Consuming Issues: Valentine's Day the thrifty way
Saturday 06 February 2010
If you are free-spirited, romantic and generous, stop reading now. This column is not for you. It is for mean-minded sourpusses who tut at shop displays of heart-shaped chocolates and recoil from gushing declarations of love in greetings cards and who suspect that the biggest beneficiaries of St Valentine's Day are not star-crossed lovers but retailers.
Invitations to big spenders abound in the first weeks of February. The website Red Letter Days alone offers 15 trips for St Valentine's Day, of which the most extravagant is a North Pole fly-in. A couple jet to the most northerly airport in Norway, Svalbard, and board a helicopter for the geographic North Pole, where they toast being on top of the world with champagne. It costs £21,000.
Joining London's premium Supercar club for a year is £10,570, while a night at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire for two is a wallet-thinning £799.
Harrods helpfully suggests fripperies for Him and Her. The wrist of a much-appreciated Him, it suggests, would be improved by a £1,325 Technomarine UF6 Magnum Chronograph (incorporating a time-telling facility). For Her, what could match a £57.95 pair of Vivienne Westwood diamanté heart earrings?
Advice for skinflints, though, is as rare as a value Valentine's card. A skinflint should not really buy flowers, especially at this time of year when florists apply the theory of supply and demand with ruthless efficiency.
Chains will probably outdo the busy local florist. Marks & Spencer is the cheapest, couriering a dozen Fairtrade roses on 14 February for £19.50 (you must order by 5pm Friday.) Asda will deliver a dozen red roses for £19 on Saturday. Even a miser should steer clear of garage flowers and buy some attractive and fragrant blooms later.
Royal Mail expects to handle 12 million Valentine's cards this year "as admirers and partners send their tokens of love and affection to that special person". If you have a live-in lover, saving a 39p first-class stamp buys a pleasing Curly Wurly. Shops sold 24.5 million Valentine's cards last year, at an average of £2.36, making them more expensive than cards for any other occasion.
"No one wants to look like a cheapskate when they're telling someone they love them," the Greeting Card Association says cheerfully. The artistic could make a bespoke and individual card.
If you insist on buying a present now rather than picking one up in the New Year sales when retailers offload unsold gifts, there's no need to pay full price. Your partner will never know about promotions, providing you hide the receipt, and it will make no difference to the gifts. VoucherCodes.com has 10 per cent-off offers for Hotel Chocolat, Ann Summers and Hotels.com.
Now to the special meal. Why not book the Valentine's special at a local restaurant, eating a fixed-price menu served by overstretched waiters in a room crammed with surly spouses and oval-eyed young lovers?
Alternatively lavish time and effort on a home-cooked meal. Riverford organic suggests baked St Eadburgha cheese, followed by braised mushrooms with buttered linguine and an espresso-infused chocolate pudding.
Or book a table for another time, explaining to your sweetheart that, while an incorrigible scrooge, you are also reassuringly pensive.
Heroes & Villians
Hero: British Gas
Much as I would like to think it was my vilification of British Gas in this column a fortnight ago that prompted it to slice 7 per cent off gas bills this week, I suspect it was more closely related to the release next month of a near 50 per cent rise in full year profits. Now that Britain's biggest energy supplier has knocked £55 off bills – for which it deserves a muted handclap – all eyes on the other greedy, lazy members of the Big Six who control 99 per cent of domestic supply. Roll on a Competition Commission investigation.
Villain: Coco pops
It's hard to pick out any single example of a bad breakfast cereal, because most of them are stuffed full of sugar and salt. So thanks to Kellogg's for making this week's villain so clear-cut. Not content with loading its chocolatey cereal with 30 per cent sugar, Kellogg's ran an advertising campaign on television and on bus stops, some of which were located close to schools, suggesting that children should eat Coco Pops as an after-school treat. Fine now and again, but I don't understand why any parent would allow their offspring to eat them once a day, never mind twice.
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