When you were a youngster, displaying one’s affections on Valentine’s Day meant perforated paper cards bought in bulk and handfuls of sugary conversation hearts. Fast forward to present-day adulthood, and it may be expectations have evolved to include fine dining at the hot new fusion restaurant in town and a Tiffany necklace.
However you and your squeeze prefer to enjoy the holiday for lovebirds, it’ll take a toll on your wallet. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), in 2018 Americans were expected to shell out a total of $19.8 billion on Valentine’s Day, which breaks down to an average of $143.56 per person.
Whether you genuinely enjoy gifting your boo or—let’s face it—do so out of obligation, there are ways to spend on Valentine’s Day without it draining your bank account. What’s more, you can do so without looking like a cheapskate.
Work Around Daily Deal Sites
There’s nothing wrong with treating someone a massage or passes to a safari excursion bought from a daily deal promotion. But if you prefer to keep the fact that you snagged it at a reduced rate on the down low, reach out to the business. See if they’re willing to honor the going rate on the discount site if you book directly.
My friend Crystal clued me in to this, as she’s put up deals on such sites for her own small biz. Depending on the type of establishment, they might be open to matching the online promo.
I did this while in Hawaii for a night snorkel with manta ray sharks, and in Florida for massages for two. And both times the businesses had zero issue with such a request. They might ask you pay cash only or have blocked off periods, but those are the only stipulations. It’s a win-win situation: The business keeps a larger cut, and you can net savings without your giftee ever knowing.
Use Your Rewards Points
Rewards you’ve racked up from your credit cards can come in handy for both tangible and experiential gifts. You can use points for gift cards to use on flowers, or to dine at one of your favorite eateries. Cooking at home? Cash in on a gift card to a high-end grocer and stock up on foodstuffs.
If you have a romantic weekend getaway planned, you can burn earned points toward travel expenses. Let’s say you already booked your stay or the car rental, some credit card networks let you use your points to wipe past travel-related purchases. You’ll just need to do so within a given time frame.
Dine During Lunch Hours
Valentine’s Day eve—or any major holiday where people might feel a compulsory urge to get dressed up and indulge in fancy food—means longer waits, and frenzied servers and kitchen staff. So you might not have the ideal dining experience.
Consider celebrating during another meal. Establishments might offer a lunch menu with less-expensive, smaller portions of their dinner offerings. If you and your boo have flexible schedules, enjoy a fine meal earlier in the day.
Snag the Discount Pre-Gifting
See if you can enjoy the discount before you present the gift. For instance, save on shipping with online purchases. I have a friend who will give a retailer a call to see if they are willing to waive the shipping fee. If there’s a competitor offering such a deal, and you point this out during your convo, there’s a greater chance they’ll be open to accomodating your ask.
It’s also an opportune time to stack your savings. Perhaps you save on shipping, and look for a retailer promo code online. Note that this doesn’t always work. Sometimes the fine print notes that you can’t redeem more than one offer at the same time.
Homemade gifts are thoughtful and could save you some cash. The key word here is “could.” It’s easy to get overzealous and aim to pull off something grandiose. If you’re going to get crafty, steer clear of projects that are more trouble than they’re worth.
Sure, your beloved would love a Swavorski crystal-studded canopy bed frame. But do you really have the skills—and time—to build one? I was once someone who spent countless hours coming up with elaborate cake designs, but lacking any real baking or decorating chops, my cake ended up looking like lumpy mounds of dirt.
The same goes for cooking. Spending $100 on fancy kitchen gadgets and a bunch of ingredients you’ll only use for a one-time affair is costly. After all the time and fanfare, you might be better off just going out.
Skip Valentine’s Day Altogether
If you’re like me and not a fan of obligatory gifts, then talk with your partner on skipping the formalities of Cupid Day. There are a lot of ways to show how much someone means to you. Buying a gift because it’s the expected thing could just create more stress and be more costly.
If you love celebrating Valentine’s Day, more power to you. Otherwise, perhaps you can take a trip together later in the year to celebrate your relationship, or gift them a present when inspiration strikes. Just make sure you’re on the same page with your partner before you decide to forgo doing anything the day of.
Enjoying Valentine’s Day with your loved one doesn’t have to be a budget-buster. By thinking up ways to celebrate for less, you can stick to your spending plan and have fun without it doing damage to your finances.
Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer. Her work has appeared in Investopedia, Magnify Money and The Bold Italic, and she’s been featured in Money, Kiplinger, Forbes and Woman’s Day. She runs Cheapsters.org, a blog to help freelancers and artists with their money, and to balance their passion projects and careers.