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Published February 8, 2023
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5 minutes

3 Budget-Friendly Date Swaps That Don’t Skimp on Romance

Valentine’s Day can be expensive, particularly when inflation is sky-high. But it’s possible to be both romantic and responsible with your finances on this most special of made-up holidays.

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Under normal circumstances, suggesting that you and your beloved spend as little money as possible on Valentine’s Day may not go over too well.

But after paying inflated prices for virtually every good and service for the past year, Valentine’s Day 2023 isn’t a bad time for Canadians to do some belt-tightening.

Here’s how to recreate common Valentine’s Day dates at home, including price comparisons to illustrate how much money you could save by opting to DIY.

We’ll also take a look at some cool, free date ideas, because we all know Valentine’s Day is about love, trust and companionship, and not at all about how much you spend. Right?

1. Meat cute

If your hearts beat for meat, Valentine’s Day may be your chance to change out of your sweat pants for a few hours and stuff yourself at a swanky steakhouse. The dim lights, the succulent food, the velvety wine — it can make for a dizzying night out.

Especially once the bill arrives. 

Here’s a little secret about steak: It’s really easy to cook. A hot skillet; some butter, garlic and salt; and a few minutes per side is really all you need. Mash or bake some potatoes, whip up some veggies and you can plate yourself a mouthwatering steak dinner that will taste all the better for being a collaborative effort between you and your favourite carnivore.

Turn the lights down low, uncork a bottle of red and you’re all set. 

Price breakdown:

Steak dinner at a popular nationwide restaurant chain:

  • Wine (California Petit Sirah, 1 bottle): $48
  • Appetizer (garlic cheese toast): $13
  • Main course (12 oz. NY strip loin x 2): $88
  • Dessert (cheesecake, 1 slice): $11
  • Tip (18%): $28.80
  • Total: $188.80 

(Other potential costs could include $20 for a roundtrip rideshare/taxi or $60 for babysitting at $20 per hour for three hours.)

Steak dinner at home:

  • Wine (California Petit Sirah, 1 bottle): $23.95
  • Appetizer (garlic cheese toast): $3.49
  • Main course (12 oz. NY strip loin x 2): $24.55
  • Dessert (cheesecake, 1 slice): $4
  • Tip (18%): $0 
  • Total: $55.99

Potential savings: $132.81

2. A night in at the movies

This idea combines two cost-saving practices for a satisfying evening of culture — on the couch, no less.

The first involves taking advantage of Amazon Prime’s recent addition of new release movies. With the Academy Awards approaching, Valentine’s Day could be an excellent opportunity to rent one of this year’s top nominees for a fraction of what you’d pay at the theatre.

Watching a movie at home also gives you complete control over what you eat and drink. Whether it’s classic snacks or something more upscale as a replacement for pre-show appetisers — in this case a wine and charcuterie combo — you can still save money versus heading out on the town.

Let’s not go any further without saying this, too: You don’t have to break the bank for stellar wine from France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Argentina or Chile. You may not even have to break a twenty.  

Price breakdown:

Movie night out:

  • Tickets (VIP, Tuesday night discount x 2): $29.00
  • Popcorn (large): $8.50
  • Charcuterie plate: $27.00
  • Wine ($12.50 per glass x 4): $50.00
  • Something sweet (bag of mini chocolate bars): $6
  • Total: $120.50

Movie night in:

  • Amazon Prime Movie Rental: $6.99
  • Popcorn (large bag): $5.49
  • Charcuterie plate (three meats, four cheeses, fig dip and crackers): $29.96
  • Wine (Chilean Carmenere, 1 bottle): $15
  • Something sweet (1 chocolate eclair and 1 Euro fudge tart): $5.98
  • Total: $63.42

Potential savings: $57.08

3. Hearts plus art

‘Sip and paint’ studios have become popular alternative date spots in many of Canada’s major cities. The premise is pretty alluring, too: learn how to paint while getting buzzed. 

But the materials, alcohol and venue rentals necessary for putting together a multi-couple sip and paint experience can sometimes leave these dates costing more than you’d expect. 

Fortunately, taking a quick trip to Dollarama and the liquor store can help you find all you need to put on your own private, low-stakes sip and paint event. And if you feel like trying your hand at some actual painting techniques, Youtube is loaded with tutorials to get you started. 

Price breakdown:

Professional sip and paint:

  • Admission for two (supplies, instruction, alcohol): $135

Sip and paint at home:

  • Supplies (brushes, acrylic paints, two canvases): $14.50
  • Wine (Italian Primitivo, one bottle; Argentinian Malbec, 1 bottle): $29.95
  • Total: $44.45

Potential savings: $90.55

How to celebrate Valentine’s Day for free

Valentine’s Day is a chance for people in relationships to realize how lucky they are to have someone who cares about them. Money can’t make that feel any better than it already does. 

With that in mind, here are a few entirely free activities you can share with your boo when looking for something romantic to do:

  • Share your musical autobiographies. Open your favourite music platform and take turns listening to songs that have meant something to you over the years. It’s a fun way to explore parts of your past.
  • Volunteer. Find a cause you both care about and spend some time making life a little easier for someone else.
  • Get outside. Skate, go for a walk under the stars or visit a museum on a night when there’s no admission charge. 
  • Get cozy — and silly. Build yourself a blanket fort and have a two-person sleepover. While you’re at it, have a “roses are red, violets are blue”-style poetry competition and see what you can come up with.
  • Plan for the future. What do the next few months or years have in store for you? An international trip, buying a house, something else exciting (and probably expensive)? Start planning your next major adventure — including the smartest way to pay for it — and get excited together.

“At home” prices are based on local and national chain grocery store prices found in downtown Toronto, alcohol prices found at Ontario’s provincial liquor retailer, the LCBO, and art supplies found on sale at a downtown Toronto Dollarama on February 7, 2023. “At a restaurant” prices are based on the prices at a popular, nationwide restaurant known for its steak dinners. Rideshare and childcare costs are general estimates based on common Canadian rates. “Movie night” prices are sourced from a major chain of Canadian movie theatres and five different Toronto wine lounges. “Professional sip and paint” costs are an average of five Valentine’s Day date night packages offered in various cities across Canada. 

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