OFFBEAT: Cheap thrills

This Feb. 14 is the three-year anniversary of when I went into debt buying my girlfriend presents on Valentine's Day.
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

This Feb. 14 is the three-year anniversary of when I went into debt buying my girlfriend presents on Valentine's Day.

The gifts were nothing extraordinary.

Flowers. Chocolates. Books. All run-of-the-mill niceties.

But added together, I broke the bank -- possibly the only thing nearly as tough to fix as a broken heart.

I used my credit card to pay for the romantic gestures. This means I really didn't pay for them until my Visa bill showed up in the mail.

Then it was Ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner for many days thereafter.

And as anyone who's eaten Ramen noodles for more than two meals straight can tell you, it should be avoided whenever possible.

Love is a strong emotion, arguably the strongest. Cupid's arrows -- though outdated artillery -- still pack a punch.

But despite what popular culture insistently tells us, love does not have to be expensive.

I remember a jewelry advertisement from several years back that summed up the crazed consumer culture of the last few decades.

The ad's message was: Buy her something she wants, not what you can afford.

What a mind-boggling idea.

If I cannot afford something, isn't that exactly what I shouldn't be buying? Do significant others really want us to make such bad decisions all in the name of affection?

As we wade through the financial mess, caused in part by sub-prime mortgage lending, this advertisement sticks in my mind.

It reminds me of the attitude of many people I know, and many people I see rummaging the aisles at local stores.

Consumers want things they can't afford. And not being able to afford these things won't keep consumers from buying them.

I am single this Valentine's Day.

I know. Poor me.

But the splendid upside is that I won't feel compelled to spend money I don't have. No romantic interest means no Ramen noodles in the near future.

Many people can't say the same thing.

Local figures do not exist, but if national surveys are any guide, people will be dropping tons of money this weekend on their sweeties.

According to the National Retail Federation's 2008 Valentine's Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, consumers will spend on average about $123 on Valentine's Day.

That's on average.

We can only presume some people will spend amounts that make $123 pale in comparison.

The boost this will provide the stagnant economy aside, this means some lovesick residents will likely spend beyond their means.

It doesn't have to be so.

Funcoast is chock full of cheaper alternatives to swiping the credit card until the wrist is sore.

There's a Valentine's Day hike at 10 a.m. Saturday at Old Woman Creek in Huron. A lovey-dovey stroll through the woods is a great way to put you in the appropriate mood for the occasion.

Another cheap date begins at 1 p.m. Saturday in Fremont.

Horse-drawn sleigh and carriage rides are being offered at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. Admission is $3, weather permitting.

And all over Sandusky there are dinners, parties and social functions that do not require huge financial investments.

Why say with luxury gifts what you can say with a hike, horse-drawn carriage or pleasant meal?