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The High Cost of Hallmark Holidays and How to Save

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You can show your love without breaking the bank, here’s how

by Jean Chatzky

Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday. What do these all have in common? Yup, each is a holiday. But not just any holiday — they’re what some call “Hallmark Holidays.” This term is typically used to describe holidays that exist primarily for commercial purposes rather than commemorating an historic or important event. In other words, they seem to have been created just for the purpose of draining your wallet.

That doesn’t mean that they’re not fun, by the way, or that you can avoid them completely. I, for one, would be pretty peeved if my husband didn’t show up with a Valentine, or my kids “forgot” to stick a Mother’s Day card in the mail. But spending has become a little excessive. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers dropped $14.1 billion on food, decorations and apparel for the 2017 Super Bowl. $18.2 billion was spent on flowers, chocolates and dining out on Valentine’s Day last year. And in 2016, a combined $35.7 billion was spent for Mother’s and Father’s Day.

And the good news is, there are ways to show your love without breaking the bank. Here are a few suggestions:

Resist the pressure.

Your best friend is planning on taking their significant other out to the hottest (and most expensive) restaurant in town for Valentine’s Day. Or maybe your brother bought your dad the newest tech gadget to hit the market for Father’s Day. In both instances, you probably feel the need to reciprocate. “There’s a desire to socially conform,” says David Lewis, assistant professor at Ryerson University. “The pressure to spend comes about because people compare themselves and see stories in the news on what the average person spends.” You don’t want to be viewed as spending less than your siblings or peers, so that creates a pressure to overspend. One way to remove the pressure is to agree with your significant other — if you’re exchanging gifts — that you’ll keep the prices low. Another is to round up your siblings to go in together on a gift for a parent (this also removes the chance that one of you tries to outdo the others).

Set a budget.

“One of the most solid proven methods to limit your overspending is to plan ahead,” says On Amir, professor of marketing at the University of San Diego’s Rady School of Management. “You’re a lot less likely to succumb to emotional purchases.” Go through the process of figuring out how much of your monthly take-home you want to allocate for gifts and holidays. Not doing this means you’ll be shopping with no idea of what you can really afford. “People [who] don’t sit down and ask themselves what their budget is are driven by emotional motives that they are not consciously aware of,” says Lewis.

Give the gift of time.

Showing someone you care doesn’t have to be expensive — it can even be free. “A price tag is a way to signal effort, yes, but it’s not the only way or even the best way” says Amir. “Time is a great way to do it,” says Lewis. “Give up your time, put your phone down. Spend time on Mother’s Day with your family, rather than assuming that it has to be flowers and cards and a dinner out.” Taking the time to hand-make a gift or cook a meal is another way to show your appreciation without emptying your pockets. Get crafty — look up fun DIY projects on Pinterest like homemade soap or a unique photo display made out of reclaimed wood. And if you’re not crafty or an expert in the kitchen? A handwritten note works every time.

With Hattie Burgher