Southeast Missouri State University student publication

The gift-giving rules of love: Saving money while valuing Valentine's Day traditions

Sunday, February 11, 2024
Hannah Lacy searches for the perfect gift for her loved ones at the Cape Girardeau Target. According to Dr. Thorne, 80% of Valentine's Day sales take place within 72 hours of the holiday.
Photo by Zach Huffman

The season of chocolate hearts and roses is upon us.

Valentine’s Day is the third largest commercial holiday in the United States, behind only Halloween and Christmas. The holiday is expected to pull in nearly $26 Billion this year, according to the Statista website.

The price and unspoken cultural rules, however, can be a challenge for SEMO students.

SEMO History and Anthropology Professor Yingkun Hou has learned American culture both firsthand as an immigrant and through her research as an anthropologist.

According to Hou, American gift giving culture relies on the participants to understand a specific set of rules that have been developed through time.

“Gift giving is not just tit for tat, there are a lot of rules involved,” Hou said. “You want a gift that is thoughtful, sentimental, and personal. You don’t want it to just be a random store-bought thing on the first isle.”

Hou also said that matching value for gifts is important in American culture. Having a mismatch in value, thoughtfulness, sentimentality, or personal touch can lead to awkward moments.

“If [your partner] gives you the newest iPhone and you give them a sweater, you’ll feel bad,” Hou said.

Deciding what to get can be a challenge if the rules are misunderstood. Hou used the example of a man deciding what to buy for a woman. In this case, women may expect their partner to understand what they want without having to communicate it.

“Women place a lot of value in men getting them what they want without explicitly telling them,” Hou said. “They will not tell you, it’s a whole thing in American culture.”

Balancing these concerns with costs can be an issue for many SEMO students. Rising housing costs and inflation have hit college students particularly hard, according to an article by the Brookings Institution.

Graphic by Zach Huffman

SEMO marketing professor Scott Thorne shared the economic perspective of the holiday.

According to Thorne, 25% of single people engage in Valentine’s activities, and men are twice as likely to buy a gift for their partner than women.

“It’s generally not a holiday you want to scrimp on if you have the budget,” Thorne said. “On the other hand, dollar stores have some really good stuff and about 30% of people who buy on Valentine’s Day are going to discount stores.”

In addition, Thorne pointed out another cultural rule for the Holiday.

“Valentine’s Day is not a holiday for practical ideas,” Thorne said.

That is because people want gifts that are removed from their daily duties, according to Hou.

Extravagant gifts may not be the best option for all couples. Creating experiences doesn’t have to cost. Creativity and a healthy dose of romance can mean more than the dollar amount, according to Thorne.

“Instead of taking someone out to an expensive dinner, make a picnic and go to a place that’s important to the two of you. That’s cost effective and you’re creating a memory that you’re going to remember for years to come,” Thorne said.

Thorne also advised students not to go into debt for a gift. According to him, Americans have over $1 trillion in credit card debt.

Whether students decide to buy or make gifts, Valentine’s Day is a chance for couples, friends, or family members to show each other that they care.

“It’s hard to justify a night out, buying extravagant gifts and treating your spouse differently,” Hou said. “[Valentines Day] is a culturally sanctioned punctuation in time that relieves us from the mundaneness, the boringness, the obligations and gives us a new set of perspectives so that we can gather enough energy and keep going again.”

Students can keep these rules in mind to ensure they get the best gift possible for their partner this Valentine’s Day.