My frugal valentine: Cheap ways to say “I love you”

I don't like Valentine's Day — it fosters the notion that romance is something for special occasions. Worse, it's yet another commercial holiday filled with cards, chocolates, flowers, and gifts. I reject the idea that romance is only for special occasions, and I reject the idea that buying stuff somehow demonstrates affection.

I believe it's important for couples to find ways to express their love year-round. If you do choose to celebrate Valentine's Day, don't feel obligated to give a dozen roses and a card — there are plenty of low-cost ways to say “I love you”. Here are just a few:

Love Letters

Instead of a card, write your partner a love letter. A mass-produced card isn't nearly as romantic as a hand-written note. I don't remember any of the cards that Kris has given me for Valentine's Day, but I do recall with fondness all the notes and letters I've received. It's a treat to sort through a pile of old papers and to stumble upon a note she wrote to me years ago.

Flowers

It can be fun to give flowers to your sweetheart, but think outside the box. Consider something other than roses. If your partner likes carnations, buy her carnations. If he likes irises, give him irises. Don't be slavish to the red rose mentality. In some cases, a live plant may be most appropriate. I'll bet Kris would be happier with potted tulips than with a bunch of roses.

Love Coupons

Use a word processor and clip art to create 8-12 “coupons” the size of a business card. Each coupon can be redeemed for something the recipient will appreciate. You might create love coupons that your partner can use for a night on the town, a candle-light dinner, a movie of their choice, a weekend getaway, guilt-free time with friends, or — if you're feeling particularly romantic — fantasy fulfillment.

A Second “First Date”

The easy familiarity of a long-term relationship is a wonderful thing. But that familiarity can easily become a “rut”. Shake things up by pretending you're going on your first date again. Give yourself a college student's budget, and do the sorts of things you might have done when you were younger. Eat at the local burger joint or pizza parlor. Go bowling or roller-skating. Attend a free concert. Make out in the back row of the movie theater.

Dinner For Two

Prepare a romantic dinner at home. Instead of spending $50 or $100 for a night on the town, spend $25 to prepare a special dinner with your sweetheart. Not only will you save money, but you'll also share the joy of cooking together. Here's an easy, delicious recipe that's perfect for a special occasion:

Port- and Soy-Glazed Beef Tenderloin
(recipe by Caprial Pence, modified by J.D.)

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 (6-8 ounce) beef tenderloin
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup port
  •  

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Season the tenderloin heavily with pepper. (I grind a couple tablespoons of the stuff so that the steak has almost a crust of pepper — you might want to start with less.) Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof pan over high heat until smoking hot. Add the tenderloins to the pan and sear well, about 3 minutes per side. Set the pan in the oven and roast the tenderloins for about 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set it over high heat. (Place a potholder over the handle of the pan — it's hot!) Add the butter, soy sauce, and port, and cook until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes. Turn the tenderloins over to coat well with the sauce, then serve hot. Drizzle with any remaining sauce.

This recipe isn't exactly frugal — beef tenderloin is expensive — but it's restaurant-quality and hard to goof up. Serve with potatoes and a glass of cabernet sauvignon. Dine by candlelight.

Private Rituals

Every couple has a collection of private rituals and symbols. These silly phrases and routines are like glue for a relationship. When Kris and I were first dating in college, for example, I picked up a horse-chestnut from the quad. It was smooth and strong and beautiful. I liked it. On a whim, I gave it to Kris. “This is a love nugget,” I told her. “It's a reminder of how much you mean to me.” For almost twenty years now, horse-chestnuts have been a sort of secret code between us. I know it's silly, but I'd rather have Kris give me a “love nugget” than have her buy me something new.

Saying “I love you” doesn't have to be expensive, no matter what marketers want you to believe. Love comes from communication, shared ideals, and togetherness , not from buying things.

For more thoughts on this subject, check out:

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Working Dollar
Working Dollar
12 years ago

“I don’t like Valentine’s Day – it fosters the notion that romance is something for special occasions.” I agree. My wife and I always leave little notes for one another around the house. Once a week we have a date night where we trade off what we each want to do that night. Every anniversary we have a “drawer” that we go through. The “drawer” is filled with momentums (programs, movies tickets, places we eaten, etc.) that we have collected throughout the year of events we have attended together. We go through this drawer together and remember all the things… Read more »

Cornelius
Cornelius
12 years ago

Working Dollar that is an interesting thing you and your wife do. It makes sense and helps you relive the moments you shared together I guess. Thanks for sharing. I might start doing that too.

Michelle
Michelle
12 years ago

I get red roses every year–from the miniature rose in the front yard that my husband gave me years ago for Valentine’s Day. I may have to wait for summer for the blooms, but I like it a lot more than ones that will die.

Don
Don
12 years ago

I don’t like Valentine’s day because it doesn’t make you happier if you are in a relationship, and it doesn’t make you happier if you are not. It’s especially bad if you are not. There’s this implicit sales message: even though she never noticed you or gave you the time of day, if you get her just the right valentine she will see you for the really swell person you are and love you. Yeah, and a Trapper Keeper portfolio is going to take your unorganized sorry butt and transform it into a with-it hip successful student. Same lie.

whitney
whitney
12 years ago

I love Valentine’s day! It’s definitely not the only time of the year my husband and I are romantic, but it’s fun to have an excuse to do something extra-special. This year, I’m making a nice dinner at home; we’re having cheese fondue, roasted chicken with herbs, salad from a bag, and some sort of special dessert (haven’t narrowed that one down yet). I don’t know what *he’s* planning, but I’m hoping for something that’s more thoughtful than expensive–like a poem or a love letter, and maybe a really pretty flower or two. J.D., you’re right, love letters are so… Read more »

Cat-Daddy
Cat-Daddy
12 years ago

Or you can just leave her some canned fish in a bowl. (*cough*) Since some of us have pets instead of actual human contact…

I’ve always felt out of the loop when I’ve been single around Valentines’ Day, but it’s not nearly as bad as “Sweetest Day,” which I first heard about this century. V-Day is nice for all young lovers, but the made-up-by-chocolate-marketers holidays I can live without.

elisabeth
elisabeth
12 years ago

During the many years that we weren’t married (I waited until it was legal for gays to marry before I married — true, it’s only Massachusetts, Canada, Spain, but I think the future is now here…) Valentine’s Day and our birthdays were our gift-exchange days (we aren’t christmas folks) and we did use Valentine’s Day (which was near our first-date day) as a kind of anniversary date with major celebrations like a night at a nice hotel etc. But this year, we’re just going out to dinner, and spending the rest of what we might have spent on Valentine’s Day… Read more »

Camilla
Camilla
12 years ago

>>I reject the idea that romance is only for special occasions, and I reject the idea that buying stuff somehow demonstrates affection.

Here here! You speak my mind.

rascally s~
rascally s~
12 years ago

I’ve found that bought romance (eg. flowers and cards) have little significance in the long run. Except that is to add to your debt. My wife’s favorite romance gifts, which were seldom given on V-Day, were the unexpected ones that eased her troubles or brightened her day. For example I scrubbed down the kitchen, made dinner, and left a note on the table one time before joining the boys one Friday night. Another time I prepared a party box for her and her friends before they left for their high school reunion and hid it in the trunk of the… Read more »

BxCapricorn
BxCapricorn
12 years ago

I just hand over the black American Express card and tell my chauffeur to, “take momma where momma want to go….” Simple, yet effective.

Kyle
Kyle
12 years ago

Some good ideas here. I did a similar post on this subject last week: 50 Valentine’s Ideas That Won’t Break The Bank Should provide some more inspriation and ideas to WOO your Valentine without spending a ton of money.

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

JD said “Don’t be slavish to the red rose mentality.” I got lucky – my wife is allergic to roses. Plus, she prefers daffodils and carnations, both much cheaper flowers. I always tell her that she’ll know when I’m really angry at her, because then I’ll buy her roses… 😉

Aimee
Aimee
12 years ago

Great ideas! We don’t really celebrate the day because we try to make every day a little special somehow… but we do buy some of our favorite chocolate treats that are around this time of year.

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
12 years ago

We’ve never really celebrated it before because for the last 5 years we were always 2 hours apart in February (not in the summers, though).

We have something very fun and very inexpensive planned. 🙂

In Debt
In Debt
12 years ago

Young and I don’t really care for Valentine’s day that much either. But for my birthday, she did a wonderful job of coming up with inexpensive things that I love. Now, if only I can come up with some for her that are just as good.

Anca
Anca
12 years ago

Might I recommend a potted freesia? We bought a yellow one yesterday and it smells amazing. Instead of going out for dinner, we’ll probably stay in and enjoy some chocolate fondue.

Shegazelle
Shegazelle
12 years ago

In reference to those who are “unattached”, some friends of mine started a gathering on February 14 in which they celebrate “Single Awareness Day.” They get together for dinner and have a good time, and every year more people join them. I think it’s a great idea/excuse for single people to get together and make a good day out of what could be a downer.

Kent Irwin eFinPLAN
Kent Irwin eFinPLAN
12 years ago

My son called several grocery stores and florists for roses for his girl friend, prices ranged from $15 to $30, he end up finding a doz. at Costco for $14.99 – frugal and romantic I think!

Laura
Laura
12 years ago

I like having private rituals with my husband. They are so much more meaningful than ‘flowers’. Feb. 14 should just be another day you show the one you love how you feel.

Terra Andersen
Terra Andersen
12 years ago

Going to places like the beach or somewhere else scenic is also romantic and cheap. I once made a picnic near the beach, and it was so fun. Total Cost: $25

Adfecto
Adfecto
12 years ago

I think this year my wife and I are going to stay in and cook dinner. We are splitting up the courses so that we can each plan a surprise for the other. We will probably watch a romantic classic movie together. I’ll run her warm bath and it should be a relaxing stress-free affair. Frugal, fun, and romantic all in one.

Kathy
Kathy
12 years ago

My daughter’s making a scrapbook for her boyfriend. It’ll contain pictures from the last year.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
12 years ago

My favorite part of Valentine’s day is what we refer to as half-price candy day. On the 15th the retailers mark all the fancy boxes of chocolates down because the packaging is wrong. It still tastes great though!

Ellen
Ellen
12 years ago

Thank you very much for that wonderful recipe! We were looking for something to do just for “us” that would be special but not stupid-expensive and that recipe really got things started. We served it with sides of asparagus spears and oven-roasted herbed potatoes and our home-made wine. Lovely! 🙂

Sara
Sara
12 years ago

The private rituals are lovely, and the recipe sounds delicious…however…seriously, buy me roses baby.

Sara
Sara
12 years ago

or better yet, say it with diamonds. hahaha.

Patrica Dilmore
Patrica Dilmore
8 years ago

I agree almost entirely with the sentiment of this post (although it must be said sadly as someone who is once again alone at this time of year!).

We don’t need to be told to express our relationship on a particular day of the year whilst playing inflated prices for cards, flowers and meals out.

It’s the personal touch that counts!

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