11 Ideas for Valentine's Day on a Budget

A young man with some valentine's day wine - valentine's day on a budgetHow much do you spend on Valentine's Day? Twenty dollars for chocolates? Fifty dollars for flowers? A hundred bucks for dinner for two? You don't have to break your budget to keep from breaking your lover's heart -- just use some imagination and initiative. WalletPop scribes put their heads together to come up with a generous number of suggestions for celebrating Valentine's Day on a budget.Homemade Valentine's Day card - valentine's day on a budget1. Make a Card

Are there more overpriced printed pieces of paper than Valentine's Day cards? Add to this the difficulty of finding one that's not too distant or too intimate, not too serious or too funny, too dispassionate or sexy, and you have another reason to make your own valentine.

The design is easy. Take the best photo you have of the two of you (or the whole family), place it in a nice border, and use it as the front of a folding card. Inside, (and this is the crucial step) write when the photo was taken and how much the moment means to you. Don't be afraid to gush a little, too. It is Valentine's Day.

filet mignon with pomegranate-burgundy sauce - valentine's day on a budget2. Throw a Fancy Dinner

You've probably experienced this; taking your honey out for Valentine's Day only to find your favorite restaurant packed, serving only a limited menu at a fixed (inflated) price, all leading to an expensive yet unsatisfying experience.

Instead, look for a high-end grocery in your neighborhood that offers a fancy take-home meal. Pick it up with a bottle of sparkling wine (not Champagne, but a sparkling wine from California, or an Italian prosecco) and set up a nice table at home. You'll get away at half the price, and should the romance of the moment inspire you to passion, you won't even have to drive home first.

Celebrate Valentine's before or after the real date to save money3. Do the Time Warp Again

On Valentine's Day, flower bouquets can be double or more the price at other times of the year. Restaurants can be more expensive. To save considerably, think about time-shifting your Valentine's Day; after all, who said you have to celebrate your Valentine's Day on Feb. 14?

Why not celebrate yours a little early or later? You'll save money on flowers and meals and the chocolate gift selection will be wider, allowing you to find that tasteful, budget-conscious choice rather than buying whatever is left, usually at the top of the price range.

Personalized laser frame4. Individualize a Gift

It's easy and cheap these days to have a photo put on a mug, t-shirt, Christmas ornament, crystal, key chain, cameo, playing cards ... Why not take your best picture as a couple and have it memorialized on one of these items? It's way cheaper than a trip to the jewelry store.

An added benefit to such a gift is it allows the recipient to take it to work and subtly relate to workers that most important of Valentine's Day messages: "I am loved."

Keepsake memory box items5. Make a Memory Box

This one is a bit more work, but will pay off huge in future years. Find a nice wooden or metal box and put in items that remind you of experiences you've shared. This could be a ticket stub from Disneyworld, a menu from a restaurant, a leaf from that maple tree that you necked under, a coffee bean from your favorite hangout, a photo of some random craziness you indulged in, a phone bill when you were spending hours talking to one another on the phone ... you get the idea.

Where this really pays off is year two, when your gift can be more objects to put in that memory box.

6. Do a Chore

Many people think to offer a gift of labor on Valentine's Day, but few really make the grade, because they are unspecific and open-ended. A good gift must be specific and as immediate as possible. You offer to detail his or her car? Set the date: I am going to detail your car this Saturday. I am going to walk your dog every morning for the next two weeks, starting today. I am going to wash your windows on Saturday, May 7. This makes the gift real and commits you to follow through.

A house plant for Valentines7. Plant in His/Her honor

A bouquet fades within a week, and then what do you have? At best, a few pressed petals and mulchable vegetable matter. Why not plant flowers or shrubs to commemorate the date? With a little sharp shopping you can find bargains that will minimize your investment, and if they are perennials you can amortize your investment over many Valentine's Days. Plus, your sweetie will think of you every time they bloom.

Make your own fruit basket8. Make an Exotic Fruit Basket

A nice alternative to a flower bouquet is a fruit basket, but really, how lazy must you be to buy one already assembled? In 20 minutes you can buy a basket and fill it with colorful, taste-tempting fruit. Don't be afraid to walk on the wild side and include some unusual fruits such as star fruit, dragon fruit, cherimoya, kumquats, paw paws, and lychees. Be sure that each is labeled, or write out a list for the recipient. Enjoy an evening sampling them together.

Make a custom mixed cd9. Burn a Custom CD

We all spend way too much time in the car. Why not help your loved one pass the time thinking about you by burning them a custom CD of their favorite tunes? Be sure to include the one that you both think of as "our song." Exercise your digital image manipulation skills by making a custom cover out of a photo of the two of you.

Estate, or second-hand jewelry is a fun gift10. Think Estate Jewelry

Every Valentine's Day a steady stream of men enter jewelry stores with no idea what they are looking for except a price point, and every year some of them walk out with overpriced rings, necklaces and earrings that their loved one will wear only to keep from embarrassing him.

This year, think estate jewelry, the industry's term for used jewelry. Shop antique stores and look for pieces that don't look like they've come off the assembly line. Don't look for authentic gems, but pieces that use marcasite, cubic zirconia or even foil-backed glass. Look for gold-plated or silver mountings, and, above all, a lot of style.

homemade cake11. Make Something by Hand

Don't have any talent with your hands? Don't believe it; you just haven't found your field yet. In the meantime, you can bake a cake; just follow the instructions. If you knit, knit a scarf. If you write, write a poem. If you work with wood, make a memory box (see above). If you hike, take him/her on a day hike to a place of special beauty or historical significance.

Give the gift of your time, represented in the object you present to him/her, and they will appreciate it far more than that box of chocolates snatched in passing from the counter at the local convenience store.
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