This is a guest post from Kelly M., who writes about long-distance relationships at Long-Distance Life.

Long-distance relationships can be exciting, challenging, fulfilling, and all sorts of other adjectives…but “frugal” rarely makes the list. And for good reason — the transportation costs alone in maintaining a relationship with someone in a different city, state, or country can pack a powerful punch to your pocketbook. So how do you embrace frugality as a value without devaluing your relationship?

In the past, J.D. has shared his basic law of frugality: “Decide what’s important to you. Give yourself permission to spend on these things. Pinch pennies on everything else.”

Most people in long-distance relationships have already determined that maintaining the relationship is important to them, whether they’re a long-term couple recently separated by work, school, or the military, or even a relatively new couple who want to see where things go. So once you’ve determined that the relationship is one of those “important things” in your life, the next logical step is to lower costs on those things that are less important by cutting back on entertainment that you get little value from, or on non-essential services.

But even after all that, how do you romance your two-flights-away sweetheart without blowing your budget?

Transportation
At the beginning of my relationship, we were flying 2000 miles each way to visit each other, and I’d just book whatever flight I could find for a specific travel date. Then in the summer of 2008, I watched as fuel prices rose, and airlines hiked fares and tacked on fees. Costs fluctuated, and the unpredictability of my transportation costs took its toll on my budget — a plane ticket might set me back $300 one month and $460 the next! It was imperative that I educate myself.

If you find yourself in the same position, I encourage you to look through some of the flight-booking tips that have already appeared on GRS to maximize your savings. And if you’re flying a lot for your relationship, be sure to sign up for frequent-flyer programs. Those 2000-mile legs added up quickly, and it was a nice bonus to get a free flight here and there and give my budget a little more breathing room.

In addition to hunting around for the best prices, though, plan your visits as far in advance as you can. That way, you can stretch your vacation days by adding them onto days you already have off of work, perhaps substituting one long visit for two shorter ones. It also helps to space out your visits evenly, so you don’t end up booking an expensive trip last-minute because you haven’t seen your girlfriend for three months and you miss her terribly.

Entertainment
When you are together, resist the urge to fill all your time with movies and concerts and restaurants; instead, choose activities that are less expensive, but still allow you to interact with each other.

Play board games in the park, visit obscure local museums, or just snuggle close on the couch and catch each other up on your lives. When your partner comes for a visit, remember that he isn’t as familiar with your city as you are. If it’s your hometown, show your sweetie around your old high school and childhood home. Or play tourists for a day and visit all the must-see attractions in your town. (Head for Central Park or the Statue of Liberty if you live in New York, tour the monuments in D.C., visit the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and so forth.)

Take lots of pictures and embrace the cheesiness of it all!

Gifts
It can be tempting to go overboard with gifts in a long-distance relationship — as if an expensive, flashy gift could make up for all those miles between you. But the gifts that will mean the most to your long-distance sweetheart are the gifts that are unique and meaningful to the two of you.

Get prints made of photos you’ve exchanged on your cell phones. Go to a used-book store and find the books you loved as a kid — Charlotte’s Web, James and the Giant Peach — that you can read to each other over the phone. Use your talents to make something that’s really from the heart, such as sending homemade treats if you’re a whiz in the kitchen, or writing a letter describing the moment you fell in love if you have a way with words. Remember, the gifts that are really you, even if they hardly cost a thing, are the gifts that will bring you closer together when you’re far apart.

As much as geography presents challenges, monetary and otherwise, for two people in a long-distance relationship, a big part of what can make such a relationship successful is being mindful about both how you spend your money, and how you spend your limited time together. A little creative planning lets you worry less about your money, and focus on your honey.

Have you ever been in a long-distance relationship? What are some of the creative ways you and your partner managed your transportation, entertainment, and gift budgets?

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