When Love Hurts (Your Wallet) — Enjoying Valentine’s Day without Breaking the Bank

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I was at the store the other day when it happened. 

My senses were assaulted — completely overwhelmed with pinks and reds and hearts and chocolates. With rows upon rows of overpriced cards – some the size of small children. (Really, Hallmark? Really?)

Dang it, I thought. Valentine’s Day.

I hurriedly pushed my cart past the displays, my little one pointing his tiny index finger at every single one (pointing is his new thing these days). As I walked I couldn’t help but notice in particular some giant stuffed bears with obnoxious hearts and the words “I love you” emblazoned across their middles. A huge sign boasted that these bears could be yours for a mere $50.

$50?? Seriously? what would you even DO with a bear that size??

As I pulled out my calculator in order to begin the week’s grocery shopping, I started racking my brain – I should probably get Matt something for Valentine’s Day – but what?

I thought about the small envelope of cash in my bag – my self-imposed allowance for the week and our attempt at being better stewards of our budget. In all honesty, we didn’t have much room for gifts – especially not oversized and over-stuffed $50 ones.

Even with all the hype screaming at me from the shelves of every store, I had kind of forgotten about this holiday. I laughed to myself when I remembered a conversation with my husband the previous weekend:

“Hey – I’m putting together our meal plan,” I said as I perused my calendar,  “should I plan something for Sunday night? It’s Valentine’s Day.”

The deer-in-the-headlights look that spread itself across Matt’s face told me I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t given it much thought.

A quick Google search told me that the American male will spend an average of $168 on his sweetheart for Valentine’s Day, while women spend an average of $85. I don’t know what kind of people were being surveyed in order to get these numbers – obviously not me or my husband – but there’s evidently a stigma that this holiday must be pricey in order to be meaningful. 

Don’t be fooled, my friends – this is just not so!

Whether you’re overly cynical or overly enthusiastic about this frilly, heart-shaped holiday, it’s definitely possible to show the one you love how you feel without breaking the bank. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Cook dinner at home. Take it from someone who cooks dinner every night — I LOVE it when I don’t have to cook or plan a meal. Consider making your loved one’s favorite meal and serving him/her for the evening. You don’t have to go out to a fancy restaurant to have a memorable time. And if you want to get real crazy, take care of all the cleanup as well.
  2. Eat on the floor. I don’t really know why, but eating a meal on the floor seems to automatically make things more romantic. Eating at a table? Meh. It’s been done before. But I mean…make sure the floor is clean. A blanket and some candles are nice too. And real dishes. So don’t plop down on the kitchen floor with a slice of pizza and paper towel and expect your significant other to be super impressed. But setting up a classy picnic style dinner in the living room is a great idea. Maybe even build a cozy fire. No fireplace? Netflix has a couple seasons of a fake fireplace. (Just FYI – season 1 is the best. Season 2 seems like they’re trying too hard).
  3. Write a love letter – and then read it aloud. Texting “love ya, mean it” doesn’t count. In an age where nothing is handwritten anymore, a letter can speak volumes. If just the thought of putting your feelings on paper makes you sweat, start by making a simple list of the reasons you love your guy/gal. Skip all the generic “you’re the only one for me, be still my heart” stuff. Think about the qualities unique to your loved one, and put pen to paper. For an added layer of romance, sit down across from your SO and read your letter to him or her – maybe even get extra brave and make some occasional eye contact. 
  4. Get all dressed up and spring for dessert. Chances are you and your loved one probably don’t see each other looking all snazzy and dressed up very often. So break out the heels and dress and the shirt and tie and go out for dessert. You can hit up a fancy restaurant, frozen yogurt place, or whatever tickles your fancy. If money is really tight, I’m pretty sure Junior Frostys at Wendy’s are only $0.99. You could probably scrape that much off the floorboards of your car. Just maybe gather the change before you go out together…crawling along the floor of your car and straining to reach the quarter under the seat might suck the romance out of the evening. 
  5. Take a trip down memory lane. Kick back and look through old pictures of your time together. It’ll be sure to spark conversations of “remember that time when…” or “I can’t believe it’s been that long since…” If you want to get real fancy, you could even put together some kind of memory book of your time together (guys, the ladies love that kind of thing). If you’re thinking to yourself – “I haven’t owned actual in-my-hands pictures since I last developed a disposable camera 10 years ago” – then hop on Facebook and check out pictures on your “friendship” page. No seriously – these pages are actually pretty amusing. It documents your social media relationship, which can be pretty funny. I looked at me and Matt’s page the other day and was reminded of the first time he wrote on my wall. My heart’s beating faster just thinking about it.
  6. Use entirely too many sticky notes. If you don’t have any at home, go to the dollar store and grab some off-brand post-its. If you can’t do that, use pieces of paper at your house. If you can’t do that, dig through your trash can and pull out some used paper towels. Use these to write random notes for your loved one to find throughout the day. For example, last year I used sticky notes to make a big heart shape on our bathroom mirror, and on each note I wrote something I loved about Matt. Not all your notes have to be serious – have fun with it and be goofy. Hide them in random places – if you’re lucky, your SO won’t find some of them until days later. So it’s like the gift that keeps on giving.
  7. Make a coupon book. Seriously – the coupon book never fails. There are plenty of free templates to print out online, or just make your own. Coupons can be for anything, but should be centered around pleasing your loved one. What are the things your guy/gal really loves to do but maybe you’re not so crazy about? For example, one of mine for Matt might be “This coupon entitles the recipient to one 30 for 30 documentary of his choice while eating his favorite dessert.” Me watching a sports documentary while eating vanilla ice cream (yep – vanilla) wouldn’t be my first choice, but it would make Matt’s night. Your coupons could be anything from a foot rub to a Cook Out milkshake. Whatever it is, be creative and think about what your loved one would appreciate most!

In a few years (or maybe days), that $50 stuffed bear is probably going to end up sitting in the attic, that cheesy and obnoxiously loud singing card is going to end up in a box or in the trash, and that box of assorted chocolates will sit on the counter for three months with all the crap-filled pieces with the corners bitten off left sitting inside (you know it’s true).

Whatever your feelings about Valentine’s Day, you have to admit – it can be fun to do something extra special for your special someone. So don’t be afraid to enjoy it – just try not to go into debt in the process.

These were just a few ideas, but there are so many other ways to get creative! What ideas have you used to make Valentine’s Day special but also affordable?

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