Blowing the budget on Valentine's Day gifts and festivities might seem fun at first, but it can lead to high levels of stress and squabbling later when the credit card bill arrives. That's especially true during dark economic times like these. That said, you don't have to forgo fun and romance altogether this year. Here are some tips that can help you dream up a celebration that is both meaningful and economical.
1Talk about what you feel like doing this Valentine's Day — particularly if you both know money is tight for the time being. Can you agree to put the emphasis on spending quality time together this year, rather than on budget-busting jewelry or expensive bouquets of flowers that might last about a week before fading and dying?
2Plan a romantic day in. Since Valentine's Day falls on a Saturday this year, you could mastermind the best possible day at home ever. On Thursday or Friday, buy your favorite foods and beverages for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rent some movies, and clean and straighten up the house so you won't be tempted to work all day long. Make babysitting arrangements for at least a portion of the day.
3Create a spa at home. With a minimal amount of planning and for a minimal amount of money, you can pick up some lotions, bath salts, bubble bath, candles — and, heck, even a bathrobe and slippers if you need them — at discount retailers such as Target, Marshalls, T.J. Maxx and Wal-Mart. These items could be combined into a fun gift basket.
4If you don't feel like staying in, don't spend too much money. Your day out together could even be completely free if you plan for it. The two of you could pack a picnic lunch from home and then stroll through a park or walk on the beach. For a small outlay of cash, you could watch a matinee movie or drive to a small town near your home or through neighborhoods you've never visited before and search for small, out-of-the-way places to eat and drink.
5Avoid dropping big bucks on dinner. Have a nice candlelit dinner at home. You could even get all dressed up for it. Again, plan your menu ahead of time and make sure you have everything you need before Saturday.
6Go out on the town without spending a small fortune. If you both really want to go out on Saturday night, you could have coffee or a drink and dessert at an expensive cafe or restaurant or a dark, romantic bistro. This is a way to savor the atmosphere — and your date — without emptying your wallet.
7Take in a live performance. Check your local entertainment listings to see whether a university or college in your area is offering any concerts on Feb. 14. Performances by the college music department would likely be free or cost a fraction of the price charged by professional orchestras and opera houses.
8Feel better by turning to books. If you're both book lovers and you've been stressed out lately, you could head out to the library or a nearby bookstore that encourages browsing. Rediscover passages you love from your favorite books, and enjoy the silence.
9Give the gift of yourself. To avoid overspending on costly Valentine's Day gifts, you could agree to give each other gift certificates for your services. Such services could include running errands for your loved one, making a nice dinner, cleaning the house, repairing the car or giving a massage.
10Spell out how you feel. Using a package of inexpensive valentines, you could write out dozens of reasons why you love your mate. Leave the messages all over the house, in both noticeable and not-so-noticeable places. This is a gift that could keep on giving for weeks or months to come.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at email@example.com.
Sources: Shel Horowitz's FrugalFun.com (www.frugalfun.com/frugalfuntips.html); Living on a Dime (www.livingonadime.com)