Five Free Gifts for Valentine’s Day

Three Not Too Pricey Valentine’s Ideas was a great read, filled with some awesome advice about the upcoming Valentine’s day shuffle. In thinking about it, I realized that my guy and I are extremists when it comes to holidays and shopping.

Our 8 year anniversary was yesterday, and though we said our happy anniversaries to one another, there were no gifts exchanged. My guy went to the store and picked up cat food, a chicken, some ice cream, and some popcorn – something which could have been done any day but just happened to be done on our special date. There were no secret anniversary-only plans.

We didn’t exchange gifts on Yule, either. There weren’t great amounts of cash spent on gifts for ourselves or our friends. We didn’t send out cards. In fact, the only things that he spent money for were the tree and the ornaments. This was a new thing – normally, we don’t spend anything on the holidays.

Valentine’s day acknowledges the fact that there are people who are willing to die for love. It’s somewhat based on a priest who died simply for joining others in matrimony. The commercialized version of Valentine’s Day says that we’re to offer tokens of appreciation for our loved ones in the form of cards, gifts, and more.

Five Free Gifts for Valentine’s Day

1. Gratitude

Your partner is willing to share their life with you on a continuing basis, not just on Valentine’s day. There are going to be times that you don’t like them. There will be times that you’re insanely in love with them. Look at the times in between and thank your partner for the stability and joy that they’ve brought to your life.

2. Services

One of the best gifts that I’ve received was the gift of having my guy clean the kitchen for me. He washed all of the dishes, swept the floor, got the counters, and more, staving off the need to have to wash dishes for several days. I will happily edit his book and cook his meals. For Valentine’s Day, I plan to go out of my way.

3. Love Letters

This was suggested in Tracy’s post, and there are excellent recommendations associated with it. Love letters are free, and they hopefully appropriately express the sentiments that are held for the other person. Here are some further tips on writing the love letter.

How to Write the Perfect Love Letter in 3 Short Paragraphs

4. Charity

We don’t necessarily go out and work at homeless shelters, but both of us take the time to help others in the ways which we are able. He is often devising workings to help our friends, and I am constantly reformatting their resumes. One of the best ways to say that you’re on board with a person is to work toward a cause which in which they believe. There is so much returned from charity that it’s difficult to say that it’s a one-way street.

5. Presentation

Marketers will tell you that it’s all in the presentation. Take something ordinary and put some flourishes and touches on it to make it distinctly yours. One of the things that I’ve done to spice up our meals is to write words and put hearts in them. I’ve recently been making meals that have some of the same design concepts as Epic Meal Time, but flowers and other edibles add a nice touch, too.

Whether it is February 14th or September 22nd, every day is Valentine’s Day. Purchasing gifts is one of the easiest ways to approach the season because the sentiment is ready-made. When you go a little deeper than mere trinkets, you open opportunities to truly connect with those loved ones. Free gifts will go a LOT further than the cards, rings, and flowers.

Image attribution goes to Epsos on Flickr

Hit Up Thrift Stores

I was personally amazed when I found that my local Goodwill had some books. Usually, it’s a pretty limited selection, confined to some biographical works and a bit of the positive inspiration stuff. I was able to score some of the textbooks that were popular during the 80’s and 90’s, too. Like going to the used bookstore, it’s not suggested to look there if you’re trying to find some of the newer releases, but if you don’t particularly care what you’re reading, this is awesome.

The Holistic Nature of Money

Money is merely a tool, but it stands in the way of the resources that I wish to obtain. If I’m cash poor, I can’t get certain things which would make my life easier. It’s one of the most all pervasive, necessary tools on the planet. That’s one of the reasons that I’m working on understanding it a lot better – because it’s not just about personal finance, it’s about lifestyle and who I am as a person.

In my life, money has been responsible for:

My attitude

If I don’t have five dollars in my pocket, my mood tends to go into the toilet. I don’t feel like I’m worth it as a person, and I begin to have those creeping self doubts that can truly kill an attitude and friendships. I have to admit that I become more cynical about people just because I don’t have the five bucks in my pocket.

The friends I have

This is something which will be looked at more over the coming months. I lost track of a couple of friends because they live more than an hour and a half away. They’re good folks, don’t get me wrong, but visiting them (and their unwillingness to visit us) was becoming unwieldy. We didn’t have the (minimum) $30 in our pockets to pay for the gas to go over to their house.

My eating habits

Should I eat out? Should I stay in? What do I have in the pantry that can help me out for the cause of keeping food in my belly? The money in my pocket (and my account) have determined not only where I’ve eaten, but what I’ve eaten when I get there. Even when I go out to restaurants, I still purchase the cheap stuff. If I knew that I had over $1000 bucks in the back, I might have gotten the chef’s special.

My housing

I’ve lived in a few crappy apartments. I’ve lived in a few crappy houses, too. These places were determined by how much cash that I was bringing in. I have a roommate because of the money situation. I’ve been practically homeless because I didn’t have the cash to pay rent. I haven’t been able to afford security deposits and pass the credit checks that some apartment complexes have. I was able to get my house, but I didn’t look at the greatness of the house first – I looked at what I could afford.

My exercise regimen

I canceled my gym membership because I didn’t have the money to be able to afford it. While the membership was only $10 a month, there were more important things to push our money toward. What I found is that there’s an entire regimen of body weight exercises that I could do and achieve the same effects. That, and walking around big box stores is free. I did, however, enjoy the comforts of walking on the treadmill at 5am with my fellow earlybirds.

My hobbies

I adore going to science fiction and fantasy conventions. Hanging out over at friend’s houses does not provide the same energy as being around friends and total strangers simultaneously. The conversation is usually fairly intelligent, the hotel rooms provide a common source of gripes and irritation, and the restaurant food is usually reasonable.

Money is pervasive in all facets of society and all facets of my life. In fact, I cannot think of anything which the fingers of money don’t touch somewhere along the line. Money isn’t the root of all evil, though – it’s at the center of everything both good and evil.

Picture courtesy of _J_D_R on Flickr
Can you come up with something that’s NOT affected at all by money?

Spend MORE money with Insurance!

TUM and I recently claimed domestic partnership, and I was added to the company insurance. I thought, ‘hey, I’m doing the right thing by having health insurance!’ and did the happy dance because my out of pocket expenses were going down. There was much cause for rejoicing! Right until I did the comparison.

TUM is paying $300 a month for the both of us. I didn’t have to change doctors or pharmacists, something for which I am thankful. The service with the doctor hasn’t changed, nor the other things that are required. We’re spending more for medications and more for doctor’s visits.

Let’s look at medication.

Without insurance, I was able to fill a three month prescription.
Cost: $75 for 3 months.

With insurance, I am limited to a single month’s prescription.
Cost: $33 for 1 month.

Yes, that’s a $26 increase in medication costs.

How about the doctor’s visit?

Without insurance, I paid $120 for the entire visit. This includes lab work and the visit. The doctor ordered only necessary tests, and was able to give me discounts on the items which I needed. This was a general check up that comes with standard bloodwork.

With insurance, I paid $60 for the office visit, and am requested to pay an additional $93 in lab tests. This doesn’t mention the $300 each month which is being paid into the system. The doctor ordered tests which might not have been necessary, though I received the same care and bedside manner.

That’s a $33 increase in a doctor’s visit.

Doctor’s visits and medication are the two things that I get. I’m going to not claim insurance for my medications when I go to get them again next month, so I can get three months as well as a cheaper rate. I’m not sure about the doctor’s visit – maybe those tests really were necessary. Maybe the money that we’re spending toward the insurance industry is well worth it. To me, it seems like adding a useless middleman to get the opportunity to pay more.

Health insurance costs are rising, according to the New York Times. This places the financial strain on everyone. I totally get that. What I don’t totally get is the arbitrary creation of a market which places itself directly between the people who offer health care and the people who need it.

It seems to me that if the insurance companies are pricing themselves out of affordability, and the services that we’re receiving have risen merely for the fact that insurance was obtained, that maybe insurance isn’t a necessity. In other words, if we have to be insured, maybe the market should be allowed to crumble so it can readjust itself.

Do hospitals and long term care professionals raise their prices specifically to counteract the existence of insurance?

What We’re Eating (Follow Up)

We haven’t bought groceries here since January 4, but it’s about that time. We would have gone a couple of days ago, but we went to a convention and spent lots of money on food. The total money that was spent was around $127.

This doesn’t reflect the cash that TUM spent on food, which brings the cost to a little over $250. The price of the hotel room was $330 for three nights. My mother picked up the cost of that one. It was a fabulous convention, and well worth the money.

We were fortunate to receive food from a friend to cover the cost of five meals. Imagine my delight when I saw a small roasting pan in the fridge filled with beans, rice, and chicken. Yesterday, TUM and I ate from that tin for five meals. It was absolutely awesome. Do not underestimate the power of friends when it comes to your food budget.

Now, it’s back to basics.

How to Save Money at Conventions

I am one of the couple hundred for whom the new year doesn’t start until I sing Auld Lang Syne at GaFilk. GaFilk is a convention for incredibly talented singers and entertainers (some of them professional) who also happen to be in the science fiction and fantasy community. Think about every time that you’ve made up new words to songs, that’s filking.

There’s a good definition of what filk is over here for those who are curious. That article explains it much more thoroughly than I can.

The convention itself is held the first weekend after the new year, and has been a long standing tradition. If you’ve never been to a con before, think about going to one, whether it be a financial bloggers convention or a science fiction convention or a furry covention or … well, just go to one. It’s an experience that should be had at least once during your life, no matter how staid and normaly that you believe you are. Go with an open mind, and you will be rewarded.

All told, between the room, food, gas, membership, and swag, we’re (me, my mother, and TUM) going to spend between $600-$700 for the entire adventure. It’s WELL worth it. As a financial blogger, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer up some tips about how to be frugal and still have fun.

1. Save up during the year
Calculate how much you want to spend for the convention. Depending on travel costs, a convention can easily top the $1000 mark for a single three day event. I can tell you from experience that it’s still well worth it. The earlier that you decide to go to a convention, the better, because you can save up your cash during the course of the year.

2. Make a grocery run or bring your own food
Most conventions have a con(vention) suite where, for the price of membership, you can get munchies and sodas which will carry you through the course of the convention. The stock of the con suites vary from con to con, some having ‘real food’ and others having slim pickins. If you buy a loaf of bread and get some PB&J, you should be set for food.

I spend a lot more money on food at a convention than anything else. It can often be bunches more than the con itself. Hotel food is expensive, and you can’t count on there always being reasonable fast food or restaurants around the area. The PB&J sandwiches will cost you under $10 and save you a ton.

3. Capitalize on your Travel Discounts
If you need to fly to the location, take advantage of your frequent flyer miles and the other discounts that you tend to use when you have to travel. Sometimes, because of the stuff that you’re bringing, it’s easier to drive to the con (and avoid the excess baggage fees). Either way, I figure that you know of the best ways to redeem miles and get plane tickets.

4. Carpool
Most conventions have message boards, where general excitement is built up around the convention, the guests that are going to be there, and more. Usually, there are rideshares offered on this board, which can significantly cut your travel costs. It gives you a chance to hang out with a new person for a little while, one who is considered part of the X (science fiction, financial blogging, anime geek, board gaming, etc) family.

5. Make a List of Stuff to Bring
It’s a foregone conclusion for seasoned congoers that there’s always going to be something forgotten at home. Many just hope that the thing that they forget isn’t too terribly important. When you make a list of things to bring, it saves you from needing to get replacement items at the gift shop or in the local area. Like with gas prices, food prices are sometimes more expensive even in the local area because of convenience.

Conventions themselves are relaxing events (most of the time) because you get the opportunity to see friends, hang out with like minded people, and enjoy the comforts of another venue. They’re (generally) well worth going to, cost less than many vacation activities, and let you get a good recharge in your life. I’m going to be at GaFilk over the next few days, and will return on Monday (more than likely, I’ll be singing a song).