Do you feel the pressure yet? Once New Year's Day has passed, it's not unusual to find Valentine's Day paraphernalia on store shelves--from bags of candy hearts to red-and-white stuffed teddy bears, from heart-themed boxer shorts to "Be Mine" balloons. This is also when those TV commercials for diamond jewelry pick up in earnest. And you'll soon see the local newspaper filled with restaurant ads featuring prix fixe Valentine's Day dinners.
Traditionally, Valentine's Day is a holiday when loved ones express their affection for one another--with cards or love poems, flowers or gifts. But with all the commercial marketing of the holiday, you might get caught up in what you "should" buy for your spouse, significant other or child.
My advice? Ignore all the Valentine's Day merchandise and advertisements, and select a truly personal gift, one that comes from the heart and best suits the recipient--whether it's something you actually buy in the store, an "act of service" or a special experience. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Forget the flowers. Or at least don't buy traditional red roses. Why? Because such a bouquet is overpriced when you buy it on February 14--florists tend to jack up the prices of red roses on Valentine's Day. So unless your girlfriend has expressly said, "I want red roses" or hinted, "Gosh, I've never had a boyfriend give me roses," go for an untraditional bouquet of her favorite stems. Don't know if she prefers daisies or irises? Check with her best friend. Or to make a gift of flowers really special for your wife, ask your florist to recreate her wedding bouquet.
- Bag the chocolate or lacy lingerie. These are two other traditional Valentine's Day gifts. But does your husband really need a giant Hershey's kiss? Your children probably overdosed on sweets during the December holiday season. And if your girlfriend or wife is trying to lose a few pounds, you definitely don't want to bring home a box of chocolates. A gift of lingerie for women can be dicey because of the sizing. You'll be in big trouble if you present a teddy that's too small!
- Consider jewelry, with one caveat. Come February, jewelry manufacturers typically roll out the ads for heart-shaped pendants with sweet little diamonds nestled inside. If this is the type of jewelry your wife or girlfriend wears, then go for it. But if she's more of a turquoise-and-silver type of gal, don't choose the piece of delicate gold. Match your jewelry selection to her tastes, and she'll love such a surprise gift. Again, if you're not sure what she really wants--or she hasn't dropped any hints--consult her best girlfriend.
- Think outside the box. So if you can't buy roses, chocolate, lingerie or that diamond necklace you saw advertised on TV, what can you buy your loved one for Valentine's Day? Just about anything goes! Has she been wanting a manicure, but hesitant to spend the money for such an indulgence? Get her a gift certificate to a local salon. (If you're feeling extra generous, few women would turn down an entire day of pampering! Ask the receptionist at your local day spa for ideas.) Has she been wanting to see the second season of Lost? Buy her the DVDs. Is she a sports nut? Get her that heart-rate monitor she's been coveting. Has she always wanted to go on a hot-air balloon ride? Book a trip, complete with a champagne breakfast.
The point here is that you should really try to personalize your gift to your spouse or girlfriend. Giving a gift that says, "I'm totally tuned into your wants and needs" is tons more romantic than snagging a silly stuffed animal at the corner convenience store on February 14. Put some thought into it.
- Exercise caution with a gift card. As mentioned above, most women would love a gift certificate for a massage or other pampering treatment. But if your relationship is fairly new and/or your girlfriend would much prefer a physical token of your love, don't give a gift certificate--whether it's for a service or a specific store. If my husband came home with a gift certificate to my favorite local clothing store, I'd absolutely love it. But we've been married for nearly a decade, and he's long since won me over with flowers and jewelry.
- Specific advice if you're buying for him: The same theory about "thinking outside the box" applies for gift-giving to men, as well. If he's been hankering for a new golf club, surprise him with it. Tickets to a pro football game? Get online and buy them. An iPod? He'll love you for it. If your husband is the type who appreciates "acts of service," make up a homemade coupon redeemable for a half-hour massage--given by you! Or tell him he can have the guys over to watch hockey next weekend, and you and the kids will leave the house so he and his friends can have it all to themselves. Or if you know he hates taking out the trash, tell him you'll do it for the next month. Be creative and clever and let your imagination run wild.
- Specific advice if you're buying for your kids: I have fond childhood memories of entering my kitchen on the morning of February 14 and finding a little gift wrapped in red or pink tissue paper. It was never anything big--maybe some art supplies or a puzzle--but I loved that my mom thought about getting me a special treat on Valentine's Day.
I do the same for my children--this year it will probably be a little Lego kit for my son and a new red shirt for my daughter (she loves dressing appropriately for the holidays). After all, sharing your love with your family is what this holiday is all about.