Warning: Valentine’s Day is on the Way!

With St. Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, I find myself confident that I won’t be forgotten. Being a hopeless romantic and having spent years of Valentine’s days alone, I know firsthand what it is like to not have any expectations for the holiday. But for a dozen years, I’ve been married to a man who wouldn’t think of forgetting.

Still for over a decade as a single mom, I knew that no bouquet of flowers or balloons, or even a card bearing my name would arrive. Back then, I worked as a reporter at WTLW TV 44. With a videographer’s assistance, I went out into the community and did a “Man on the street” investigating what Valentine’s Day meant to other people.

One 90-year-old gentleman I polled proudly told me that he would definitely have a surprise in store for his wife. When I asked him if he had ever forgotten the day dedicated to lovers, a grim look crossed his countenance. With the camera rolling, he replied hesitantly, “I don’t think I better talk about that.” So he had forgotten once.  I could tell it had been such a painful experience that it had never happened again. After all, a woman scorned can be a formidable foe.

Anyway, other folks freely told me about the cards, chocolates, roses, and teddy bears that they were planning to present to their beloved. Although one honest young man revealed that he couldn’t remember the last time he had received a Valentine’s Day card. The fact that he look like a ski model from the cover of GQ soothed my own wounded ego back then.

My quest for more information about Valentine’s Day led me to investigate its history. There are conflicting stories about the day’s origin. The one that I like the best deals with St. Valentine as a third century priest. At the time, Emperor Claudius II decreed that marriage be outlawed, deciding that single men made the best soldiers. The History Channel website reports that, “Valentine realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.  When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.”

The demise of Valentine was as melodramatic as any opera one could attend. Coincidently, a decade ago on Valentine’s Day, I surprised my spouse with opera tickets. This was a real sacrifice, because opera is his love, not mine. Still, I thought that I would never outdo the display of undying affection that I assumed my hubby must have planned, since we were still almost newlyweds.

When that fated Valentine’s Day dawned, I awoke with the expectation of a kid on Christmas morning. Despite the fact, there was no breakfast in bed, or even a rose anywhere in sight, I excitedly guessed it was only a matter of time before I would be presented with some token of his enduring love. That Saturday passed quickly in chores, errands, and general weekend routine. By late afternoon, I began to get suspicious that the love of my life might have forgotten. However, being married less than two years I rationalized away that ridiculous fear.

Finally in the car on the way to the opera, Larry confessed that he had overlooked the arrival of Valentine’s Day. Being a bachelor all his life, he tried to find a good excuse for his lapse, but none of them were working. Needless to say, it was a rather subdued evening after that.

Yet when we returned home, there was a small bag hanging on our front door. Inside was a beautiful Valentine’s Day card with a silver bracelet bearing one heart charm. There was also a note from my husband’s best buddy explaining that Larry must have accidentally left these items at his house on an earlier visit.

Sounds too good to be true? It was. Something about the card just didn’t seem right. So being a former investigative reporter, I simply asked, “Did you buy me these things?”

Larry’s honest character caused him to immediately blurt out, “I called my friend right before we left for the opera, and told him I needed help.” All I could do was laugh, because I knew that in the future my hubby would understand even “old married” couples should celebrate the gift of love. I guess people like me are born hopelessly romantic, while others become romantic desperate for survival. No matter what kind of romantic you are, Happy Valentine’s Day!

America’s Favorite Four-Letter Word

What’s a four-letter word that is music to the ears of the hearer, and brings happiness to the heart of the reader? Clue: the number one definition on www.freedictionary.com is, “Not imprisoned or enslaved,” while the more appropriate number seven meaning is, “Costing nothing, [or] gratuitous.” A crossword buff probably guessed by now, it’s the word, “free.”

Our society loves this term that conjures up the thought of getting something for nothing. In confirmation, when one googles this famous four-letter word, instantly you are confronted with more than 3,290,000,000 references. That’s billions, not millions of related searches including: “free products, free games, totally free stuff, free samples, free translations….” etc. Marketers know what suckers we all are for advertising that professes to give something away.

I learned a lot about this type of marketing years ago, when I was employed as a corporate representative for a large manufacturer that supplied products to supermarkets. Occasionally, on a Friday afternoon when the grocery store was packed, I would stand in a product aisle offering shoppers a generous coupon to buy a comparable item to the one they normally purchased. It was amazing how often brand loyalty could be bought for a couple of bucks. In fairness, there were also those die-hard loyalists who refused to switch no matter how large the coupon.

A column devoted solely to consumer coupon behavior would take on a life of its own, but let’s get back to marketing strategies touting free products. Because even better than a coupon savings of a few dollars, is getting an item absolutely free. Whether, it’s a free gift with purchase, a buy one get one free, a free trial, or free information; buyers often forget that the seller almost always has an ulterior motive.

Most of our parents warned us that there are no free lunches in life. Apparently, not everyone knows this, because an individual named Fidora emailed Yahoo! Answers at www.yahooanswers.com asking, “What is the meaning of this quote, ‘There is no free lunch?’” The consensus of the 10 answers offered was that somewhere down the line there is a cost for everything.

Therein lies the problem. If you don’t think you are paying for something you aren’t too concerned about whether it’s a good deal, or not. To implement the age-old philosophy of Caveat Emptor which is a Latin term for, “Let the buyer beware,” you have to possess a purchaser’s mentality. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language explains that Caveat Emptor is, “The axiom or principle in commerce that the buyer alone is responsible for assessing the quality of a purchase before buying.”

After all, like most astute consumers when spending your hard earned cash on an item you want the biggest bang for your buck. But if it’s free, you aren’t worried about a product’s quality. There are naïve buyers born every minute who are enticed by this type of “bait and switch” advertising. Take me, for example. I didn’t think I could lose when I eagerly requested the “free” designer scarf, which accompanied a magazine subscription that I didn’t really need. I could hardly believe my good fortune, until the scarf arrived in the mail about a week ago. It was paper thin and barely fit around my neck. My husband laughed out loud when I showed it to him.

This is just one account of my getting free stuff, which has robbed my budget in the long run. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have purchased the magazine had there not been a free gift incentive. In my defense, I’m not alone in this behavior, or the word, “free” wouldn’t be everywhere. Yet there are free products that can be helpful. Like a buy one get one free dinner to a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try, or frequently visit. Even then, watch that you don’t spend more on a higher-priced meal, beverages, or desserts than you normally would, while celebrating your free meal.

In closing, I hope it’s ok to share the wisdom that I’ve learned along life’s path.  Remember the old saying, “If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is.” Most free offers are in the too good to be true category. Now, you can take that free advice all the way to the bank.

This blog post originally appeared in The Lima News, and in the Troy Daily News.