Counting heartbeats, not ringgit: For some, Valentine’s on a budget no less meaningful

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Natasha and Vincent tied the knot in 2021. — Photo from Natasha Joibi and Vincent Tan

KUALA LUMPUR (Feb 14): On Valentine’s Day, emotions can range from indifference to heartfelt celebration. While some embrace it as an opportunity to create cherished moments with their loved ones, others might feel anxiety over the pressure to sweep their valentines off their feet while keeping a keen eye on the costs involved.

Malay Mail spoke to some couples and singles who feel that romance need not strain their finances, and that simplicity and minimalism can still ignite sparks of affection. For them, it is genuine human connection that holds significance, rather than adhering to the commercialised notion of showering partners with luxury dinners, holidays and gifts.

Communications specialist Natasha Joibi, 36, and her journalist husband, Vincent Tan, 41, tied the knot in 2021, after dating on and off since 2015.

The couple do not subscribe to extravagance, but rather experiences they can afford. Valentine’s Day to them, as Natasha puts it, “was never really our thing.”

“To be honest, we don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day. Maybe we did a long time ago, but it has always been a budget-friendly affair. At most, we will go out to dine together or give each other small gifts. Nothing too fancy or extravagant.

“We never spent a lot on Valentine’s Day and are not planning to. I have a cousin whose birthday is on Valentine’s Day and, for me, February 14 will always be remembered as his birthday,” Natasha said.

So, what’s the most romantically, easy-on-the-wallet Valentine’s Day activity for the couple this year?

“I guess this time around, the most creative, budget-friendly things we can do are probably clean the house together and cook up a storm in the kitchen!

“We just got back from the UK after living abroad for over a year. And we find that the best moments we shared together were not extravagant at all. Just visiting museums, walking in the park or even walking anywhere at all, exploring new places — those were enough. As long as we were able to spend time together. Moving forward, that’s how we want to spend days like Valentine’s,” she added.

Tan, meanwhile, feels grateful to have a partner who is “not high maintenance”.

He said that he was convinced about not having to face much economic pressures as a married couple, owing to Natasha’s simple wants and needs, and did not have any serious discussions on financial matters in the run up to their wedding.

“We have splurged for activities like diving trips or travelling overseas, but yeah, generally we’re quite down to earth on leisure spending,” he added.

35-year-old trainer K Tirkartikeyan and his fiancée, Nguyen Thi Hoang Yen, also share the same sentiments.

The couple said they have moved away from their earlier dating days of exchanging material gifts and vacations, citing the current cost of living as a factor that prompted them to reassess their choices.

“While we used to indulge in lavish dinners and extravagant presents, we now opt for more meaningful experiences, such as cooking together or taking a scenic hike. The current prices of goods and services have certainly influenced our choices, prompting us to embrace simplicity and creativity in our celebrations,” Tirkartikeyan said, adding that financial planning was a topic that became crucial during their courting days.

“We openly communicated about our spending habits, financial goals and expectations regarding leisure spending. This laid a solid foundation for understanding each other’s perspectives on budgeting and allowed us to navigate financial decisions together effectively. It’s essential to be on the same page regarding finances to ensure a healthy and harmonious relationship.

“While we still appreciate traditional romantic gestures, our preferences have evolved towards more budget-friendly alternatives. Rather than splurging on fancy dining, we enjoy cooking a homemade meal together or having a picnic in the park. This simple yet thoughtful gesture holds more significance to us than expensive tokens of affection,” he added.

Yen said they focus on experiences rather than material possessions. — Malay Mail photo

Yen said they now allocate a modest budget for Valentine’s Day, focusing on experiences rather than material possessions, adding that the change allowed the couple to prioritise their financial goals.

“We’ve discovered several budget-friendly, yet delightful ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day. One example is organising a themed movie marathon at home, complete with homemade snacks and cosy blankets. Another option is to have a do-it-yourself spa day at home, complete with homemade face masks, relaxing massages and soothing music. We also like to take a leisurely stroll through a botanical garden or scenic trail, enjoying the beauty of nature together. We’ve also found joy in cooking a special dinner together, trying out new recipes or recreating our favourite dishes from memorable dates. These simple yet meaningful activities allow us to celebrate our love without overspending, focusing on quality time and shared experiences,” Yen added.

She said that while the couple still cherish the occasional — albeit rare — splurge, they find more joy in simple moments of togetherness.

In December, national news agency, Bernama reporting MIDF Research projecting Malaysia’s domestic demand to continue its expansion from the fourth quarter of 2023 onward despite ongoing inflation moderation, cautioning that headline inflation might rise to 3.2 percent this year due to the imminent rollout of a fuel-targeted subsidy as early as May 2024.

The New Straits Times (NST) last month reported Maybank Investment Bank Bhd (Maybank IB) anticipating weak consumer sentiment to persist throughout 2024, as consumers are compelled to prioritise essential spending over discretionary ones due to increased staple food and beverage costs, increasing household expenditures and the implementation of new taxes, including an increase in sales and service tax to 8.0 per cent, potential water tariff hikes, rollbacks in petrol/diesel subsidies and the recent introduction of the low-value goods tax effective Jan 1. These factors are expected to further strain overall consumer disposable income.

Singles are budget-conscious, too

Like the couples, singletons Azlyn Balqis, 38, and S Yogan, 33, said they are not fans of fancy dates and luxury meals.

Azlyn said the hype around a single day dedicated to lovers is simply “grossly overpriced” and subscribed instead to equality in spending: splitting the bills.

“I feel it’s generally been more expensive all around, and the expectation for men to always have to pay must make it a whole lot more challenging for them. There’s ways to be smart about it though — cheaper food options/places that’re just as good as their fancier counterparts, and date ideas that can cost almost nothing, like walks and museums. Some might argue that this is cheap, but I suppose you then get to weed out the right option/people for you, right? The main point of dates is to have fun and generally get to know and spend time with each other anyway,” said Azlyn, a senior manager in a creative agency.

She said she was not supportive of actively celebrating Valentine’s Day at restaurants nor expecting her prospective partner to buy her flowers or gifts for a date.

“I usually prefer making other cost-effective options like cooking at home or ordering-in, and maybe watch a movie or do an activity together — to still show our love/care for each other without falling to consumerism.

“I tend to always offer to pay, too; I know it’s not very ladylike, but things are expensive these days! Or I’ll counter with dessert after he pays for meals, or popcorn if he pays for movies,” she added.

Azlyn’s idea of a perfect date? Soulful connection.

“My version of an ideal date is having the space to also talk and get to know each other. I’m a fan of museums and art exhibitions, it allows you to walk around and talk at the same time. Dinner dates are nice too — it’s always a nice gesture for a man to offer to pay if he can, but I personally will always try to counter it back,” she added.

Sabah-based Yogan also admitted that the economic uncertainty has been a major factor in dating.

“Yes it has certainly impacted, though still somewhat manageable. I feel less inclined (to date) however.

Yogan is firm on covering the expenses on his first dates, but would hope for the other person to pitch subsequently.

He is a staunch advocate for early financial planning and emphasises the need for open, ongoing communication with a potential partner, particularly if the relationship progresses into something more serious.

“Communication and prudent budgeting are paramount to me, as they form the foundation of any successful relationship. While romance is delightful, practicality remains most important. Future financial responsibilities are inevitable, and I prioritise thoughtful foresight over impulsive decisions. Some might deem it excessive, but I see it as proactive preparation,” the security firm operations manager, said. — Malay Mail