10 Frugal Ways to Say ‘I Love You’

With Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s prime time for the usual onslaught of carefully crafted radio and television ads aimed at parting you and your hard-earned dollars.

Turn on the tube and you’ll see jewelry stores explaining why your spouse deserves a diamond necklace, watch, or locket. Meanwhile, big-box retailers are bringing out their flowers, chocolates, and holiday knickknacks. Even appliance stores will make the case that your wife wants a new refrigerator, stove, or microwave for her desperately outdated kitchen. All of these retailers, and others, are intent on selling you stuff you don’t want and your spouse probably doesn’t need.

And the reason for all of this? It’s Valentine’s Day!

Love Doesn’t Cost a Thing

Fortunately, many of us are wise enough to see through the clever marketing strategies. We’re smart enough to realize that a new whatchamadoo will never show the people we love how we really feel. Material objects – appliances, jewelry, and polka-dot jammies – can never fill an empty heart. Simply put, you can’t buy love at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, or Kay Jewelers.

In other words, to really show someone you care, you have to show them.

That may be easier said than done, but there are plenty of ways to embody the spirit of Valentine’s Day without shelling out a single cent. So if you’re on a budget, saving for something that really matters, or simply tired of the consumerism, consider these frugal options for a sincere and simplistic Valentine’s Day to remember:

No. 1: Channel Your Inner Emeril

Valentine’s Day dinners out can be an expensive proposition, not to mention busy and stressful. After all, the National Restaurant Association reports that Valentine’s Day is the second-busiest day of the year for their industry – right behind Thanksgiving!

If you want to skip the madness and save some serious cash in the process, channel your inner Emeril or Giada and prepare an epic meal at home. The Internet is a treasure trove if you’re looking for simple and frugal versions of some of the tastiest and fanciest meals out there. Make a list of meals your partner typically orders when you’re out, and start looking for recipes that mimic them.

Can’t cook? Try an easy crock-pot meal instead. Then fancy it up by decorating your table or kitchen with romantic accents or candlelight. Break out the fancy china, too; you don’t want your significant other eating his meal on Dixie ware, do you?

No. 2: Arrange a Sitter Swap

It can be difficult to be romantic with children around. After all, kids make messes, ask a bazillion questions, and want you to do things for them. All. The. Time.

Sometimes spending a few hours in adult company is all it takes to lighten the mood and set a romantic precedent. The problem? Babysitters can be prohibitively expensive – especially when you’re paying to go somewhere at the same time.

Sitter swaps make it easier to get out of the house (or stay in) without spending a ton of cash on a sitter. All you need to do is hook up with a family member or friend who also wants some time away and trade your services. You watch their kids one night, and they’ll watch yours another. You may not get to go out on Valentine’s Day with this strategy, but you could always plan your date for the weekend before or after. Either way, you’ll end up with a free night that you can spend with the one you love.

No. 3: Be a House Servant for a Day

When life gets busy, it’s easy to put off projects around the house. Ask your spouse which projects are most important, and create a plan to tackle them on or before Valentine’s Day.

Offering to spend the day completing projects your spouse has her heart set on is a great frugal Valentine’s Day because it kills two birds with one stone: First, it gives your spouse what he or she truly wants. And second, it can get those pesky projects off your plate so you can focus on everything else in your life.

No. 4: Make Love With Words

The early years of a relationship are often a time of love notes, poetry, and whispers of sweet nothings. Unfortunately, life often gets in the way of those simple gestures, and they tend to fall to the wayside completely once you have kids.

But ask your spouse what she wants, and chances are she’ll tell you that she wants to be appreciated. She wants to hear that you still love her the way you once did, and that she is still the same beautiful creature you fell in love with in the first place.

A simple love note, letter, or poem can often mean so much more than anything you can buy at the store. So break out the paper and pen – and don’t be embarrassed! Sometimes the most important gestures are the ones that get you out of your comfort zone.

No. 5: Give Your Spouse a ‘Free Day’

Running a household can feel like a full-time job. Stay-at-home parents spend their days doing dishes, laundry, car maintenance, bills, pet care, shuttle service to and from kids’ activities, and homework. The list goes on and on. And the worst part is parents often go for weeks or months without a break from these responsibilities.

Offering to take on all household chores and duties for a day is a great way to show your spouse some love on Valentine’s Day without spending a cent. While you take on the household responsibilities, your spouse can spend the time doing anything he or she wants.

No. 6: Get Your Craft On

If you’re crafty, you should have no trouble coming up with a creative and unique homemade project for your loved one. Dream up a custom photo frame with pictures of the kids, build a shelf for your wife’s shoes or accessories, or fashion a holder for your husband’s favorite ties. Those are just a few examples, and you’re only limited by your own creativity.

If you’re not craft-minded, Pinterest is a good resource for easy and cheap homemade craft ideas for your loved ones. Consider these ideas: Create a simple scrapbook with your favorite wedding, family, or vacation pictures. Make some homemade chocolate or fudge using the easiest recipe you can find online, then box them in packaging with a holiday theme (almost anyone can dip some strawberries in melted chocolate). Have your kids draw or color your spouse something meaningful and frame their creations. The sky is the limit. Just go for it!

No. 7: Have Spa Day… at Home

Trendy spas can charge several hundred dollars for a day’s worth of pampering. Fortunately, you can re-create the spa experience in your own home for a fraction of the price.

Start by stocking up on basic spa essentials at your local convenience store: a facial mask, some massage oil, and some scented candles. Break out your old robes and take turns pampering each other with the kind of personal attention spas just can’t offer. Your spouse will appreciate the thought you put into it and the personal attention you give them — even if you aren’t the world’s best masseuse.

No. 8: Make a Custom Playlist

Remember when people made cassette tapes of their favorite songs off the radio? Today, you can pretty much do the same thing, but without the hassle and with much higher-quality sound.

Using iTunes or whatever music software you prefer, make your spouse or loved one a custom playlist with their favorite songs or your favorite love songs. Make sure to add any songs that might bring up memories about your relationship as well as songs from your wedding or early life together. Burn the music to a CD or create a custom playlist on their iPod or music player – and voila – you have a frugal Valentine’s Day gift that is both romantic and thoughtful.

No. 9: Create a Coupon Book

Valentine’s Day is only one day of the year. Why not give a gift that can be redeemed all year long? If you’re short on ideas and want to extend the value of your gift beyond Valentine’s Day, create a custom coupon book filled with services or ideas that are redeemable any time your spouse or significant other chooses.

Coupon ideas can include things like: 10-minute massages, car washes, grocery store runs, date nights, laundry days, or even free time. Be creative when considering what your spouse or partner really wants and make sure to offer up “gifts” he or she will actually enjoy. Just make sure the coupons you include are for services you plan to honor.

No. 10: Be a Better Spouse Year-Round

Want to really get your partner’s attention? Perhaps you should consider ditching the idea of Valentine’s Day altogether. Instead of being sweet and appreciative one day each year, try being a better spouse or partner all year long. Ignore the consumerism of the holiday and make a vow to be a more supportive, caring partner than you’ve ever been. Chances are, that will mean a lot more than anything you can wrap up and give anyway. Valentine’s Day is only one day, but your spouse has to live with you for a lifetime.

Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.