Jewelry, flowers, and bears, oh my! If you’re not careful, this holiday is a great way to burn a hole in your wallet.

This year, our one word resolution is Thrifty, so when a holiday like Valentine’s day comes up, the pressure is on to find a way to stay true to our thrifty values, while still going a little bit out of my way to show my amazing wife how much I love her.

Here’s what I did differently this year that made for a great day with my wife while still keeping thrifty.

Take Care of the Details

I wanted this to be a good time for us to focus on each other, so I talked to my mother-in-law a few weeks ago and set up a sleepover for our kids so my wife and I could have uninterrupted focus-time.

Family babysitting = free and the kids love going to their grandparents’ house — it’s a win for everyone involved.

Focus on the Spirit over the Letter

There’s nothing that says you have to celebrate Valentine’s day on February 14th. If we’re going to go to a restaurant, I’d rather avoid waiting for an hour or two or dealing with the stress of reservations and the sometimes higher prices.

Instead, we celebrated Valentine’s day starting Friday evening (the 12th) through Saturday evening (the 13th).

Spend on what you Value

Friday night, we went out to dinner — something we don’t do together very often so it’s a real special treat for us. That said, if we’re going out, we’ve decided we’re not really interested in dropping our hard-earned money on chain places anymore.

We once spent $70 at Olive Garden between the two of us on a date and that pretty much broke our desire to keep on that path. If I’m paying $70, I’m going to get something way better.

One of my coworker’s sons has two restaurants in the Madison area, one of which recently opened and we’d never been.

Charlie’s on Main in Oregon, Wisconsin, which is a hyper-local farm-to-table restaurant with “standard american” food with a high-class twist.

I had the best burger I’ve had in a long time and after my wife finished her gourmet grilled cheese, she declared Charlie’s as her new favorite restaurant. The portions were perfect, the ingredients were great quality, the sides were awesome and unexpected.

All told, we spent $58 (including wine, appetizer, entrees, and desert) and it was worth every penny for the great conversation, food, and time spent together.

After dinner we went back home and watched Jurrasic World, which I had checked out from the library earlier that week. By being patient and waiting a whole 9 months after the original theatrical release date (gasp), I was able to go from spending $20+ in the theater to instead spending a whopping $0 to see the movie in the comfort of our own home.

Experiences over Things

Over the years, my wife has developed a real passion for remodeling and interior design. I’m not talking the “add 75 throw-pillows and move that coffee table to be feng shui” kind of interior design. I’m talking the “knock that closet out and build a bench with cubbies” kind of interior design.

She’s pretty bad-ass and I’m in full support of her kind of design :)

With that in mind, I really got lucky this year — the Madison Build, Remodel, and Landscape show was being held downtown this weekend and my office had a handful of free tickets for people who were interested. Because I knew my wife would love it, I was able to snag a pair.

Paid admission was just $5 per person, but our free admittance was even better.

Leave Room to Explore

We finished the show and had plenty of time before we needed to go pick up the kids, so we decided to go get some coffee and a muffin and then explore downtown Madison a bit.

It’s cold in Madison this time of year — the low tonight will be -1 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) but we were up for the walk because we had our winter gear and you never know what you’re going to find in downtown Madison.

Jaime on the square

The cold doesn't bother my wife anyway...

Outside of the coffee shop, we were approached by a homeless woman that was looking for help so she could get another blanket and gloves. We didn’t have any cash on us, but my wife took off her gloves and gave them to the woman.

We wished we could do more but, in the moment, that was as good as we had. We then split my gloves between the two of us and kept our other hands in our pockets.

Chris on the square

Me with one glove, coffee, and a cross-country ski track in the road behind me

We walked around Madison’s capital square and were pleased to see a temporary cross-country skiing track in the road, along with snow sculptures in-progress, a hockey stand, and a temporary sledding hill (a metal slide with packed snow at the bottom).

snow sculptures

A snow-sculpture rose in progress

As we finished going around the square, we saw the homeless woman again, still looking for another blanket, and we wished her well and told her we’d pray for her. On our way to the car, we decided to run to a local thrift store, get her a blanket and bring it back to her.

We drove out of the parking lot, paid our $5 parking fee and went to the local St. Vincent de Paul’s. We found a great-condition coleman sleeping bag for $7.39, rolled it up and put it in the car.

Months ago, when we got a hole in our air mattress that we couldn’t fix, my wife decided to cut off the top and bottom and repurpose them as tarps for moving things in the car. They’re waterproof other than the pinprick holes we couldn’t find, and now that we’re down to one car we really only need one.

Knowing how important protection from water/snow is, I figured we could give one to the homeless woman along with the sleeping bag and at least get her a step in the right direction.

We drove back to the square, found on-street parking ($0.35 for 12 minutes) while we walked around the square again to find her. Unfortunately we didn’t see her, but my wife remembered the church the woman said she slept behind so we drove over and luckily found her about a block away.

After wishing her well and letting her know that she’d be in our prayers, we were on our way.

None of this part of the date was planned, but because we had left ourselves extra time, we were able to have a small adventure, see some cool things in downtown Madison, and help out a woman who was going through a rough portion of her life.

Grand Total: $79.18

If I had pushed it, I could have spent a lot less for Valentine’s day this year — not eating out, not getting coffee, not getting the sleeping bag for the homeless woman, but overall the $80 we spent was worth it for us.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned in being thrifty is that it’s not as much about how much you spend — it’s more about whether you’re using your money on things that are truly meaningful and important.

Our money today was much better spent than dropping $500 on jewelry that may or may not get worn, flowers that die, and a stuffed animal that will get discarded.

We spent our Valentine’s day time and money on experiences that were meaningful to us and that we’ll remember for a long time.

Overall, I’d say it’s the best one we’ve had yet and I can attribute a lot of it to our focus on being thrifty and spending our money based on our values, not based on the normal expectations of what we’re “supposed” to spend on.

I hope your Valentine’s day is filled with love, experiences, and togetherness. As always, don’t forget to Keep Thrifty.