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Love Shouldn't Cost A Thing: Free, Low-Cost, Local Valentine's Day Ideas

Valentine’s Day historically has been a day for many rituals. Pampering, cuddling, exchanging gifts, spending time with our loved ones and spending money on them. Between the chocolates and flowers and fancy dinners, research suggests that the average American will spend approximately $190 on Valentine’s Day this year. This is almost $100 more than in 2009. In the year 2023 when inflation is making it feel like the cost of everything is going up a dollar a day, what price are we putting on our love?

I’m sure we would all like to believe we share the same sentiment that Jennifer Lopez expresses in her 2000 hit Love Don’t Cost A Thing. But in reality, we must remember that within our capitalist society, much of our lives revolve around the ways we spend money: where we spend it, what we spend it on, and who we spend it on. Brands and corporations know this and really amp up their marketing around this time of year to capitalize on our common desires for romance and companionship. Their message to us is that our emotional wants and needs can be satisfied by the practice of consumerism.

Because so much advertisement and messaging is focused on buying gifts, this holiday can often be a time of insecurity for us. Whether we are single, casually dating, or in committed relationships, Valentine’s Day can bring about a great deal of stress when we are gauging how “equipped” we are to love and/or be loved. If we cannot provide our loved ones with the societal norms of diamonds, ribeye steaks, or ten-foot-tall teddy bears, we can be left feeling inadequate, ashamed, and overall depressed. So how do we push back against this pressure to spend?

First and foremost, it is important to remember that your net worth can never and will never be an indicator of your worthiness to love or be loved. Love is a practice that we can work on every day absolutely free of charge. It involves a conscious effort to speak words of affirmation, provide acts of service, and generally share ourselves and our time with others. At the root, most holidays are times in which people are seeking quality time with loved ones above all else. Take some time, even if it’s just a phone call, and let someone know you love them.

Additionally, we can expand Valentine’s Day beyond romantic love and its gestures. Many people – typically women – behold the tradition of “Galentine’s Day” similar to “Friendsgiving” where the gal group gets together and celebrates the love between them. The love holiday can be shared with siblings, parents, friends, even yourself!

Around Lancaster, there are many ways to go out and have a nice date or hang out during this loving season without having to spend money. I personally love to wander around and stumble upon the random little places hidden in the neighborhoods or nooks and crannies of downtown. Walking around you’re bound to find galleries, book shops, and local parks to spend a few hours visiting.

If you’re looking for more extroverted experiences, you can be sure to check out the weekly comedy night at Phantom Power or trivia and karaoke at different bars and restaurants throughout the week! You could even sign up to volunteer together with local organizations and community services.

Some of us may be more interested in staying home for date night. Here you can host a game night, a movie marathon, even practice giving each other tarot card readings or make personal playlists for one another! A nice home cooked meal is always a plus. These ideas can also be handled virtually if you happen to be quarantining.

Inevitably, Valentine’s Day will involve spending money in one way or another. Resistance to capitalist ideals begins with an awareness of how and why we spend our money. The next steps involve making conscious choices of when and where we spend our money. So, if you’re going to go on that coffee date, go to one of the many local shops in Lancaster instead of Starbucks. Buy flowers from the local florist, eat at local restaurants.

The keyword here is: local. When we shop locally we have much more insight into where our products are coming from and how they were sourced. There is also much more intimacy applied when we shop locally. Without the endless catalog of products on the Internet, we put more thought and energy into the gifts we purchase.

Love exists all around us at all times. Not just today. It is important to remind ourselves regularly that we are loved and to reach out and let others know that we love them. When we begin to do the work to affirm, care for, and respect each other outside the realm of money, we can find the space to habitually practice love away from consumption and material increase. To practice a love ethic that feeds our emotional, mental, and spiritual “wealth”. Although our media tries its best to convince us otherwise, love shouldn’t cost a thing.

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