How do you celebrate a family Valentine's Day and still save money?
I tend to shy away from spending much when it comes to holidays, especially with a freelancer's unstable income and two children—not to mention two mortgages. But this year I learned that my 3-year-old daughter Vi loves holidays and wants to celebrate with presents, decorations, the whole hog.
I was surprised when she started asking when we would be putting up the Valentine's Day decorations (the what?), but we were able to distract her with a couple of cut-out hearts. Now that the event is getting closer, she wants even more—and I realized that by making a homemade Valentine's Day, we not only could save some money but have some good, indoor projects to pass the weekend hours away, too.
Cards: Sure, every preschooler grabs for the Toy Story mini-valentines in the grocery-store aisle. But homemade valentines are cheaper—especially if you already have materials lying around the house—and also make for a good snow-day project. Plus, send one of these to the grandparents and you know what you'll find posted on their refrigerator the next time you drop in.
Last weekend we made valentines out of colored construction paper, glue and odds-and-ends of left-over yarn from various knitting projects. Vi picked paper colors, I drew hearts on the covers with glue, and she placed pieces of yarn on the glue to create her own personal valentines. She then dictated the message she wanted on each card—including signing them with her pet nickname for herself: "Violet J. Marty Smarty Party Pants."
Candy: Need a gift for a batch of preschoolers and want to skip the traditional decorated cookies, or want to give a present more personal than a box of chocolates? We spent Saturday morning making these chocolate raisin candies. You can use any type of chocolates, but we grabbed a few Hershey candy bars and instead of the microwave we melted them in a faux double-boiler (a pan resting in a pan of boiling water). Vi unwrapped and broke the chocolate up, and added the raisins while I stirred the melted chocolate. We both spooned the mixture onto a wax paper-covered cookie sheet, trying to create hearts (some more successful than others). A quick trip to the freezer and they were set by the time nap time was over.
Dinner: Let's be honest—dinners out on Valentine's Day went out the window the second you had your first child. These days a successful dinner is any dinner that everyone in the house actually eats and at which no one has a crying fit. In our house that often involves pizza. You could grab one of those Papa Murphy's Heart Pizzas, but you can also make one yourself. The hardest part of homemade pizza is always the crust, so feel free to buy a premade crust at the store. However, we like to make ours at home—it tastes better and my daughter loves to knead and roll out her own dough.
My simple dough is adapted from a grilled pizza book: Take one cup warm water, stir in a little honey and a quarter of a cup of olive oil. Sprinkle one packet (or one tablespoon) of yeast and let it sit for 5 minutes until foamy. Add in 1 cup wheat flour, two cups all purpose flour, and a few tablespoons of dried oregano for extra flavor. Mix the ingredients together with your hands and it will form into a dough. Toss the dough on the table and knead for 5 minutes (or let your child make an airplane first), then form it into a ball and put it in a bowl and drizzle a little olive oil over the top so it doesn't dry during the rise. Cover with plastic wrap and, if you have a drafty kitchen, put it in the light of a window. It will rise in about an hour, and you can then roll it out for crust. For a thin cracker-like crust, divide in two and roll paper thin. For a thicker crust use the full dough in one pizza pan. Cook at 375 degrees for 10 minutes, then flip the dough and cook for 5 minutes more.
Once you have your crust partially cooked, cover with sauce (we use spaghetti sauce, whatever is cheapest and has the most veggie chunks in it), then your pepperoni (we prefer turkey pepperoni, especially the generic Cub version, which is thicker than the Hormel). If you want the pretty hearts, you can trim your pepperoni—otherwise, just overlapping the pieces will make a crude but easy version. Top with mozzarella and bake.
Dessert: Anyone can have cheesecake or cookies or even something traditionally chocolate. But for a very different type of dessert, try an easy bread pudding. For your bread, use buttermilk biscuits—either homemade, such as these simple biscuits, or store bought. (If you have homemade, use a heart-shaped cookie cutter. If you are using store bought, each biscuit can be molded into hearts by hand before baking). Slice 9–12 biscuits in half lengthwise so the shape remains intact, and place them overlapping in a pie plate or brownie pan. Mix two teaspoons melted butter, two eggs, a tablespoon vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar in 1-1/2 cups milk, and pour it over your biscuits. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and sugar to serve.
Vi ate three bowls of this as her dessert one night.
I can't replace the flowers, the jewelery, or the cute furry stuffed animals that tend to accompany the Valentine's Day holiday, but with a few tricks maybe you can put a few extra dollars away and save up for the next holiday.
What are your Valentine's Day tips? Leave a note in comments below or upload a photo of your favorite decoration.