Everyone knows money can’t buy love. But that doesn’t mean that on Cupid’s birthday, we don’t try.
According to the National Retail Federation, lovebirds spent an average of just under $150 on Valentine’s Day gifts and celebrations in 2015 and 2016.
And depending on how serious you are about impressing your date, you could spend a whole lot more. Fancy dinners, gourmet chocolates and pricy bottles of real-deal Champagne can add up quickly. Throw in some jewelry, and Bankrate estimates your battery of classic V-Day offerings could cost more than $500.
10 Penny Hoarder-Friendly Valentine’s Day Gifts and Ideas
Here’s the thing: There’s nothing wrong with spending some money on a special occasion. If Valentine’s Day is meaningful to you and your sweetie, by all means, splurge!
But if you’re going to spend money on your lover — be it $500 or just $5 — there are better, more creative ways to do so than the chocolate-flowers-dinner shtick.
Here are 10 alternative, money-smart ways to spend your money this year that could make for romantic Valentine’s Day gifts.
1. Put It Into Savings
OK, hear me out, because I know this seems as unsexy as possible.
But contributing to a mutually beneficial savings account is actually crazy romantic.
Whether you’re padding a joint emergency fund or your retirement savings, nothing says “I’m in it for the long haul” more clearly than putting money into a long-term account. Plus, your invested funds will be fruitful and multiply (yes, I went there), making this a gift that actually does keep on giving.
If you and your honey have (or are planning on) kids, you could skip the steak dinner and stick the money into a 529 plan account. Over the course of 20 years, just $100 per month could explode into more than $50,000 for your child’s college education, according to Business Insider.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a single meal worth $50K.
Want to make it more romantic in the short term? Write your sweetheart a card letting them know about your contribution, then spend Valentine’s Day afternoon dreaming about what your retirement together will look like.
You could even work together to figure out what you’d need to accomplish to retire early! I promise, it’s a way hotter date than it sounds like — they do call it FIRE, after all.
2. Put it Toward Your Sweetie’s (or Joint) Debt
If your significant other is dealing with student loans, car payments or — worst of all — revolving credit card debt, they’re facing a serious obstacle to achieving bigger financial goals… including ones you might have for your future together.
Consider paying some additional principal toward their car loan or knocking out that final $500 credit card balance they just can’t seem to get ahead of. Trust me, being debt-free is way more useful than a pair of earrings.
3. Put It Toward a Way Cooler, Bigger Joint Purchase
I get it — not every beloved will be satisfied with a contribution to their 401(k) or a break on an annoying monthly payment, even if you write about it in a heart-shaped card.
But if you want to give each other more tangible Valentine’s Day gifts, you can still do better than chocolates and flowers, which will be gone within a month.
Invest the money you would have spent on smaller gifts by paying toward a bigger purchase the two of you are planning to make together. Maybe it’s a new couch or rug for the living room, or a painting you fell in love with that weekend at the art fair. Heck, maybe it’s the house itself!
Even if you can’t pay for the whole purchase, a significant contribution toward a major spend, like a new car, is a thoughtful and useful gift. It still has a palpable, actual-thing component attached to it, even if it’s not there yet.
Another idea, if you’re both sure you’re ready: Take that Valentine’s Day money, and use it to adopt a cat or dog. If your relationship is stable enough, there’s little that’s more romantic than adding a new furry friend to your little family.
Just make sure you’re not in it for the novelty and that you have a contingency plan. Your new pet deserves a stable home, no matter what becomes of your partnership a few years down the road.
4. Take a Vacation
The most expensive romantic meal I ever ate cost about $500 for the two of us. (Sorry, not sorry — that’s just what happens when you live less than 30 minutes from Bern’s Steakhouse!)
Don’t get me wrong. The meal was unforgettable. But we could have taken a pretty amazing weekend vacation for that same amount of money — or even less, if we followed these tips from TPH senior staff writer Dana Sitar, who saw Savannah, Georgia, with her sweetheart for just $300.
Even the best steak in the world, which Bern’s might well be, doesn’t measure up to a road trip to a new place with your favorite person.
5. Help Your Partner Start Their Freelance Business, or Start One Together
Has your S.O. always dreamed of becoming a freelance writer or independent consultant? Do the two of you have an idea for a killer blog that’ll be fun to write together while also helping take care of the bills?
You can start many types of businesses with little or no overhead — many now-successful brands started with $100 or less.
One quick idea: Buy your sweetheart his or her very own domain name, so they can establish the web presence that’s critical in any field these days. Domain names are generally inexpensive and a great gift. Get one that screams “I believe in you!”
6. Put Money Toward Your Sweetie’s Hobby
Does your lover have a passion that includes expensive components they lust after on the regular?
New camera lenses, printing blocks, pointe shoes and even yoga pants are pricy enough to qualify as treats — and they all make great, mega-thoughtful gifts if your honey is really devoted to their hobby.
While it’s closer to traditional gift-giving than most other items on this list, buying your significant other such a targeted gift shows more insight and care than a generic box of chocolates… to say nothing of the gift’s actual usefulness. They’ll think of you every time they use their new gadget to do the thing they love best. How much more romantic does it get than that?
And yes, this idea works even if your partner doesn’t have a pastime that requires fancy equipment.
You could contribute cash to their travel fund or finally knock parasailing off their bucket list, or foot the bill for the yoga enthusiast’s classes for a month or three. She never stops watching “So You Think You Can Dance” reruns? Buy her some ballroom lessons — and tag along to be her dance partner, no matter how goofy you feel.
The point is to get seriously thoughtful about what means the most to your significant other, so it’s really up to you. The possibilities are endless!
7. Put it Toward Your Sweetie’s Education, New Job or Self-Improvement
If you know your S.O. is stuck in a rut at work or is eager to pick up a new skill set, contribute your Valentine’s Day funds toward making their dreams come true!
You could buy them an affordable (but useful!) course on coding, WordPress or anything else imaginable through Udemy, or sign them up for lessons in that language they’ve always wanted to learn.
Maybe you could best spend the money on a professional resume writer who can help your honey move into a more fulfilling position at work. Better yet, whatever you invest might even help your significant other increase their earnings. I’ve never met a box of chocolates that can do that!
8. Donate to a Charity in Your Sweetheart’s Name
You can choose any charity you know to be meaningful to your partner and make a donation in their name. From Planned Parenthood to Disabled American Veterans to the Humane Society, there’s no shortage of great organizations that depend on donations to help their cause.
Want to really step up the warm and fuzzies? Spend the day volunteering for one of these organizations with your honey. It’s a bonding experience you can feel awesome about, and it’s less expensive than donating.
9. Celebrate a Day or Two Late
Here’s an idea: Do all of the normal Valentine’s Day stuff, but do it Feb. 17.
(And no, not just because that’s a Friday.)
First, once the official holiday is over, you can buy all the Valentine’s Day candy you and your loved one could possibly consume for dirt cheap. Same goes for red roses, heart-shaped cards, stuffed animals — the whole nine yards.
It’s also no secret that many restaurants price-gouge on special occasions, Valentine’s Day included, by creating a pricy prix fixe menu whose excessive, pre-picked indulgences might not even be to your tastes in the first place.
Celebrate V-Day a few days late, and you’ll save money on every aspect of the experience… and have the added romantic bonus of it being your own private holiday.
10. … or Just Don’t Spend it!
I know, I know. You saw this one coming.
But seriously, so many of the best Valentine’s Day gifts and celebrations are cheap or totally free. Here’s one personal example.
On our first Valentine’s Day together, one of my boyfriends was between jobs and thoroughly broke. We made simple plans to hang out at his place and watch a movie or play video games.
After an hour or so at his house, I walked into the bathroom… and found the mirror covered with Post-it notes. On each note he wrote a single descriptive word: “beautiful,” “funny,” “crazy,” “literary,” “zany.” There were more than 50 of them all told — and all of them, according to my boyfriend, were descriptors of me.
The end result? I stared into the mirror and saw myself surrounded by all the reasons he loved me. The project was totally free and remains one of the most romantic things anyone’s ever done for me. I actually kept the Post-its.
There are tons of other ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day for free or nearly so:
- Have an indulgent movie or TV-binging marathon night — “Harry Potter,” “Stranger Things” or whatever else strikes your mutual fancy. (Added bonus: lots of cuddles.)
- Get outside! It’s cliche for a reason: A long walk together on a beach is a romantic and beautiful activity, and you’ll actually get to talk. You could also go hiking, kayaking or camping for almost no money, depending on what equipment you have at your disposal. Go pick flowers together somewhere outside instead of buying an expensive bouquet. And there’s always stargazing, which is totally free… and also totally romantic.
- Take a quarter of the money you would have spent on dinner, and make an incredible meal at home. Cooking together is about as cute as it gets!
No matter how you spend the money you’ve set aside for Valentine’s Day, don’t forget the purpose of the holiday: to reaffirm your love and affection for your favorite person in the world.
Yes, that task is daunting… but it doesn’t have to cost a cent.
Your Turn: How will you spend your time and money with your honey this Valentine’s Day?
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a freelance writer whose work has been featured at Ms. Magazine, BUST, Roads & Kingdoms, The Write Life, Nashville Review, Word Riot and elsewhere. She lives in St. Augustine, Florida.