I’ve always marvelled at the speed and dexterity of how shopping malls are able to turnover their decorative theme almost overnight and wow shoppers the next day with the new set up for the upcoming celebration.
This skill is even more apparent when festive occasions occur consecutively over a short span of time. Barely have we finished admiring the Christmas decorations in December, when the reds and golds of Chinese New Year descended almost immediately after.
And now we are greeted with pastel pink hearts and red roses to remind us to get ready (with our wallets, what else?) for the next occasion around the corner – Valentine’s Day. It is not just the brick and mortar shopping malls that are cashing in on consumer sentiments and trying to create the mood to spend, spend, spend.
Even online shopping sites are milking the occasion for all its worth, flashing banners and pop ups reminding us to purchase while offering “irresistible” bargains galore. It is too easy to be caught up in the euphoria, no thanks to the overload of sensory triggers around us, and give in to the impulse to spend.
It doesn’t just stop at purchasing a gift item either. Hotels and restaurants are just as eager to cash in on the occasion, churning out exclusive menus with fancy, romantic sounding dishes to entice couples to part with equally fancy amounts of money. And the cycle continues next year, and the year after that.
There is no denying all these cost money and there are many celebrations over the course of a year which you would celebrate with your spouse or partner such as Valentine’s Day, birthday or an anniversary celebration. Many of us tend to view each occasion as a separate independent event when we splurge on it. However, if we were to add it all together, we would probably be surprised how much we are spending in a year.
For some, the expenses are entirely within their means and neither are they dipping into their savings nor incurring credit card debt. In fact, for many couples, the expense has become a yearly tradition which both parties look forward to annually.
However, just for illustration’s sake – if you were to save RM1,000 per Valentine’s Day for 25 years and invest that amount with a return of 10% p.a., you would have accumulated RM98,347 at the end of that period!
Of course, I am not suggesting that we ignore and forego these celebrations altogether at the risk of incurring the disappointment or wrath of our partners. But rather, consider other ways which allow us to commemorate the occasion with a similar degree of love and commitment without having to conform to the usual expectations.
In other words, rather than spend for the consumption or enjoyment of a single day, why not try something more creative and unorthodox this Valentine’s Day by investing towards a more meaningful goal for your loved one instead.
Before we look at what are some possible alternative gift ideas, let’s not forget the main consideration – the budget. Very often, the costs of festivities and celebrations are not included in one’s yearly expense budget as people tend to regard this type of spending as negligible compared to the more “visible” costs such as car maintenance and petrol, education fees and school expenses or even holidays.
It is also common for most people not to plan ahead for spending on celebrations and only decide when the time comes. Unlike vacations which involves significant efforts to coordinate leave, school holidays and seasonal price vagaries, celebrations being a one-day affair tend to require less thought and preparation. But this is also the very reason why if such spontaneous spending is left unchecked, celebrations can run the risk of burning a big hole into our annual expenditure.
For those who do set a budget for each celebration, it is more often than not done on a one-off occasion basis, for instance, capping a maximum of RM1,000 – RM1,500 including a gift, flowers and dinner for the upcoming Valentine’s Day. But what about the birthday around the corner, or the wedding anniversary thereafter?
Once you tally up an average of three gifts and three fancy dinners each year, the total costs spent per annum may not seem so negligible after all. What can you get your loved one for that amount instead? Plenty, if we can stretch our imagination a little and attempt to discard the traditional notions of what qualifies as “romantic” or “unromantic”. Consider these alternatives instead:
Top-up savings in EPF/Private Retirement Schemes (PRS) or insurance policy: You may make additional contributions on behalf of your loved one in the interest of his/her retirement wellbeing. Although the money cannot be used today, it will be there when they need it most in the future;
Purchase a will-writing service: If you are married and have not written a will yet, getting it done together speaks volumes of your commitment to each other, more than any Michelin- starred fine dining can; or
Gift of a financial planning service: Regardless whether your partner is a stickler for his/her financial affairs or is in perpetual financial disarray, nothing beats giving him/her and the family as well a head start in securing a healthier financial future.
Nevertheless, if you still strongly believe in gifting your partner with something more tangible that can be enjoyed immediately, just bear in mind a few things to avoid falling into the consumer traps laid so nicely by the retail shops and virtual malls.
Do not buy gifts at the last minute. For the sake of customary gift giving, you may well end up buying something that your partner does not really need or want. Often, due to the occasion, retailers are known to take advantage by marking up prices or removing discounts. If you already know what to get for your partner, keep tabs on the store for its sales period and buy the item then.
Make the gift more meaningful by putting more thought into choosing it, identify its value to the recipient and personalising it. For example, does your partner really need another pair of earrings, a new handbag or fragrance? If he/ she has a favourite author whose latest book has yet to hit the shelves, why not pre-order it so that your loved one will be among the first to own a copy.
Or give an I.O.U. for a 3 Days 2 Nights getaway at a later date when both of you can make time, knowing how busy the start of the year can be. The choices are endless if you are prepared to get creative by thinking beyond just the day of the celebration itself.
While you may already have a plan in mind to celebrate this year, it’s never too early to plan ahead for the next. Remember, start with a budget and put aside regular savings for it in a segregated account. This will help prevent any overspending or even avoid having to scrimp on the celebration should any other unexpected expenses come your way during that month.
Break away from the norm and commemorate the special occasion in an alternative way that will be remembered and appreciated in the years to come. It will give true meaning to the phrase “the gift that keeps on giving”. Happy Valentine’s Day!
First published in Smart Investor 02, 2020 Issue
Director of Financial Planning at Finwealth Management Sdn Bhd