how to celebrate/make things special without spending money?
February 16, 2023 8:38 AM   Subscribe

i've been thinking a lot about the relationship between spending extra money and celebratory occasions - it's usually linked to a fancy meal out, or buying a special gift, or paying for an unique experience/class or weekend trip. is there a way to create a sense of *special* without basing it around consumption? what might this look like?
posted by lightgray to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
If it's not money, it's time. Cook an awesome dinner at home, plan a great hike and time it so you see the sunset from somewhere beautiful, make paper decorations or draw a nice card.
posted by Narrow Harbor at 8:43 AM on February 16, 2023 [8 favorites]

Focus on time and place. Spend time with the person, take time off of work, take the time to make a gift (including food). Go someplace you might not otherwise go, for which you can often substitute time for money: drive to a neighborhood or park you haven't been to for a while, or take the subway to a new section of the city.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:44 AM on February 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

Things that make something feel special or celebratory that can cost little money: Music. Dressing up. Decorating a space. Speeches/toasts. Contests and games. Song and dance.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 8:45 AM on February 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

Yep, time and community. Taking a day off from work/chores and being with your people is a way to celebrate.
posted by vunder at 8:45 AM on February 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

I think another thing that's important here is *attention* - make the thing you're doing special by giving the event/activity/people your full attention. (This is not always easy to do! Distractions abound! But I think that that makes your attention all the more precious and rewarding.)
posted by mskyle at 8:49 AM on February 16, 2023 [8 favorites]

Our "special" dinners at home are eaten in the living room, at the coffee table, with candles, low lights and music playing -- almost like it's a little party, only it's just us. Costs no more than eating it at the kitchen table!
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:05 AM on February 16, 2023 [6 favorites]

This is more for families or groups, but taking time to share stories and history. My father recently passed and although I know a lot about his life, I wish I had asked more. There's lots of resources online to help you with prompts and questions. I'm definitely going to do this with my kids.

I'm also all for using the good stuff. Formal wear, china and crystal, the special stash in the pantry, the heirloom jewelry, the good craft supplies. Use it all!
posted by jraz at 9:27 AM on February 16, 2023 [5 favorites]

Targeted attention can be really special.

When I was diagnosed with cancer and about to enter treatment, our best friends had me and others over for a hamburger cookout. I love hamburgers but our best friends are definitely not hamburger people. I can't say how much that subtle foregrounding of my preferences meant to me. It was a way of putting focus on me and supporting me without subjecting me to a bunch of cancer conversations that would end in literal tears.
posted by Sauce Trough at 9:54 AM on February 16, 2023 [7 favorites]

Taking time to teach someone something once they reach a certain milestone. "You're 10 years old, let's go to the library and get a book on knot tying/coding/whatever hobby and I'll practice with you." "Congratulations on your new job and apartment, let me come over once a week and show you how to cook your favorite family recipes."
posted by at 10:08 AM on February 16, 2023 [3 favorites]

For kids, letting them pick a menu, pick the park to visit, pick which bed to sleep in, stuff like that can be really memorable. Being with your parent or another adult without your siblings or in pursuit of an objective that is the kid's and not the adult's.

For adults: everyone shares a story/photo about the person being celebrated. Creating and honoring a ritual (like reading a story together, eating in candlelight, dressing up for ordered in pizza) where you do not do other things during the ritual.
posted by Emmy Rae at 10:44 AM on February 16, 2023

a DIY card with a nice note is worth more to me than a $100 gift card or a night out drinking.

The card has to be eye-catching but it does not have to be "good." Use a big sharpie to write a big, bold doodle or word on the outside.

Write on the inside something that you want to last. A memory that is worth returning to, an affirmation that might get mileage over the years. A hope, encouragement, etc.

These are cash free but energy expensive to make, so long as you worry about comparing your product to what can be printed by cash-rich corporations. When you don't try to compare to those, they are cash free and energy low.

Often, I like to copy for myself what I write to the recipient because I like to remember that I came up with something really kind or nice to say myself.
posted by rebent at 10:52 AM on February 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

If it's not money, it's time. Cook an awesome dinner at home...

For me, it's almost always baking or cooking. A cake for a birthday (with their preferences for flavour, colour and shape in mind), pancakes for Christmas morning, home-made donuts for Channukah, a big lasagna for a special dinner - and so much food for Passover (brisket, matzah crack, marzipan).
posted by jb at 10:53 AM on February 16, 2023

Know your audience; make it personal to what they might value. For example, sentimental things would be perfect for me, but my boyfriend doesn't value cards or written sentiments though he does appreciate the work that goes into it.
I often rely on the presentation of the thing, because the thing itself might not be super exciting (like yet another evening doing board games with friends), but we love puzzles and scavenger hunts, so we sometimes make mini puzzle hunts for each other to get to the gathering. Sometimes it's just in really fun packaging that can make it more of an experience (like using furoshiki to wrap a bento box with a Japanese dinner in it; to be fair, we have all of this on hand). I've made little webpages as an alternative to cards.
Randomness or surprise also helps if they like surprises, so not doing it on a particular day that's expected. Or you can build anticipation by making little post-it notes or text messages. Do more celebratory things as a response to things that have happened in their life.
Sharing things with your community. Feeling generous with others often feels very celebratory. Or having community come together to help and lend fun decor and fancy silverware or what not, to make it special to them.
posted by sincerely yours at 11:57 AM on February 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

For my spouse and I, with the pandemic and then with young children, we'd wack some tea light candles on the table for special occasions (our anniversary) and say "there! Now it's a date!"
posted by freethefeet at 7:02 PM on February 16, 2023

I debated answering this because for us the rituals are more special than the special occasions...but I decided to share to add it to your thoughts.

We make homemade pizza together once a week.

We have a family movie night with snacks.

We have special nap time Sunday morning in bed with coffee and tea and some music. (And like, perhaps *other things* ahem.)

In the days weather allows, we have our Friday dinner at the beach, and it's often samosas or empanadas.

None of that I know really answers how to make a specific occasion special, but those habits are kind of the glue of our feeling connected, which is what we use to look for in restaurants and at concerts and through gifts.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:12 AM on February 17, 2023 [1 favorite]

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