Valentine’s Day need not leave you in the red financially By PAUL LETIWA in Nairobi | Thursday, February 14 2013 at 11:04
Today is Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air, or at least that is what the advertisers want us to believe.
We have been at it several dozen times; the deluge of red hearts, pink teddy bears, and paper cupids are now all around us once again.
We are moving from flowers to figurines, chocolate to expensive jewellery, and dinners to exotic travel.
Retailers, especially in the big towns, are going into overdrive with their special Valentine’s Day offers for couples.
At the end of it all, there is more expenditure associated with the day of love than most care to admit.
This is because love is not love without chocolate, flowers, the sweet scent of perfume, a romantic candlelit dinner, and many other gifts that partners use to show their love for one another.
The worse for those copying straight from books, movies, or the so-called reality shows.
Things have changed so much that even a housewife who may have expected nothing more than a bunch of flowers and a peck on the cheek a few years ago now wants more than that.
Most couples, however, celebrate Valentine’s in whichever small way they can.
As we found out, almost all major restaurants in Nairobi were booked since the beginning of the month despite the fact that the prices had doubled. Roses in most retail stores are selling for four or five times their usual price.
“It’s a day when many will hand out heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Even young school-going children will exchange dozens of cards in their little classroom celebrations. Everyone wants to experience it,” says Ms Roselyn Mbugua, a student at Mount Kenya University in Thika, north of Nairobi.
Although, the harsh economic times and the post-Christmas financial hangovers seem to forecast a subdued Valentine’s Day this year, thousands of cupid-struck couples are ready to go to great lengths, financially, just to prove their love.
Take Ms Beatrice Kiprono, for instance. Last year, she and her fiancé travelled to Dubai to celebrate the day.
They spent about $5,900 (Sh0.5 million) on air tickets, accommodation, gifts, Valentine outfits, food, and drinks for their three-day stay.
She says the trip was a surprise for her. Her fiancé had told her that they were going to have a good Valentine together, but a trip outside the country was far from her mind and she had thought that it would be a “normal” day out.
“For sure, it was a surprise. I am used to travelling to the coast most of the time, so I found it romantic when he told me we were travelling out of the country; it was fun,” says the Mombasa-based businesswoman.
However, today will be low-key, with a budget of less than $1,200 (Sh100,000). “Last year’s was the best Valentine’s I have ever had, but this time we will not be travelling out of the country,” she says.
According to her, the goodies that surround Valentine’s Day are indispensable in any relationship.
“It’s true that every day is a day of love, but Valentine’s is a day to celebrate love. Without Valentine’s celebrations, love lacks uniqueness and would be boring.”
For many Kenyans residing in urban areas, the endeavour to infuse a relationship with Valentine’s uniqueness is often gender-skewed.
It is left to men to dig deep into their pockets to perform grand feats in an effort to prove the sincerity of their feelings.
Although Valentine’s Day is meant to be the most romantic day of the year, some men say it is the exact opposite as it has turned out to be all about money and what a man can buy for his woman.
“If only one partner splurges during the event while the other sits back and relaxes, silent grudges could begin to brew and this can affect the relationship between the two partners,” says Mr Bernard Musyoki, a Nairobi-based sociologist.
“For it to be an enjoyable moment for both, it is a shared budget; he contributes and I do the same,” says Ms Kiprono.
For some Kenyans, the solution to celebrating Valentine’s Day on a lean budget lies in turning the event into a family affair.
Mr Silas Mwangi, a father of three, believes that he can celebrate with his loved ones without parting with an arm and a leg.
“When it comes to real love, money is not important. How many wealthy people are having trouble in their relationships? There are many, meaning that having a lot of money does not symbolise true love,” he says.
Fuelled by the mood of Valentine’s Day, many indulge in crazy sprees.
They spend money in luxurious places, buy expensive mobile phones, book flights to travel abroad or around the country, as some resort to every trick in the book to find an excuse not to show up at the office today.
Mr Patrick Wamalwa, a web developer in Nairobi, has mixed feelings about Valentine’s celebrations.
In 2011, he took a personal loan of $2,600 (Sh230,000) for the day of love and to make his girlfriend happy.
“I had to borrow because it was mid-month. Another thing that made me take the loan was the fact that my friends were already organising to have fun, so I did not want to be left behind. The trouble is that I am still repaying the money I borrowed,” says Mr Wamalwa, who is planning to make the day as “normal” as possible to avoid making another financial mistake.
Cult of consumerism
Like most holidays of Western origin, Valentine’s has become increasingly commercialised.
The real meaning of the occasion, the expression of love, is sidelined by a pervading cult of consumerism driven by manufacturers.
Cards, chocolate, clothes, and cakes seem to take priority during the day.
Some psychologists believe that most couples spend more money on such occasions because of marketing and advertising campaigns.
“Many people are made to believe (through clever marketing gimmicks) that to demonstrate love for their partners, they must spend money on gifts (flowers, chocolate, even phones). This is pure psychology. It creates an impression that if one does not spend money on one thing or another, then they will not be happy,” says Mr Titus Omollo, a psychologist based in Nairobi.
He says most people are made to feel that if they do not do this, they are telling their partners that they do not love them.
“A feeling of guilt is thus created in the partners such that they will go out of their way to buy a gift for their spouse. This may explain why the Valentine’s bug bites people mostly in urban areas, and often those who have the means to spend,” he says.
Financial expert Clement Maina says Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays destined to be compared between friends and co-workers, and like Christmas or any big holiday, people’s bank accounts tend to take a big hit.
“Valentine has turned out to be a multi-billion dollar business all over the world and everyone is on it. Hotels are booked solid, often months in advance at full price. Restaurants plan special menus, charge far more than their usual rates, and are almost always booked solid,” he said.
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