Valentine's on a budget

Hey, guys, don't waste your money. Here's how to win your sweetheart over without breaking the bank.

Smart Spending

Your Money

February 06, 2005|By Gregory Karp

Many women would agree that men perform few tasks worse than planning for Valentine's Day. And for men, trying to please a significant other without going broke is a struggle. "One of the least romantic days of the year is Valentine's Day," contends Michael Webb, a relationship author and operator of Web site. "The majority of men act like robots, purchasing flowers and chocolate for their sweethearts because that is what everyone else is doing. Many people celebrate the day out of obligation rather than celebration." The keys to a successful Valentine's Day are creative and sincere reflections of love, which have nothing to do with money. But simply cheaping out on Valentine's Day can be dicey. Maybe that's why American consumers spent $12.8 billion on Valentine's Day last year, or on average about $100 each, according to the National Retail Federation. The figures, which include the cost of dining out, put the average 18- to 24-year-old's spending at $154.65. The dollars dropped to $78.30 for 25- to 34-year-olds. So, here are some ideas, some endearing, others purely practical, for two parts of Valentine's Day - the date and the gift - that will keep the strain off the budget without transferring it to the relationship


Move Valentine's Day

Getting a baby-sitter or making a dinner reservation for Feb. 14 or the weekend before might be difficult. So suggest to your partner that you shift Valentine's Day to the following weekend. Besides making logistics easier, it allows you to get chocolates, cards and flowers at deeply discounted post- Valentine's Day prices. However, it would be smart to plan some small gesture on the day itself, perhaps alluding to plans for the following weekend.

Think dinner alternatives.

Consider making dinner at home with your sweetheart's favorite dishes. Or make reservations at the fanciest restaurant in town but just for appetizers or dessert. You get the experience of elegant dining without the high price.

Instead of dinner out, you could do a Valentine's breakfast, which is far cheaper. That works better if the breakfast kicks off a full day of planned Valentine's activities.

Cheap dates are fun, too

Instead of an expensive dinner or show, consider a date to a free art museum or concert or a trip to an aquarium or zoo. A park picnic in warm climates works. Or in colder regions, consider a date for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, using rented equipment. Bookstore browsing with coffee is nice. More unconventional is a fun date to visit auto dealerships and test-drive fancy cars, regardless of whether you're serious about buying.

Pay attention to detail

Candles, incense and music can set an ambience for a romantic date, even if it's at home. And they don't cost much.


Plan ahead

Scrambling for last-minute flowers and chocolates almost guarantees you'll spend more than you want to. And it ends up being a gesture of minimal sincerity.

Play your cards right

More people buy greeting cards for Valentine's Day than any other holiday except Christmas, according to the Greeting Card Association. But they can be wildly expensive for what you get.

Instead, a cheaper card from a dollar store, a homemade card made with paper and glue, or a card printed from the computer can substitute. The key, though, is to come up with your own message. Ideas include a poem, a short essay on why you love her or a top 10 list about why she's the greatest.

Cut down on candy

Who needs a box laden with high carbohydrates and calories? Instead, go to a candy shop and buy one or two fancy pieces of candy. That satisfies the sweet tooth while cutting cost and calories.

Consider flowers options

Instead of buying a dozen red roses delivered to her for $80, stop at a local florist and buy her a single pink or yellow rose for $4. That may satisfy the flower requirement if it's part of a bigger planned celebration.

If you're taking the traditional route of ordering flower delivery, Hallmark - www.hallmark. com - offers the best value, according to new ratings by Consumer Reports Money Adviser.

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