Worst Valentine’s Day Gift Ever

Today is Valentine’s Day. How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Do you? Do you want to? This is such a tension-filled day for so many people.

I’m a cheap date. Some popcorn and a great story on a big screen and I’m thrilled. I don’t think of myself as high maintenance, I’m sure I have my moments, but generally I don’t long for expensive gifts, or dinners that require reservations (of any kind, let alone months in advance), trips, etc.

My husband has a romantic heart, but Valentine’s Day creeps up too closely on the heels of Christmas, is amidst the flurry of summer sports registrations and my husband’s birthday in late February. We have 3 kids, and why on earth they make you pay for summer camp and baseball registration in February and early March escapes me – but there it is. We never have any money to spend on a big night out. My husband proposed to me 15 years ago today, hard to top that, right?

When we first married, we were struggling to finish school, living off student loans and a part-time paycheck from Black’s Photography. Then we had 3 kids in 3 years, were trying to pay off those students loans and live off one income. Grocery shopping was (and still is some months) done with a calculator in hand because the budget was that tight.

One year was especially bad. Our clothes dryer had died, and I’d been hanging loads of laundry up to dry in our apartment for about 4 months by the time Valentine’s rolled around because it wasn’t fixable and I couldn’t afford to replace it. I refused to drag 3 kids on the bus to a laundromat for hours and pay to dry my clothes when I could hang them up for free.

Our van had died and we couldn’t afford to fix it or replace it, so we went without a vehicle. We packed everyone up (our kids were 3,5 and 6 at the time) and pulled a wagon to the grocery store every week just to feed ourselves. I felt so guilty loading my kids’ backpacks with bread and buns for them to carry – but desperate times call for desperate measures. That and when we left the bread in the wagon it resembled a pancake more than a loaf by the time we got home.

We had no money for anything extra. You learn real quick what’s important in times like that. I couldn’t find a job that would pay enough to make it financially feasible for me to work and pay for daycare, and living on one income with our staggering student loans was tough. So, you can visualize maybe what our Valentine’s Day celebrations looked like. Yeah – a whole lotta nothing. We decided instead of buying cards we’d save the $10 for bus tickets to get my husband to work instead.

But, that Valentine’s Day he came home with what everyone who hears this story says is the worst Valentine’s gift ever. He brought me a bottle of my favorite shampoo and conditioner. I had given up buying this luxury a few years before in order to put the money towards diapers and food, and had gone with a much cheaper brand.We had both made a lot of sacrifices to keep our kids clothed and fed.

For me – it was the best Valentine’s Day gift ever. That gift said it was OK to spend money on myself. That gift said it was OK to want to look nice, or even want something so feminine and frivolous as having shiny scented hair.

People have made fun of my husband for that gift. But I loved it because it showed that he’d noticed my sacrifice – even though I’d never once complained. More than buying the right brand, he even remembered the kind I buy for my hair type. He knew that it was a small thing that made me feel pretty and I’d never buy for myself. For me, expensive shampoo is like wearing fancy panties – they make you feel special even though no one will ever see them. I had a luxurious 2hr bath and washed my hair twice that night. It was glorious.

The best gifts aren’t the most expensive ones. They just require thought and heart – and this one had both in abundance. Silly? No way. What was the best Valentine’s Day gift/gesture you’ve received?


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    • says

      Bummer! Hope you get a make-up date :) Better late than never. We often wait until after New Years to exchange Christmas gifts :)

  1. says

    That’s what I call a good gift :) I’m not much for celebrating Valentine’s Day, but I’m sure part of that is I don’t love eating at restaurants. So instead of making some reservation that I don’t really want to keep anyway, for Valentine’s Day we’ve taken to ordering my choice of incredibly unhealthy fast food and eating at home while watching a movie. It works for me :)
    Marcy Kennedy recently posted…The Lie of Helen of Troy

    • says

      We often order in when we do have money to spend. By the time you add in a babysitter, the cost of a night out gets pretty steep.

  2. Georgina Frangos says

    A beautiful story Lisa. Thank you for sharing. Your gift was similar to one I received a long long time ago… A “Good Housekeeping” magazine and an ‘O Henry’ chocolate bar. Times were not easy back then as well. (Three children, one income).. Your story stirred a lovely memory for me.

  3. says

    Having been in similar financial straights, that gift was absolutely amazing. When you’re not sure if you can pay for gas, or food, or worst, the power bill, just a tiny frivolity can be amazing.
    Patrick Thunstrom recently posted…Shit Writer’s Write

    • says

      Yes! And to be clear, this wasn’t salon shampoo and conditioner – just a grocery-store name brand, but it was amazing :)

  4. says

    Valentine’s Day is too close to our anniversary and my birthday, for us to throw down a ton of cash, but we do like a bit of adventure. Usually we just take the kids with us to some family-friendly restaurant. Sometimes V-day even falls on “kids eat free” night. 😉

    This year, I think we’ll veg. I could use me a good vegetative state.

  5. says

    I’m glad you all liked this story. Hubs will be tickled when he gets home. I’ve always thought he did a smash-up job on the gift that year – but he’s been teased about it quite a bit :(

  6. Trevor says

    At least you remember what he gave you. If you had gone out for dinner would you have remembered what you ate? If you went to a movie would you have remembered what you saw?

    I brought home a cooked chicken this Valentine’s Day and a box of onion rings for Rachel as I don’t eat them.

    What we did for our anniversary last year, and could have worked for Valentine’s Day is that we went into Hallmark and looked at all of the cards and then shared them with each other and then put them back on the shelf. Wow did we save a lot of money!

    She will be getting flowers on Saturday for her birthday at a fraction of the cost. We are also careful with our money. :)


  1. […] I’ll skip on the knight with a white horse (something tells me that guy’s got issues and a lot of hidden baggage anyway) and take the nice guy who dons tinfoil and tries hard to be the knight I thought I wanted. My guy isn’t perfect, but his heart is in the right place. I loved what a lot of people called the Worst Valentine’s Day Gift Ever. […]

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