Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day, the big red stain on wallets of amorous consumers across the country, is upon us once again. The lover’s holiday is considered a boon to retailers following a post-holiday lull, with shoppers often re-opening their wallets after a thrifty January.
Even while treading slippery economic roads, Valentine’s shopping trends over the past few years have shown signs of improvement for retailers, with IBISWorld charting small but measurable growth in sales of traditional holiday gifts like greeting cards and candy since 2009. The industry research firm predicts this year’s holiday revenue to rise 3.2 percent above last year’s totals.
While still-looming threats of financial malaise talks may quell spending on bigger ticket items like jewelry and expensive getaways, IBISWorld predicts that industries hocking smaller, more affordable gifts like candy and flowers will have increased sales this year.
For consumers still trying to catch up financially after the holiday season, inexpensive trinkets and disposable gifts are a great way to save money while still acknowledging Valentine’s Day. And for those on the lookout for discounts, there are plenty of deals, as well as alternative gifts, to be had.
We’ve listed a few options for economical V-Day gifts and affordable celebrations for those of us who want to share the love without breaking the bank this year.
Scout the Deals
If you are not yet on a mailing list for a daily deals site in your area, now may be the perfect time to sign up. Most deals sites like Groupon, Bloomspot and Living Social are free to join and offer a new deal every day or two.
Some of the discounts offered on these sites may be impractical or unnecessary for day-to-day living, but are perfect for frugal Valentine’s gifts. Many deals cut prices in half for commodities like bouquets, jewelry, fancy dinners, chocolate and getaway packages, and some offer up more unconventional ideas like couples massage packages and tickets to beer festivals.
These sites provide a bounty of options for V-Day gifts that many buyers may not otherwise be able to afford. Make sure to read the fine print, though: some offers are only redeemable at specific locations or for a certain window of time.
Many restaurants, too, will be offering pre fixed menus for Valentine’s dinner, sometimes at a greater value than ordering three- or four-course meals off the regular menus.
Another great place to find savings is with online coupons. Sites like Savings.com are overflowing with Valentine’s themed coupons right now, with sometimes steep discounts from big name retailers like Zales and Harry & David.
If you are buying with independent retailers in mind, however, peruse Etsy to see which sellers are offering deals on one-of-a-kind wares, and check out Etsy coupon codes for even more discounts on V-Day goods.
Do Your Own Leg Work
Online shopping offers convenience, but if saving a few bucks is more important than saving time, be your own delivery person to cut out shipping fees. Visit your local florist and take your bouquet to your Valentine yourself. Not only will you save on shipping, but you get the more tactile and personal satisfaction of handpicking your own custom arrangement.
Local specialty chocolatiers can provide another great alternative to having a heart-shaped box delivered to your sweetie. Sometimes quality really does trump quantity after all; a couple gourmet truffles may impress your date more than a generic box of assorted nuts and chews.
Because the holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many might be considering having gifts sent to their loved ones’ workplaces. Delivering the goods yourself not only saves money and offers a more personal touch, but it also shows that you are willing to put in your own time and effort to put a smile on your specials someone’s face.
Stay in for Dinner
While many restaurants offer special Valentine’s menus, the costs of going out to dinner always outweigh the cost of making your own meal at home. Cooking for your Valentine, or better yet making dinner together, offers more bonding time minus the crowds and long table waits.
Think carefully on what you want on your menu. Anyone who witnessed Liz Lemon’s disastrous homemade Valentine’s dinner knows better than to serve stew made with cheddar cheese instead of water, but picking the right meal goes beyond avoiding meals with embarrassing bodily effects.
If there is a kind of food the two of you have been wanting to try, make it yourself and show that you have been listening to what your partner likes. Make the meal stand out from other weeknight dinners by turning it into a picnic, creating a unique table setting or playing music.
Remember that you don’t have to go crazy with the fancy quotient to have a romantic dinner. Try cheap DIY touches like a unique appetizer or personalized decorations and plating, then keep the rest simple. The point is to spend less than you would by going out, after all.
Go for Experience Rather than Price Point
There are many ways to show someone you care. Spending money cannot compare to giving someone a day to remember. Tailor the day to suit your Valentine’s tastes to show that you really know them.
Take a relationship retrospective tour: Visit places you went to on some of your first dates or where significant moments have happened during your relationship. If you have photos from any of these places, present them to your Valentine as gifts as you visit each one.
Another cheap alternative is to explore free and low-cost activities in your town. Check out local music venues to see what bands are playing and where the lowest cover charges are, then spend the night dancing. Take advantage of free alternative activities, like San Francisco’s annual Valentine’s Day pillow fight, for a night that will give you a unique story to tell later.
With all the hype surrounding the holiday, it is easy to lose sight of what your date actually likes. Flowers and candlelit dinners are not for everyone, and some may prefer a more mellow celebration, like a John Hughes movie marathon or just a margarita party for two on your roof.
If your loved one is the outdoorsy type, try to take the day off and go enjoy nature together. Go for a hike, take a drive or explore a new town. See the sights at your nearest state park, and take photos to remember the day. Even if the wilderness is not your thing, you can make the holiday into a day trip to a nearby tourist town and pack your own picnic lunch.
Don’t let yourself get pressured into following convention this year, and remember that sometimes just breaking the everyday routine is enough of a gift on its own.
Written by Kameela Din, a freelance writer and core contributor to NerdWallet Shopping.