As a lifelong cheapskate, I have often been bemused by the amount of money people spend to prove to their spouses, children, and families just how much they love them.
No time is this more evident than on February 14 of each year, when love advertising goes into overdrive to convince consumers that true love is measured by wallet thickness.
For sweethearts on a budget, the prospect of children’s parties at school, gifts or mementos from parents to kids, and the all-important Valentine’s gift between spouses can make you wish that the calendar could just skip from January to March.
Fortunately, making this year the most memorable Valentine’s Day yet for your loved ones can cost next to nothing. Here are 40 cheap Valentine’s Day ideas that will leave your wallet untouched and your sweetheart delighted.
Ideas for Kids
The yearly Valentine exchange in the primary school classroom is an important part of American childhood. Luckily, classroom packs of Valentine’s cards are inexpensive, and they often include a card for the teacher. What gets expensive are all the other expectations for Valentine’s Day in kid world. Here are some ways to lower those costs:
2. Homemade Treats
Make cookies or cupcakes at home instead of getting the Valentine treats from the bakery. You can easily make heart-shaped cupcakes in a regular muffin tin even if you do not have any themed cookie cutters or baking pans. Fill your cupcake liners in the muffin tin with batter as usual, but then place a marble between the liner and the tin for each cupcake. The marble makes the cupcake bake into a heart shape.
3. Printable Cards
If your kids want to make their own cards, but you don’t already have a stash of craft supplies and construction paper, you can print out Valentines. See this list from PopSugar. These can be printed in black-and-white for your kids to color in, or in color if they’d like to just cut them out.
4. Dollar Store Bag O’ Balloons
Showering your kids with balloons doesn’t mean you have to buy mylar balloons with licensed characters. Instead, get a dollar bag of latex balloons and blow them all up for a fun-filled party. You can also fill each balloon with confetti (which you can make with old magazines and a hole punch) so your kids can have the fun of popping them. Consider also placing a little love note in each balloon. If you must have balloons that float on their own, some party stores and dollar stores will blow up latex balloons for a small fee.
5. Dollar Store Stuffed Animal
A small stuffed animal from the dollar store works just as well as the high-priced toy from gift shops or toy stores.
Valentine’s Day Games
The gift of time means more than material goods ever could. Create a long-lasting Valentine memory by playing a love-themed game with your child. Some games your children will love include:
- 6. Pin the arrow on the heart
- 7. Hot-or-cold—hide a heart somewhere in the house, and have your kids look for it while they get clues from you.
- 8. Love scavenger hunt
- 9. Broken heart matching
10. At-Home Restaurant
Create a restaurant at home. Get the whole family involved in making a romantic meal. The children can create menus, decorate the “bistro,” and help with the cooking. They can also pretend to be the server.
11. Love Centerpiece
Make a love centerpiece. Fill a vase with pebbles, sand, or beans, and place several small branches in it. Cut hearts out of paper, and write things you love about each other on each one, then tape them to the branches.
12. Poster Board Valentine
Create a huge poster board Valentine, using candy bars as your adjectives.
13. Valentine’s Day Library Visit
Head to the library before the big day and check out books about Valentine’s Day to read together.
Valentine’s Day Gifts For Your Sweetheart
Despite what the diamond, chocolate, and rose industries might advertise, it is possible to have a romantic Valentine’s Day without spending a ton of money on your sweetheart. Though the word “budget” does not necessarily call romance to mind, “creative” certainly does.
Knowing your sweetheart is the key to providing a romantic, memorable, and inexpensive Valentine’s gift. Here are some ideas for letting your love know how you feel, without sacrificing your budget:
14. Acts of Service
Take over a chore for your beloved. Surprise your sweetheart by simply doing the chore—exactly how he or she would do it—before they get the chance. It’s a little act of romance that will be greatly appreciated.
15. The Classic Mix Tape
Make a mix tape. You remember those? A collection of your favorite songs, or songs with a specific theme. Mix “tapes” are made much easier these days because of iTunes.
16. Redbox Movie Night
Plan a movie night, at home. Get free movies with Redbox using their codes, or just pay $1.50. Add some popcorn and some candy for a traditional movie date.
17. Library Movie Night
Instead of Redbox, check out the romantic movies available at your local library. You can find some of the great old romances from the golden age of film at the library—which you certainly cannot find at Redbox. For instance, look for:
- An Affair to Remember
- It Happened One Night
- Singin’ in the Rain
- The Philadelphia Story
- Bringing Up Baby
- The Lady Eve
18. Hand-Written Note
Write a special, hand-written note. Tell your special someone exactly what you love about them, or your favorite memories with them. Nothing says I love you like your own words.
19. Loveland Letter
Get a Valentine’s themed postmark on your love note by mailing your pre-addressed and stamped love letter to Loveland Colorado, where they will postmark the letter and mail it to your sweetheart for you. The address: Postmaster, Valentine Re-Mailing, 446 E. 29th St., Loveland, CO 80538.
20. In-Store Card Exchange
Give Valentine’s cards to each other—at the store. Some couples like to go to the card store together and pick out cards, then read them to each other. Pick a funny one and a sweet one. Then, when you’re done, just put the cards back. It’s a fun outing and it doesn’t cost a thing.
21. Little Love Notes
Hide notes or candy hearts where you know your beloved will find them. For instance, you could tape a love note to her steering wheel, slip another one in her wallet, and another onto her toothbrush.
22. Scavenger Hunt
Create a Valentine’s scavenger hunt, with riddles your sweetheart must answer to reach the next clue.
23. One-Time Dance Class
Take a one-time dance class. Many dance studios offer low-cost (or even free) one-time two-hour classes. This is a great opportunity to learn something new together.
24. No-Tech 24
Just turn off your tech for 24-hours. These days, we are all addicted to our phones and social media feeds. Give your sweetheart the gift of your undivided attention for Valentine’s Day.
25. From Scratch Meal
Cook a nice meal from scratch. If you never do any cooking, make a special effort to whip up something nice. Or, if you both like to cook, why not make a date to make a special meal together? For dessert, make your own chocolate covered strawberries.
Plan a picnic if the weather is nice. You supply the food and drink and a nice blanket. Find your favorite place and just hang out. (This is obviously only feasible for Texans and other Southerners, or those who have an indoor favorite picnic spot.)
27. Walk Together
Go for a walk. How long has it been since you and your loved one just walked together? Pick out a park you’ve never visited, or go to your old favorite. Couple it with the picnic idea and you’re set.
28. Dine Out On the Cheap
Go out to eat. No, I don’t mean having a ridiculously expensive Valentine’s dinner—but if you are sold on the romantic Valentine’s meal out, there are ways to be a frugal diner:
- 29. Use the tricks you’ve learned to save money when dining out.
- 30. White Castle has the classic dinner for two—great for a date night. An added bonus is that it will make you feel like a love struck (and cash-strapped) teenager again.
- 31. Try having Valentine’s lunch or breakfast out, rather than dinner.
- 32. Skip dinner and go out for coffee and dessert at a very upscale restaurant.
33. Local Tourist
Discover your city. Spend the day visiting local landmarks and museums.
34. Bring Hot Chocolate
Depending on where you live and the weather in your area, plan a day outside. Go ice-skating and carry a thermos of hot chocolate.
Saving on Flowers for Valentine’s Day
It seems like we cannot have Valentine’s Day without flowers, but you don’t have to spend tons of money on the artificial holiday flower markup. Here are some alternatives:
35. Potted Plant vs Flowers
Consider a potted plant. Not only will that be a gift that your beloved can keep year round, but they tend to be less expensive than cut flowers. Some stores offer potted miniature rose plants, or other flowering plants. These last long after cut flowers fade.
36. Pre-Order Flowers
If you prefer cut flowers, they are much less expensive if you purchase from a supermarket florist, rather than a stand-alone or online store. You can save even more if you order your supermarket flower arrangement at least two weeks in advance, and pay upfront.
37. Bulk Buy with a Friend
Another way to save on cut flowers is to get together a number of other romantic-minded friends and place all of your orders to the same florist at once. That can help you get a bulk discount.
38. Thrift Store Vase
Shop thrift stores, Salvation Army, or Good Will for a special container to use as a vase for the flowers.
39. Edible Flowers
Make “roses” from strawberries with nothing more than a pound of strawberries and some bamboo skewers. If you get some dipping chocolate or whipped cream, you’ve also made yourself a bouquet of dessert.
40. DIY Gift Basket
If you’d like to recreate one of the cute gifts florists also sell, look for Valentine’s Day themed coffee mugs, or red and white (or pink) dishes, and other decorations. Then you can fill the themed dishware with candy or other treats, and wrap with colored cellophane from the dollar store. It’s a lovely Valentine’s gift for less than half the cost from a florist or gift store.
Check out more ideas in this funny video by What the Fain:
It really is what is in your heart that counts. Count your dollars saved as part of helping keep your budget in line while making Valentine’s Day special. The values you teach your children about sharing without overspending is an act of love, as is keeping your budget healthy for both you and your sweetie.
Have a happy and cheap Valentine’s Day this year!