Making Cents of the Holidays: The Cost of Love on Valentine's Day

Making Cents of the Holidays: The Cost of Love on Valentine's Day
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You can't put a price on love, but every year when February 14th rolls around, that theory is tested. Americans manage to pay a hefty bill to celebrate Valentine's Day, but interestingly enough, that trend may be changing. Last year, the National Retail Federation projected that sales on Valentine's related expenses would drop to $18.2 billion from $19.7 billion in 2014, which came out to an average of $136.57 per per person. Considering that a night out to dinner in general can cost that much, this shouldn't be a huge surprise.

However, there are still ways that people can cut back on this figure without sacrificing any of the love. Try some of these tips and tricks for a successful Valentine's Day.

Plan Ahead

This sounds obvious, but planning ahead will help you save money so you aren't buying gifts at peak price. For example, a dozen long-stem roses purchased on or near February 14 can cost just south of $100, but buying them ahead of time can cost half or even a quarter as much as that. Additionally, if you're left scrambling to buy a gift, it's likely you'll end up spending too much on something when you could have easily ordered it and had it delivered with time to spare.

If Valentine's Day isn't typically on your mind by the time it rolls around, and you know you're likely going to forget and wait until the last minute, here are some ideas to help keep your wallet full:

  • Buy a present when you see it. If you're out shopping and see something you think your date would like, buy it then and there. All that's left is to wrap it and add a bow. This goes for cards too. Whether you're waiting for your car to get washed or getting some groceries, swing by the card aisle. Stores usually start stocking up early for holidays, but even if the themed cards aren't out yet, you'll still be able to fine some romantic ones. 
  • Set an alarm a month in advance. Grab your phone right now and carve out 30 minutes to an hour of your day on January 14th, one month in advance of Valentine's Day. Use this time to hop online, order the flowers, and poke around Amazon or other retailers for a gift. If you don't know where to send the flowers, you can have them sent to you, and you can easily take them along on your date. Or, simply find a way to ask the address – you have enough time for it to not give away the surprise. If you ask a few days ahead of time, it'll show that you waited until the last minute.
  • Make reservations. If you're reading this and know you'll be going to dinner somewhere, make reservations now. You don't want to wait until the last minute and have to call everywhere in town trying to find a table.
  • Buy flowers in bulk with your other friends. Not only will this save you money, but you'll have some other people to remind you when the 14th is approaching and to help you stay on track. 

Save With Candy and Creativity

If you're choosing between traditional Valentine's Day gifts like candy and flowers, go with the chocolate. WalletHub found that 94 percent of people who participate in this holiday want candy and chocolate as a present. That's good news for you because the Intercontinental Exchange notes that the price of cocoa has gone down. But since candy may not be enough for some people, get creative with it.

Consider coupling the candy gift with some popcorn and an iTunes or Amazon gift card to buy or rent a movie together. You can create a movie theater experience by bringing together these classic aspects. Bonus: If you still waited until the last minute to buy a present, this will only require a quick trip to the grocery store, and an online purchase while you're waiting in line.

Cook a Homemade Dinner

Going out to dinner on Valentine's Day can be fun, but it can also be difficult, crowded and expensive. Why not take the stress out of the evening and make a gourmet meal at home? Find a few recipes – appetizer, entree and dessert – that you think are either in your realm of culinary abilities, or would be fun to cook together. You can even find some tutorials online and cook along with those. Or, to add a fun, lighthearted twist, you can both cook the same recipe and see whose turns out better. If you want to invite your friends over for a double date, you can all participate in an activity like this, and the more people, the more cost-effective the meal planning becomes.

If you don't feel like going out and finding all of the ingredients, take the guess work out of dinner and use a meal delivery service. Companies like Blue Apron cost about $30 per meal for two, and will give you exactly what you need to make a great dinner. Spend a few extra bucks on a bottle of wine, a nice table cloth and candles, and you'll be good to go.

Have an Experience

You have lots of Valentine's Days ahead of you, so why not do something different for this one? Decide to do a non-traditional activity, like taking a day trip somewhere, or even treating it like a mini staycation and explore your city. If you do choose to go away for an overnight trip, use sites like Airbnb to see if you can get a cheaper rate than staying at a pricey hotel. Often times there are guest houses and bungalows available in the same range.

If taking the day off isn't in the cards though, consider some alternative dinner options. Go to a movie at a dine-in theater near you, where you can order food while you're watching a movie. Or reserve your spots for a "paint and wine" event where you all paint something, guided by an instructor. Many times, these are BYOB, making them more cost efficient. Another option is to pack a picnic and head out to go stargazing. This can offer some quality time together without the distractions of home to interrupt you.

Sit down with your partner and make a list of things you both want to do, and see which sound fun to the both of you. Then start looking for ways to make them happen.

Make Something

This may sound cheesy, but a thoughtful, homemade present may be more emotionally valuable than a pair of diamond earrings. New research from the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Texas, Austin, shows that when people were presented with homemade gifts like meals and a mixtape, it meant more to them than a store-bought gift. Associate professor Angeline Close Scheinbaum said, “[The subjects'] faces lit up when they were discussing these more homemade products really got us thinking, ‘Wow, it’s not the monetary expenditure that people really seem to appreciate, but it’s more of the thought behind it.'”

Think about what your partner loves, and also how you can best express your affections and see what you come up with. There are many great businesses out there that offer really creative gifts for people. Whether you want to gift a photo printed onto a large canvas or a customized vinyl album, there's something out there to help everyone express themselves.

Create a Scavenger Hunt

Do you know what's really, really inexpensive? Paper. Use that to your advantage and create a thoughtful scavenger hunt. You know your partner well, so decide if it should be on a small scale, like around the house, or a larger one, like around your neighborhood or city. This is an idea that can be as grand or as quaint as you want. It will show that you really but a lot of thought and effort into making this Valentine's Day special, and that's really what it's all about, right?

Set a Budget

This may take some of the romance out of Valentine's Day, but the easiest way to save money is to sit down before the holiday and set a budget with your partner. Not only will this help both of you stay within budget for the night, but it also opens a valuable window into learning about how each other spends. The most romantic holiday of the year isn't necessarily the best time to bring down the mood, but one in four couples tends to break up over money differences, according to LearnVest. It would be better to find this out before you spend over $100 on a holiday if you're a new couple, right? Hopefully this little chat will provide insights into what types of things each other likes, and provides an opportunity to plan something fun together.