Updated on 02.05.08

Nine Tactics for a Frugal Valentine’s Day

Trent Hamm

Many of you out there are thinking about plans for Valentine’s Day – it’s just nine days away, after all. Many people spend hundreds of dollars on this day to make it very special, but in truth, what makes it special is the interactions themselves, not the things you bought. Here are nine tactics to make Valentine’s Day special without tearing your wallet to shreds.

Take time off. If you both have some vacation time built up, put in for a day off and spend it together. Do some simple and purely fun things that you wouldn’t ordinarily get to do. Cuddle together for a big chunk of the day and just enjoy each other instead of stressing out at work.

Make an elegant homecooked meal instead of hitting the town. Put in the time and make a wonderful meal at home. Put out a nice tablecloth, use a few candles, and make it a romantic evening at home instead of fighting the Valentine’s Day crowds out and about.

If you’re going out, do something unexpected. Lots of places will be crowded on that night, so do something unusual if you’re going out on the town. Don’t go to the high-dollar place – instead, ask around for something quiet and secluded and undiscovered. Not only will the meal be cheaper, it will also be more memorable and distinctive.

Do something low-stress. My wife and I used to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a trip to the bookstore together. We’d find some quiet chairs in the back and read through books together and talk quietly. We’d also go to a very low-key coffee shop and sip coffee together. These were very inexpensive things to do (provided we didn’t buy things at the bookstore), yet they were both enjoyable and fulfilling to us.

Don’t buy flowers without thought. Obviously, if your significant other would be devastated without flowers, pick some up, but don’t make it a requirement. I used to buy a dozen roses for my wife, but one year I came home with just two long stemmed red roses. Last year, I got a red rose, a pink one, and a white one. Another year, I got a flower selection that didn’t involve roses at all. In each case, I picked flowers with meaning instead of just pulling out the wallet and buying the dozen red ones.

Give a thoughtful gift. It’s easy to just buy jewelry or chocolates for Valentine’s Day, but it means more (and is less expensive) if you find a gift that truly has the recipient in mind. My wife is a science fiction fan, so one year in lieu of expensive gifts, I gave her a copy of Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love with a little inscription. Guess which gift she still remembers, many years later? It’s not the chocolate.

Write a note expressing how you feel to go with that gift. A little sentimental note means a lot more than some extravagance. Spend some time and try to express – in your own handwriting – how you actually feel about your partner and why that person is so important to you. No matter the gift, that note will be the part that is meaningful.

Look for free concerts. Many communities have free Valentine’s Day concerts by municipal groups that don’t get widely publicized. Take a look at your community calendar and see what’s out there to do for free on that day.

Remember that your love is about the two of you, not about other things – and enjoy it. Hold each other close and enjoy each other, not things and events. Share a few passionate moments – that will mean far more than anything else you can do on this day. Best of all, it’s free!

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  1. Shan-Oh says:

    Good Morning Trent,

    Great post! My husband and I are planning to watch a movie at the pub-theater and share a pizza. Cheap and fun!

    I would like to add for any women out there reading this, make sure to make some of your valentines guy-oriented. I took my husband shooting at the range (ammunition was the only expense) for Valentines day two years ago, and he still brags to his buddies about how ‘romantic’ (i.e. thoughtful) I am. And I had fun shooting…which I didn’t think I would. Happy heart day!

  2. Frugal Dad says:

    Your thoughts on the flower selection are very timely. I just scanned ProFlowers entire selection looking for a small arrangement for my wife. I decided to cancel the order and simply pick up three long stem roses locally – one from me and both our kids.

  3. Elaine says:

    Or maybe don’t buy flowers :P I hate getting flowers. HATE!

  4. Kate says:

    This seems like a good time to recall the words of Amy Dacyczyn (author of The Tightwad Gazette and mother of six). Paraphrasing:

    “It’s not frugal to turn off the lamp and light a candle if the result is twins.”

    So remember, all you frugal, clever, romantics: condoms are much cheaper than kids. If you’re not ready for the latter, be sure to have a supply of the former.

  5. Heather says:

    I love getting flowers. LOVE! But I would say definitely don’t spend a lot of money on them. In our city you can get a very nice mixed bouquet at the grocery stores for $5 or $6 and they last forever! Definitely a cheery gift for cheap. :)

  6. Lazarus Long says:

    Time Enough For Love is an odd choice for a Heinlein book… I guess you chose it based on the name and author, but have you read it? It’s about a guy that travels back in time and bangs his mom.

  7. Mary says:

    My favorite Valentine’s tradition is, “Give a gift that can’t be bought in a store.” My new-ish boyfriend is 100% on board with this plan.

    Most of the things on your list are like that, though. Which is awesome.

  8. kelly says:

    I’m split between Elaine and Heather. I don’t hate getting flowers, but I do hate when they come from an overpriced online service or florist. The grocery store flowers are great (all of my wedding flowers were from the grocery store!) and they last so much longer than the sickeningly expensive rose bouquets. If you feel you must buy flowers for your partner, save some $$$ and pick out just a few of her/his favorite. It will be more thoughtful and much less expensive.

    I love the idea of a heartfelt note. Although Hallmark makes great cards, a genuine, personal sentiment from the heart means infinitely more. I have plenty of rings and necklaces and earrings; I don’t think I would ever have too many love notes!

  9. lana says:

    I’m planning to make some homemade chocolates for my gentleman…we’re both vegan so fancy homemade candies will be a treat (and much cheaper than buying gourmet dark chocolates).

  10. Missi says:

    Last year my husband wrote me a love note where he had glued those chalky candy hearts periodically throughout the note to help tell our love story of how we met and where we are now. I can’t even remember what he bought because the love note was so thoughtful.

  11. Marta says:

    @Kate – LOVE your tip ;-)!

    I’m with you, lana – I’m making a care package for my boyfriend who is frantically trying to finish his PhD thesis. I know the homemade snacks and handwritten notes will go a lot further and mean a lot more than any card or gift certificate.

  12. Grant says:

    Have you ever asked why you are celebrating Valentine’s Day? It is a commercial excuse to sell more cards, roses and chocolates (and anything else advertisers can convince people to buy.

    Celebrate your love at times of your choosing, you do not need business to tell you when to use all the great tips above.

  13. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Grant: you’re correct, but that doesn’t mean that it heals the expectations of one’s partner.

  14. Jen says:

    Every year, I get my husband chocolate better then Hersheys, and he gets me flowers, not roses, not red, white, or pink. Last year I got beautiful purple daisies, and he got See’s candies.

    It’s not expensive as long as you stay away from the obvious hooks.

  15. NoDebtPlan says:

    Here’s an idea: don’t celebrate it on the day. Everything is more expensive before Valentine’s Day: roses, candy, restaurants are full, etc.

    Celebrate on the 21st or the 7th or show your love throughout the year.

  16. Jillian says:

    My husband and I have a great Valentine’s Day tradition. One of us buys a bottle of alcohol (a fancy liqueur or something we wouldn’t normally get), and the other buys a board game. We take it in turns, so if you bought the game last year, you’re in charge of the alcohol this year. Then we stay at home on Valentine’s night to play our game and experiment with cocktails. It’s hugely entertaining, and we are slowly amassing a great collection of obscure board games!

  17. Funny says:

    (sigh) I was born 40 years too soon! Lucky Mrs. Simple Dollar!

  18. Mrs. Micah says:

    We’re having pizza and dress-up. :D It should be fun. Possibly doing the coffee thing as well…depends on whether we feel like braving traffic.

    It’s definitely the thought that matters. Whatever that means for a couple–maybe it’s a really expensive dinner out because they don’t do that much. Maybe it’s a free movie from the library. Or a snuggle. Or a decision not to celebrate.

    Micah once gave me a musical composition.

  19. If I’m seeing somebody on around February 7’th, I’ll break up with her. The around February 21’th, either call her back or find a new one!! I don’t think I’ve ever been dating someone on Valentine’s Day. All in the name of saving money.

  20. James says:

    Time Enough for Love was great! Thanks for the Valentine’s Day tips!

  21. Joe Richars says:

    @ Frugal Bachelor – I think that might be crossing the line into being cheap!

  22. Guys, quote this poem to her and give her a single white rosebud that has a touch of red on the petals:

    The red rose breathes of passion,
    The white rose whispers of love.
    Oh, the red rose is a falcon,
    And the white rose is a dove.

    But I send you a cream white rosebud
    With a flush on its petal tips,
    For the love that is purest and sweetest
    Has the kiss of desire on its lips.

    She’ll ask, “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?”

  23. MVP says:

    We’re gonna make an extravagant dinner at home. I called to make reservations at the sweet Italian place where we shared an ultra-romantic Val’s Day last year. Well, this year, they’ve upscaled with a $40 pp prix fixe menu. I’m sure it’ll be delicious, but I was turned off. So we’ll splurge on a fancy steaks and dessert to make at home. Also, my husband has a DVD collection, so every year I try to give him a good romance flick to add.

    But help, how do I tell my husband I’d really LOVE to get a dozen roses too??? It doesn’t mean as much if I actually tell him.

    @ Kate – I’ll take twins! That would be the most romantic gift of all, if you ask me!!!!!! ; )

  24. Esther says:

    I actually do remember the chocolate my then-boyfriend (now hubby) gave me on our first Valentine’s Day together…but that’s probably because I’m a chocoholic and Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses are notoriously hard to come by over here.

  25. Jilse says:

    I like flowers but hubby knows I prefer the ones I can plant in the ground and see live, rather than the ones in a bouquet that shivel up and die after a few days.

    This year we are doing dinner out, but a movie at home. And some nice quality time together without our girls. The dinner out may cost a little, but it is a rarity that we get out alone for dinner these days. We are both looking forward to a wonderful night of just the two of us, and we are celebrating it this Friday.

  26. Jess says:

    tip for flowers – my sister bought all her wedding roses at Costco, they have a nice affordable selection :)

  27. ramona says:

    I’ve only been seeing my boyfriend for about a month, so we had to clarify that we wanted to spend 2/14 together. Since that’s a work day, I figured I’d take him out to one of portland’s fancy restaurants. My boyfriend is a huge wine enthusiast with a great collection and we’ll be paying the corkage fee so he can bring one of his favorite vintages.

    (That is the NOT Simple Dollar suggestion, by the way… HE thought up the frugal part, read below!))

    He emailed me last night to suggest something to do actually ON V-Day. He suggested spending the weekend before Valentine’s Day making valentines, and then on 2/14, going to the children’s hospital and handing out valentines and candies to all of the children. Considering how cheap valentine supplies are at this time of the year, the only real cost is that Thursday night. And we’ll be getting back far more than we put in.

    Also, he thinks I have a great singing voice (something I’m shy about) and wants us to learn one of our favorite songs together — him on guitar, me on vocals. I’m a little nervous about singing an entire song in front of him, but I think it’s ridiculously romantic — and free!

    You can see why I’m so into this guy!

  28. ramona says:

    Oh, and a couple of surprises I have for him — I placed a free valentine in the local alternative newspaper (probably available in most major cities) so I can text him on Valentine’s Day and tell him to look for it, and I also am planning on sending him an old fashioned love letter through the mail, as well!

  29. tightwadfan says:

    Oh you have hit on my frugality weak spot! I LOVE getting flowers, and I love the beautiful florist bouquets. Please do not try the “one perfect rose” on me, it is so disappointing! I can count, and one flower is not better than 12. Sometimes the grocery store has really nice inexpensive mixed bouquets that are almost as pretty as the florist (they will even have some roses in there), and I like those, but often the grocery store bouquets consist of garish carnations. Of course I appreciate anything my husband brings home.

    I never thought of doing Valentine’s Day on a different day to avoid the price markups but I would be open to that. The markups are ridiculous.

  30. tightwadfan says:

    Eating in is probably the most money-saving strategy. I have a special recipe for filet mignon that we usually have for Valentine’s. It’s expensive compared to our normal meals, but a fraction of the cost of having filet mignon at a restaurant.

    I’m not into jewelry, though. If your wife is, that’s probably your biggest Valentine’s day expense.

    MVP, you have to tell your husband you want the roses. He can’t read your mind. When you do get the roses, make a huge fuss over how much you love them, he’ll remember that next year.

  31. Lisa Spinelli says:

    Nice post. I have a blitz week at work over Valentine’s Day, but we have taken the following week as vacation (my spouse is a school teacher and it is their winter break). So we will have a belated V-Day. I think we will still go out to dinner, though. Sometimes we just have to spend the money!


  32. LC says:

    My Dollar Plan saves money by celebrating on Groundhog Day insteady of Valentines Day!


  33. Anne K. says:

    We made plans to go out this Friday night to dinner at a place we like. We go there a couple times a year. It’s a bit more expensive, but it’s good food and we won’t be battling crowds to get into a restaurant serving greasy food. On Valentine’s Day, I’ll make him his favorite meal and we’ll probably snuggle for the evening watching a dvd. :) Thanks for the post, Trent.

  34. Lisa says:

    Chocolate works for me! And pre-Valentine’s Day (Sunday, in fact), my sweet husband watched Jane Eyre with me and wept at the end. And he works so hard to take care of me – he shows me his love all the time. I’m really a lucky/blessed girl.

  35. Matt says:

    Good list, I couldn’t agree more that valentines should be more about spending time with your loved one than spending money. If you really think about it the holiday has been turned into yet another expected reason to spend money. My wife and I are thinking about spending the weekend away – yes a bit more expensive but we’ll get to enjoy each others company while not worrying about the day to day.

  36. Susan says:

    I like the idea of Valentine’s Day in theory, but I’ve always been uncomfortable with being out with 100 other people who are either nervously fumbling through the night or are miserable b/c they’re not with someone. I find it to be depressing. As a result, my husband and I usually take a walk, get a drink or some dessert, and go home. We usually do a little celebration a few days after on our own and it feels more private without everyone in the world out vying for the last flowers or seat at a restaurant. All I ever really want is to know he’s set aside time for me and wants to take a moment to appreciate me.


  37. Sarina says:

    Once my husband brought me one live pink carnation (my favorite) and one artifical pink carnation bush. He said, “Betcha can’t guess what it means.” I said, “Bet I can: you love me today and you’ll love me forever.” He said, “You got it!”

  38. Great post! I had to smile at the mental picture of me telling my wife we were going to have a frugal Valentine’s Day.

    Best Wishes,

  39. Brian says:

    Love your blog….I think someone as msnbc reads it too:

  40. Brian Bonray says:

    If you want a frugal valentine’s i went to ask.com and got some great v-day results! if you need to buy stuff anyway there are some online sites offering free chocolates for your sweetheart and some chocolate companies offering big discounts if you order this week. I had to buy some office supplies for work so I went to shoplet.com and got a free box of gourmet chocolates for paying cash. They let you send them to anyone and they will deliver on v-day so my girlfriend will get an expensive box of chocolates that didn’t cost me anything! dont worry ladies…i’ll make sure to get card!

  41. Anitra says:

    The best romantic evening I ever had was when my husband surprised me on our anniversary by coming home early and making dinner for me – fettucine alfredo with broccoli (one of my favorites). He had set the table, lit candles, and everything was ready when I walked in the door. It didn’t matter that everything was store-bought and easy preparation, it was still a very elegant meal.

    Friends of mine were poor college students, but he wanted to do something really nice for her on Valentine’s Day – but he couldn’t afford a nice meal. He enlisted help from friends to turn a table at the local Wendy’s into an miniature of an upscale restaurant – silverware, tablecloth, centerpiece flowers, waiter, and maitre’ d. His girlfriend was disappointed when she saw they were going to fast food, but when she walked in the door and a guy in a tuxedo ushered her to a seat, she changed her mind pretty quickly!

    It really is the thought that counts. I don’t think either of the dinners above cost more than $15 – but each is a thoughtful experience that the recipient will remember for the rest of their lives.

  42. ramona says:

    Today I came home from the first day of my new job and found a potted tulip starting to bloom, along with a cute handmade card. It occurred to me that they will probably be close to blooming on Valentine’s Day — so I got V-Day flowers, and I’ll bet he got them for tons cheaper than he would have in a week!

  43. lisa says:

    I would love to get flowers for V-day, but my husband hates the idea of buying flowers for that particular day. So last year I suggested that he send me a *picture* of flowers. I got the beautiful bouquet which I could show to all my friends, and it didn’t cost us anything more than the time we wasted sending images back and forth via e-mail.

    Another year I bought a couple of boxes of kid’s valentine cards and hid them all over his office.

  44. Kari says:

    Yesterday my 4-year old daugther & I did a little baking in the spirit of Valentine’s Day. We added pink food coloring to the bread dough recipe you posted (after adding the 1st cup of flour). After the dough raised in the bread pan for an hour, I cut hearts onto the top of the loaves before putting them into the oven to bake. Yummy, inexpensive & festive gift. After they cooled, we wrapped a loaf in plastic wrap with a red ribbon & attached a photo taken of her baking (digital camera & printers are handy)& went visiting – my daughter couldn’t have been more proud to give to Grandma & Grandpa =) (we ate the other loaf – pink toast is fun)

  45. Caroline says:

    A few years ago, I got a frantic phone call from a male friend of mine. He hadn’t attempted to make dinner reservations until February 13, and the lovely, romantic fondue restaurant was completely booked, of course. He begged me to give him an idea of what he could do for his girlfriend.

    I said “Buy a fondue pot, good cheese, bread, and wine.” His response? “Oh my God, you are a genius!” I helped him shop for a fondue pot ($20 at Target), and the fondue ingredients (not more than $30 at the grocery store for gourmet cheeses, bread, and wine). He said it was a great success, and they had fondue for breakfast the next morning too — !

  46. DougW says:

    yeah, one time my wife told me ten times not to get her roses. So I didn’t, I got her a bouquet of other flowers. She cried for two hours because I didn’t get her roses. So, my advice, is if she’s telling you that she doesn’t want something, yeah, don’t listen.

  47. eve says:

    My husband and I get each other silly gifts from the drugstore and set a limit of $5.00. It is fun picking out the funniest gifts we can find, and does not cost a lot of money.

  48. Anonymous says:

    I can take several of your suggestions and wrap them together into something I did with my wife on our honeymoon. We didn’t have a lot of money at the time, though we weren’t poor. I spent a couple of days in front of a fireplace reading to her. To this day, I often sit and read the newspaper to her while she cooks. It is always worth the effort to find pleasurable ways to spend time together.

  49. Mic Cullen says:

    “Time enough for Love”? I take it she didn’t read it. (Never judge a book by its title.)

  50. Jeannine says:

    My V-Day plans are to go home at lunch while my boyfriend is at work fill our bedroom with red balloons (a dozen for $5) and red candles. I am going to order food from a Cuban restaurant and pick it up. He will enjoy it because he is Cuban and I can’t cook Cuban food the way he likes it. And then when I get home from work I will light the candles, warm the food and wait for him to come home to surprise him.

  51. Kim says:

    We are having a romantic evening with candles, dinner, a movie, sweets and lovin. We are watching Family Guy. I got him season 4 he got me season 5. For dinner our favorite sanwiches… homemade Rubens. The candles are to cover up the smell of our toots from the kraut! The sweets are Triple Chocolate Klondike Bars. Our time together is like this everynite. If it’s Hamburger Helper and playing World of Warcraft, it’s our time together. Even if it’s a night on the town. Simple. Sweet. Nothing but love and laughs. I can’t ask for a better life. We are happy and to have found each other to share our lives with. We are just happy being together. To kiss goodnite and goodmorning. Yea, we are in love.

  52. Lona says:

    This is great. Wonderful suggestions.

    To go even lower budget, though, like for those of us hourly who don’t get vacation, here’s a few tips:

    Go to a dollar store and look around – you’d be amazed the kinds of valentine candy that can be found there, and if you take it out of the packages and put together a basket yourself, it’s going to look and taste just as good as that $100 basket you saw at See’s.

    I’m in a three-person relationship at the moment, which means twice the money, for each of us. Instead of going somewhere expensive for dinner, we have a strange tradition – we go to a coffee shop on the busiest street we can find and watch the cars go by – the red and white lights are oddly appropriate for the occasion, and for some reason, we always have Starbucks gift cards leftover from Christmas getting moldy in our wallets.

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