Valentine’s Day on a budget. How romantic. It’s nice to have a big splash with your loved one, but with the financial recession and rising prices, personal budgets are shrinking.
The fact that Sunday, Feb 14, this year will be a double celebration since Valentine’s Day falls on the first day of Chinese New Year is bound to make people aghast at the thought of shelling out a fortune — especially if you’ve just celebrated Christmas or plan to enjoy Chinese New Year.
Valentine’s Day is expensive. It has become a bonanza time for flower, chocolate and greeting card retailers, as well as restaurant and hotel owners.
The US National Retail Federation says the day is worth some RM54bil. US florists say that one quarter of all flowers are bought on this day, and that price hikes make this day worth RM74bil, that is some 60% of the annual market.
Malaysian statistics are unavailable. However, local businesses make this a super sales day too.
Flower sellers hike their prices. A single rose that costs RM2 on any other day is sold for RM15 or more. A meal out can cost a bomb. Last year, a single rose and a set menu consisting of soup, pasta and a slice of chocolate cake with one glass of wine was priced around RM88 per person in three-star restaurants. This was not including taxes and service charges.
From a peek at the ads this year, prices remain high.
If your pocket is not up to a splash this year, why not take this opportunity to create your own Valentine’s Day? It doesn’t take much to put together a romantic date that will knock the socks off your partner. Check out our tips to making the perfect day.
Pick the perfect setting
A dinner and a movie date sounds dull but it’s a classic because it works. However, why not do something completely different?
Arrange a picnic on the beach, at a National Park, a beautiful waterfall or organise a day’s sailing or kayaking. Do take into account that there will be very little moonlight this Valentine’s, so it will be perfect for stargazing.
If you arrange for a midnight picnic, bring lamps. For a date featuring breathtaking sunrise and sunset, be in place at 7.27am and at 7.28pm.
The Malaysian Credit Counselling And Debt Management Agency (AKPK) advise on their website to, “Look out for free concerts, kid’s programmes and family activities from the newspaper or through the tourist information centres/websites.”
Also consider going out for the day, and having a meal in your own home later on. Then you have the fun of doing something new, followed by the comforts of being home.
Frills make it
Carefully chosen frills can turn a nice time into a luxury experience. It needn’t cost much but it should appeal to the senses.
If you’re packing a picnic, bring little comforts. Think: a rug to sit on, pillows for your back, a cooler filled with iced drinks and a stack of iced face cloths.
For a home date, why not use local products to create a romantic atmosphere?
Pretty up plain tables and chairs with batik shawls, place orchids from the wet market in vases around the room and add banks of candles in the evening for that romantic glow.
You can buy economy bags of tea lights for a few ringgit.
Plan your menu
Unless you are pining for love and all food is dust, getting the menu right is critical.
Plan a meal where the starter, main course and dessert complement each other. Avoid starting with something really spicy like chilli prawns followed by a delicately flavoured dish like pan-fried salmon with bok choy.
If you’re going on a picnic, consider that ideal foods are robust and easy to eat. Think gourmet sandwiches, cold roast chicken and pasta salads. These all stand up to bumpy car/bicycle rides and don’t have to be eaten at precise temperatures to be at their best.
Go for a simple starter
The key thing is to keep everything as simple as possible. This way you’re not stressed and there’s less chance of anything going wrong.
Cut down on kitchen time by picking starters that can be made the day before or put together quickly. Think prawn cocktail or smoked salmon on French bread. Or pretty up a shop-bought soup.
“Buy a can of creamed mushroom and cook as directed, but add in a few sliced fresh mushrooms, a few shakes of dried herbs,” advises Carol Cheng Sun Mooi, author of The Frugal Gourmet.
“Salads are also easy, especially if you buy a bag of ready washed mixed leaves.”
Pick a main you know
Pick something you can prepare easily and quickly so that you’re not stuck in the kitchen all the time.
One-pot meals like beef and mushroom stew that can be cooked the day before are useful as you can serve when you like. Pasta with a simple cream, tomato or garlic sauce is also easy — and very cheap to boot!
(For illustrated, step-by-step guides to simple yet glamorous dishes, see our sidebar of websites.)
Go for indulgent desserts
On Valentine’s Day, the diet goes out of the window. Think rich, creamy, chocolatey and sheer decadence.
Unless you are a practised gourmet cook, steer away from tough stuff like soufflés and Baked Alaska that will have you slaving over a hot stove when you should be having fun.
Easy, cheap, no-bake dishes include ice-cream with home-pureed mango, local fruit dipped in chocolate and instant chocolate pudding from a packet made more interesting with lashings of whipped cream and diced fruit salad.
Or you can add a light note by making banana splits — complete with sprinkles!
If you decide to skip the hassle and buy a cake, remember that bakeries often run out during this time, so order a week in advance.
Think drinks and music
When you do your food theme planning, spare a thought for drinks.
You may want to spend an hour making your own mango lassi to go with that hot curry main course, or find you need to chill down some beer the night before.
If you’re buying wine, a quick check with an online guide or your local wine dealer can help you make inspired choices that will make a meal memorable, and need not cost a fortune.
The right music can also help make a meal special. If you’re having a BBQ for two and can put on the Classic Rock station and be perfectly happy, you’re made. Otherwise, it pays to prepare a play list in advance.
“Give Special Service Vouchers that can be redeemed for ‘services’ like dishwashing, foot massages and backrubs,” suggests Lydia Teh, author of Stretching Your Dollar$ and $ense.
Also popular are paper flower bouquets. It’s really easy to make these and the results are very pretty: especially in gold and silver paper. Plus, they last forever.
Another trend that’s increasing in popularity is to make the day a time to help others. The International Labor Rights Forum famously uses Valentine’s to try and stop chocolate companies using child slave labour on African cocoa farms.
Their site at laborrights.org suggests ways consumers can help.