Day party centered around the photo booth and, of course, have the booth to yourselves after the guests go home.

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[Not That]: A night in a lovely high-end hotel suite, for an inner-city getaway. [Expensive. Conventional.]

[Spend This]: A change of scenery can help ignite passion and provide your Valentine’s Day night with the spirit of adventure.

But instead of plunking down two or three “Benjamins” for 350-square-feet of rented romantic space – check in after 3 pm, check out at 11 am – why not arrange with friends, colleagues or family to swap homes for the occasion?

The best swaps involve an exchange that delivers “fresh views” for both couples. Urban dwellers may enjoy a rural swap, and vice versa. A large home for a smaller, high-rise condo offers another change of pace.

Be sure to pack your own bed sheets, towels and toiletries. And do clean up after yourself. You don’t want to damage your friendship by making a mess of the other person’s dwelling.

Finally, a nice touch is for each couple to leave behind a token gift of appreciation. Think of it like tipping the maid, only sweeter.

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[Note: My “Spend This, Not That” co-author, Dale Clarke, is the cash flow expert at www.FreedomFastrack.com.

Based in Salt Lake City, Freedom FastTrack uses a veteran team of specialists who work one-on-one with small business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals throughout the country to allow them to keep more of what they earn and organize their finances in a comprehensive manner to accelerate their wealth.

Dale, once an aviation engineer, uses the same precision and analytical skills to solve financial problems for Freedom FastTrack members. He has worked with more than 475 different owners and professionals to free up more than $10 million in combined cash flow.

* Valentine’s Day facts and figures based on information available at www.StatisticBrain.com.

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