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Romance on a budget

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By Andrew Housser

Americans spent $18.6 billion to show their love last Valentine's Day. In fact, Feb. 14 is second only to Christmas in terms of holiday retail spending. On average, consumers dole out $131 to shower their special someone with flowers, cards, jewelry and other tokens of affection. No room in this year's budget for a grand display of love? Do not fret. Even if you cannot afford to dazzle with diamonds, you can romance your partner without breaking the bank.

The Tradition: Dining Out

Budget-Friendly Alternative: Romantic Home-Cooked Meal

Fixing your loved one a meal is even more special if you are not usually the chef in the relationship. Dinner need not be anything fancy or difficult to fix. Get creative. Plan a candlelight picnic (indoors or out) with the usual picnic fare; serve breakfast in bed; fix fondues of cheeses and chocolate; or skip the meal and prepare a decadent dessert. If you really want to dine out, look for coupons on online sites like, or go out for a less expensive breakfast or lunch.

The Tradition: Weekend Getaway

Budget-Friendly Alternative: A Day Trip

You do not have to travel far or stay overnight at a hotel in order to enjoy quality time as a couple. Check out your local art museum, visit the zoo, or go for a hike at a nearby state park. Pretend you are tourists and visit your city's popular attractions. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy or stop at a coffee shop. Take pictures so you can later create a photo album of your special day together.

The Tradition: Greeting Card

Budget-Friendly Alternative: Do-It-Yourself Love Notes

You can easily dole out $5 or more for a pre-made, commercialized card that does not even come close to conveying how you feel. Instead, write a love letter that highlights all that you adore about your significant other. Or capture your favorite memories as a couple by creating a photo card or collage using an online photo site. Or leave him or her little notes in unexpected places like the car, under a pillow, in a dresser drawer and on the bathroom mirror.

The Tradition: A Dozen Roses

Budget-Friendly Alternative: A Mixed Bouquet or Live Plant

Flower sales skyrocket for Valentine's Day, but with some planning you can come out ahead. Look for florist coupons on online sites like (just make sure the coupon is valid for use on Feb. 14). Or skip the florist and head to a grocery or warehouse store. You will find beautiful bouquets for a fraction of what traditional florists charge. Another idea: Instead of cut flowers, choose a live flowering plant that will serve as an everyday reminder of your growing love.

The Tradition: Night Out at the Movies

Budget-Friendly Alternative: Watch Romantic Flicks at Home

Date night at a movie theater can easily set you back $50 to $75 by the time you pay for tickets, popcorn, candy, drinks, and for some couples, parking and babysitting. Cuddling on your loveseat at home with a classic romance film can be more romantic than sitting in a theater with strangers, and it is much less expensive. Grab a bottle of wine, pour as much butter on the popcorn as you wish, light some candles, grab the remote and get cozy.

The Tradition: Jewelry, Stuffed Animals, Chocolates

Budget-Friendly Alternative: Do-It-Yourself Tokens of Love

Everyone has some sort of talent. Maybe you can knit your sweetheart a scarf or bake his or her favorite cake. Create a coupon booklet good for massages, favorite meals, hiking at a local park or a car cleaning. Mixed tapes may be a thing of the past, but you can still create a playlist for your honey or a photo collage of your favorite memories as a couple.

Remember that Valentine's Day should be about spending time -- not money -- with the one you love. Make the day truly special by putting thought and effort into creating unforgettable memories.



Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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