Last year, Americans spent $19.6 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day. Let that sink in. Behind Christmas and New Year’s, Valentine’s Day is the third largest consumer holiday (sorry, Halloween). Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is big business.
If you’re on a tight budget and you know your loved one is expecting something special, you may be panicking right about now. But before you start cursing Cupid, we’ll let you in on some good news: you can please your loved one while sticking to your budget. All it takes is a little planning and ingenuity—and love, of course. Whatever your financial circumstances, our inexpensive Valentine ideas will put a smile on your sweetie’s face, and you’ll come out smelling like a rose.
Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas
- Make a playlist
Remember cassette tapes? (On second thought, don’t answer that.) Back in the day, if you wanted to impress your crush you’d make a mixtape of all your favorite songs. Nowadays, music apps like Spotify make it easy for you to create playlists and share them with anyone on your list.
- Send a Loveland letter
For more than 13 years, the Loveland, Colorado Chamber of Commerce has sponsored the Loveland Valentine ReMailing Program. Each year, volunteers of the program send Loveland-stamped letters to recipients in all 50 U.S. states and over 120 countries, spreading the love worldwide.
- Frame a photo
Find a favorite picture of you and your loved one, put it in a nice frame, and display it somewhere prominent. Try to find a photo of a romantic memory, like your trip to Cancun several years ago. One caveat: make sure to pick a photo you already know your partner likes.
- Offer a “gift certificate” for a free chore
If your partner is habitually overworked, stressed out, and strapped for time, this gift is the ultimate act of kindness. Offer to do the dishes for one week, weed the garden, or take out the trash for a month.
- Make a scented bath bomb
Love bomb your loved one with this fizzy concoction you can make at home. You may have to hit up a natural pharmacy for some of these items, but most of them can be found in a grocery store or your own pantry.
- Repurpose a store-bought bouquet
With some ingenuity and a few household items, you can take a lackluster grocery store bouquet and make it sing. All you need is a little greenery to break up the colors, some tape, scissors, copper filament (in case the flowers are droopy) and whatever vase you like. Voila!
- Create a DIY message in a bottle
Again, you can probably find most of the supplies you need for this project in your own home. Who wouldn’t be impressed by such a romantic gesture?
- Purchase a festive popsocket
Are you constantly competing with your loved one’s cell phone for attention? Why not lean into it when a sparkly popsocket that says “there’s enough room in this relationship for the three of us.”
- Bake heart-shaped cupcakes
Sometimes your best bet is to stick to the classics. If your significant other has a sweet tooth, you can mix up a batch of yummy cupcakes with just a simple store-bought mix and a heart-shaped cupcake pan.
- Fill the home with scented candles
Unless your beloved is sensitive to strong smells, it’s hard to go wrong with scented candles. Skip the fancy high end stuff and head to Target, where the range of scents and options can rival even the priciest brands.
- Buy a pair of comfy slippers
At the end of a long day, most of us don’t want to jam our feet into a glass slipper. Nothing says “I love you” like a soft, cozy hug for your loved one’s tootsies.
- Make origami flowers
“Valentine's Day is a day for love, but it also just happens to be the time when every flower shop in town hikes up their prices,” says Justin Meyers, editor of WonderHowTo. “You can literally fold just about anything out of a sheet or two of paper, and depending on how crazy you get, it could take mere minutes to complete.”
- Pick up some quality booze
When it comes to wine and spirits, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get good quality. If your S.O. likes beer, pick up a six-pack of their favorite craft brew. If they prefer wine, pop into your local wine store and let the experts know what varietals your partner prefers and how much you want to spend.
- Go wine tasting
Depending on where you live, this is another option where you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time. Many wineries offer free tastings with the purchase of just one bottle.
- Decorate the house
Why should Christmas and Halloween have all the fun? As far as romantic gestures go, surprising your significant other with a house dedicated to your love is pretty high up there. Grab some red construction paper and tape and you’re halfway there.
- Make a DIY love mug
With a white coffee mug, oil-based sharpies, and 30 minutes in the oven, you can make your loved one a gift that will remind them of you every time they reach for a coffee cup.
- Share a couple’s pendant
Not all Valentine’s Day jewelry has to come in an eggshell blue Tiffany’s box. This year, why not get a piece you can share with your loved one, like a break-apart couple’s pendant? Whether you prefer hearts or puzzles pieces, you’ll feel connected to your love one even when you’re apart.
- Hand make chocolate-dipped strawberries
“To me, chocolate is the foundation of any romantic dessert, but chocolate desserts can become heavy very quickly,“ says pastry chef, author, and food blogger Jennifer Farley on her blog SavorySimple. “This is why I prefer to simply serve a good quality chocolate with fresh strawberries when I’m planning for date night.” Bonus: You can prepare them the night before for a more relaxing date on Valentine’s Day.
- Create a succulent terrarium
If you and your significant other share a love of plants and gardening, a mini terrarium makes a charming Valentine’s Day gift. All you need is an assortment of succulents, cactus mix soil, sand, fertilizer, and any glass container with a wide opening. Not much of a greenthumb? You can purchase a readymade kit for fairly cheap.
Valentine Dates on a Budget
- Make a candlelight dinner for two
Here’s a surefire way to please your honey when you can’t afford a fancy prix fixe meal. Try this $10 Valentine’s Day Candlelight Dinner idea from the blog Living on a Dime.
- Go out for dessert
Another creative option is to eat dinner on the cheap and then save the high-end part of your date for dessert-only at your favorite upscale restaurant or dessert cafe. If you’re on a budget, this is a great way to make your loved one feel special without spending more than you can afford.
- White Castle Valentine’s Day
Yes, you read that right. For 27 years, White Castle has been offering a special, unadvertised Valentine’s Day dinner for those in the know, complete with table decorations and a wait staff.
- Visit a museum
Spark conversation with your loved one by immersing yourselves in the art world. Unlike restaurants, museums don’t typically hike up prices on Valentine’s Day. In fact, many offer free days to the general public or suggested donations rather than a set entry price. Our suggestion? Visit a museum that’s open at night for an “after dark” vibe.
- Attend a matinee at your favorite movie theater
These days, a night at the movies can really add up, but movies are often much cheaper before 5pm. Skip the outrageously priced concession items and go out for ice cream afterwards.
- Prepare an indoor picnic
"Valentine’s Day brings cold weather for most people, so an outdoor picnic is not an option," says dating expert and author at The Good Man Project, Justin Lavelle. "But you can have a little Valentine’s picnic indoors instead for a fun twist. Make a yummy picnic-type lunch or dinner complete with a picnic basket, blanket and wine, of course. Have a fireplace? Even better! No matter what it will make for an interesting and inexpensive date and you won’t get any bug bites."
- Dance, dance, dance
Looking to shake up your Valentine’s Day routine? Sign up for a salsa or tango class for two. Even if dancing isn’t your thing, shaking your moneymaker with your sweetie on Valentine’s Day is a great way to connect and just have fun.
- Be tourists in your own town
“Travel is a state of mind,” according to author Paul Theroux. “It has nothing to do with existence or the exotic. It is almost always an inner experience.” Take these words of wisdom to heart by getting out and exploring parts of your own city you never knew existed.
- Stage a love-themed scavenger hunt
Here’s another unique way to celebrate your loved one on Valentine’s Day. The website That Sweet Gift recommends making it special by creating personalized clues that only the two of you will understand. Don’t forget to finish the scavenger hunt with a well-earned payoff!
- Pay a visit to a used bookstore
If you and your honey are bookworms, a low-key afternoon at your favorite used bookstore is about as romantic as it gets. Grab a coffee if the store has a cafe, then peruse the shelves at a leisurely pace. For added fun, try picking out books for each other.
- Get competitive at trivia night
Are you and your partner a virtual fount of random facts and obscure dates? Take your s.o. out for a night of trivia so you can crush the competition together while enjoying cheap drinks. Bonus: Many pubs and bars now offer Valentine’s Day-themed trivia events on February 14.
- Visit a cat cafe
Cat cafes first became popular in Japan, but the craze has now hit the U.S. with full force. This is great news if you and your beloved are cat lovers. If you’re lucky enough to live near a cat cafe, what better way to spend Valentine’s Day then cuddling adoptable kitties? Fair warning, though: You may wind up bringing home a new family member.
- Attend a “yappy hour”
Is your partner more of a dog lover? Take them to a “yappy hour,” where you can bond with other dog owners while enjoying happy hour prices on food and booze. Don’t forget to bring a special treat for the pups!
- Go on a zoo date
If your love of animals is more exotic than domestic, what better place for a fun Valentine’s Day than your local zoo? Observe dating habits in the wild while strolling hand in hand through the African Savanna.
- Sing your heart out
If you’re musically inclined, why not serenade your sweetie with love songs at your favorite karaoke bar? If you like the idea but can’t carry a tune, don’t be shy. Sometimes laughter is the best way to someone’s heart.
- Go on a date on February 15th
Personal finance expert Erin Lowry has the perfect idea for couples on a budget: forget tradition and go out on the town the day after Valentine’s Day. Avoid the V-Day “love tax” and dine out the next night when the restaurants are far less crowded and the regular menu has replaced the prix fixe.
- Book an indoor rock climbing session
Reach new heights in your relationship with a rock climbing sesh at an indoor gym. Doing something physically challenging together is a great way to connect, which is why some folks say that the couple that sweats together, stays together.
- Go on a food truck date
Whether you live in a major metropolitan area with an abundance of food trucks and cuisine options or you reside in a small, one-taco truck town, there’s just something about ordering something delicious through the window of a brightly painted truck that makes people happy.
- Plan a daylong road trip
Are you and your honey craving a getaway that won’t require pricey plane tickets and inflated hotel room rates? A road trip can be the perfect romantic getaway. Download your favorite podcasts, gas up the car, and drive to an area you both know and love. If your day ends with a six-pack and a sunset on the beach, even better.
- Row, row, row your boat
You don’t need to travel to Venice to experience a romantic boat ride. If you’re lucky enough to live near a lake that rents out boats to the public, a row (or pedal) around the lake can be great fun.
- Enjoy a “Palentine’s” date with your crew
“Parks and Recreation” introduced us to the beauty of “Galentine’s Day,” a way for women and their gal pals to celebrate a holiday that isn’t always inclusive of single folk. Now we have “Palentine’s Day,” where pals of any gender can get together and celebrate platonic love and the joys of friendship.
Whether you’re happily coupled, happily single, or looking for someone special, volunteering on Valentine’s Day is a great way to show love for your community. Volunteer at an domestic violence shelter, serve a meal to the hungry, or prepare care packages for the troops overseas. Whatever cause you choose, you’ll feel good about helping out those in need.
- Above all, make it meaningful
At first it may feel like planning Valentine’s Day on a budget is an unwelcome chore. But think of it this way—it could be a blessing in disguise. “Valentine’s Day gives us an opportunity to honor our significant others, but this authentic desire can easily be redirected into excessive spending,” says financial advisor and MoneyZen blogger Manisha Thakor. “The truth is that you are worth far more than any amount of money can measure.”