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  • Writer's pictureBridget Sullivan Mermel CFP(R) CPA

Avoid Valentine Gift Disasters: Buy a Decent gift

When getting a Valentine's Day gift, most of us just want to Avoid Valentine Gift Disasters. We talk through strategies backed by research to get your sweetie something they really enjoy.

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John Scherer's firm website:

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Bridget: Valentine's Day is coming up. It's a great time to add meaning and feel great about yourself. And you don't want to goof it up. Today on Friends Talk Financial Planning, we'll talk about how to avoid Valentine’s Day problems. Hi, I'm Bridget Sullivan Mermel, and I have a fee-only financial planning practice in Chicago, Illinois.

John: And I'm John Scherer. I run a fee-only financial planning practice in Middleton, Wisconsin. Before we get started on this, Bridget, I just want to remind viewers to hit that subscribe button. By subscribing, you help us get more publicity, help other people find this information, and you keep up to date on our new episodes as they come out. So hit “subscribe,” and then let's get on talking.

I'm looking forward to talking about Valentine's Day giving. You said something, Bridget, that just made me smile: “You don't want to screw it up.” I was about ready to raise my hand when you said that. So, talk to me. You got Valentine's Day. I feel I need to give a gift, and maybe it's a guy thing—I don't know, maybe I'm stereotyping myself—but I know well enough not to buy my wife a vacuum cleaner for Valentine's Day. But I need more help than that. I'm using this as my personal consulting session. Help me out, Bridget. How do I get a better gift?

Bridget: Well, first of all, a vacuum cleaner might not be a horrible gift. So, we'll have to talk about when a vacuum cleaner might work for this.

John: Okay, I need to hear this.

Bridget: So first I want to just mention that there's a study that I got my information from that looked at old married couples, like people have been married for at least ten years, maybe even 20. And so they said to both the people in the couple, “Okay, look back on your gifts.”

And whoever designed this survey was a Stratego fan. If you remember the old board game Stratego, it was about battleships. And you could have a hit or near miss or just a miss. And a near miss would kind of hurt a battleship. It’s not too bad, but then there's a miss. And so, they have people categorize their gifts into hits, near misses, and total misses.

John: Now, Bridget, were these gifts that were received. I got this gift, and it was hit or a miss?

Bridget: Yes, but both people rated both gifts. So that's my next point. So, in this survey, the hits were the ones that both people liked. The near misses were where the receiver liked it, but the giver didn't register it, or they even forgot they gave it. And then you had the total misses, which we totally want to avoid, right?

John: Yeah.

Bridget: Okay, so that's why we want to talk about what are hits and what are near misses, because those are the categories we're looking for. Okay? So, the other concept I want to talk about is the concept of maintenance gifts. A maintenance gift is just saying we have a holiday, and I'm going to do the socially acceptable thing. I'm going to give you a gift and acknowledge it.

Most gifts are maintenance gifts. There's nothing wrong with maintenance gifts. So, if you draw a blank, just give the maintenance gift, whatever is appropriate in your relationship. So that might be a box of candy or flowers. People usually have those, whatever it is. And don't be afraid of that because most of the time that's just fine.

John: I think that's a really great point to bring out, because sometimes I feel like, “Oh, flowers and candy. How lame is that?” The idea that, “Hey, that's okay. At least sometimes that's okay.” That's really a big takeaway for me. I appreciate you saying that.

Bridget: Yeah. So, maintenance gifts are fine, but let's say you want to up your game and you want to have a “hit.” So then, first of all, John and I both like experience gifts, giving them something that is special for both of you to do, or you get just as much credit if it's for your spouse and somebody else to do. They still give you credit for the gift.

So that can be a little bit tricky right now because we're in the middle of Covid, but we love experience gifts. In a couple, it's also cool to do memory gifts, or something that your spouse is the only person that might know this about you. So those very personal things, those are good gifts. Again, these are up-your-game gifts. These are not everybody-needs-them-all-the-time gifts. These are up-your-game-gifts. Now, the thing about an up-your-game-gift is that you worry, “Am I goofing this up?”

John: Yeah.

Bridget: And so, then get an up-your-game-gift and a maintenance gift. You get flowers and the special thing. So that helps reduce your risk. We talk a lot on this podcast on your risk level. So, yeah, if you're going to take a risk and you're worried about it, also give a maintenance gift, giving two gifts at once is fine.

John: So, a box of candy along with the vacuum cleaner. That could be okay.

Bridget: Well, no. Now we're going to talk about vacuum cleaner last.

John: Yeah. Let’s start looking at that vacuum cleaner one.

Bridget: Yeah. Okay. So vacuum cleaners, those were the near misses. Okay. So, the near miss was the giver forgot about it, and the giftee thought, “My spouse noticed that my printer stopped working, and they bought me a new printer for Valentine's Day before I even mentioned it. And it was the perfect printer. I want it.” But if I were buying somebody a printer, I'd also get some flowers.

So, in those cases, what they found is the receiver remembered it and thought, “Oh!” They were generally functional gifts received at the perfect time. And the giver forgot about it. But the receiver remembered and thought, “Oh, this perfect wrench! Awesome! This is what I was looking for. This new screwdriver.” So that's when those work.

One more thing to keep in mind is love language. Like how much time to spend sweating over this. And there's a famous book called, Love Languages. I don't know that there are statistics behind this, but what made a lot of sense to me is that gifts are more important to some people than other people. For some people it doesn't matter that much. You don't get that much credit—relationship credit for it. It's more like, “This is great. I love it. It's fine.”

But then some people really value good gifts. They really value the thought that went into it. And it really hits the spot for them. So, if your spouse happens to be one of those people where, you know it really hits the spot for, then spending a little extra time and trying to think about that great gift that is like a memorial gift about something special about your relationship, or something special you've done before, or an experience that you can both do together, or they can do with someone else. Those are two suggestions.

John: That’s great. I'll tell you two takeaways. I already mentioned one of them, Bridget. One was just the idea that a maintenance gift is okay. That was really significant for me to hear. And hopefully our audience, some viewers take that away, too.

And the other thing was (and, of course, I'm joking about the vacuum cleaner) the idea that something that's practical in the right setting and combined with a maintenance gift is not completely inappropriate. That helps me to think about it in a different way. So, I really appreciate some of that insight. And, yes, with that, that's probably a good spot to wrap up here.

Bridget: I'm Bridget Sullivan Mermel, and I'm in Chicago. I've got a fee-only financial planning practice. And we are both members of ACP, or the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners, which is a not-for-profit group of tax focused, comprehensive financial planners across the country.

John: That's right. And so if you like the things that you hear on our show. Take a look at to find an adviser in your area. And don't forget to hit “subscribe.” And with that, until next time, Bridget. Bye.

At Sullivan Mermel, Inc., we are fee-only financial planners located in Chicago, Illinois serving clients in Chicago and throughout the nation. We meet both in-person in our Chicago office and virtually through video conferencing and secure file transfer.

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