Expressing undying love for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day doesn’t cost any money, but nearly everything else does. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF)’s 2022 Valentine’s Day Spending Survey, around 53 percent of Americans planned to celebrate Valentine’s Day in 2022, bringing the expected holiday spending total to $23.9 billion. Holiday shoppers expected to spend about $175 per person on gifts in 2022, which is slightly more than the $165 spent per person in 2021. Still, that’s a big drop in spending from 2020, where per-person spending was a little over $196.

While there’s nothing wrong with showering someone you love with gifts, it’s still possible to celebrate this wonderful holiday on a budget. Below, we’ll explore some steps savvy consumers can take to keep their expenses under control.

1. Plan ahead

Valentine’s Day is all about love (almost) — but it’s also about sweets, flowers and fine dining. In 2020, OpenTable reported that dinner reservations on the platform spiked 500 percent in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. In 2022, restaurant reservations were still 20 percent lower than in 2020, but 30 percent higher than reservations in 2021, according to data OpenTable shared with Newsweek.

According to OpenTable, most “Valentine’s Day reservations are made 10 days in advance.” So, snatching a table for your upcoming Valentine’s celebration may not be easy. The best strategy, especially for a popular, romantic restaurant, is booking early. And you might want to use the same approach for buying gifts as well. Shop well in advance to make sure you get what you want and avoid overspending at the last minute.

2. Celebrate at home

According to Bankrate, couples spend $116 (on average) on fine dining on Valentine’s Day. Perhaps this high cost is why 31 percent of NRF survey respondents planned to gift an evening out in 2022 (for a total of $4.3 billion in spending), which is more than the 24 percent of respondents who planned to gift an evening out in 2021.

To avoid the high cost of a night out, consider cooking a romantic dinner together. This can be a fun and intimate experience (as long as you know your way around the kitchen). HelloFresh, the largest meal-kit company in the U.S., reports that 42 percent of their respondents prefer a home-cooked meal on Valentine’s Day.

Either way, whether you dine in or dine out, there are ways to reduce your financial burden. For instance, you may want to consider using one of the top credit cards for dining out or buying groceries — like the American Express® Gold Card or the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card — to earn rewards on your food purchases.

Additionally, many credit cards offer their own dining programs to help you save or earn rewards (such as Capital One Dining), or partner offers on meal-kit, grocery or dining services. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card comes with six months of complimentary Instacart+ membership and a $10 monthly statement credit from Gopuff (through Dec. 31, 2023), along with other food-related perks.

3. Get creative with gift ideas

Hallmark began regularly producing Valentine’s Day cards in 1916, a few years after its first Valentine’s Day card was produced. Along with Valentine’s Day cards, it quickly became customary for lovers to gift each other candy and flowers (usually roses).

According to NRF, “candy (56 percent), greeting cards (40 percent) and flowers (37 percent)” were the most popular gifts for Valentine’s Day in 2022. And let’s not forget that 22 percent of NRF respondents chose to gift jewelry. In 2022, the total spending on jewelry was estimated at $6.2 billion — the highest in the NRF survey’s history.

As you can see, Valentine’s Day can be pricey, especially if you choose more than one present for your loved one. According to the NRF’s Valentine’s Day Data Center (based on data from the 2022 study), individuals planned to spend, per person, $15.90 on candy, $21.46 on clothing, $45.75 on jewelry, $31.35 on an evening out, $17.22 on gift cards and $7.47 on greeting cards.

To get more creative with your gift ideas, it may help to think of flowers other than roses. Not only are roses pricey, but they don’t last long. According to The Society of American Florists (SAF), roses are not the only flower suitable for Valentine’s Day. Some alternatives to consider include tulips, daisies, lilies and many other types of flowers, many of which may be cheaper than roses.

If you’re looking to cut back on Valentine’s Day costs, consider creating your own gift rather than buying one. There are some inexpensive DIY ideas and kits available — like candle-making kits, cookie kits and embroidery portraits — that are thoughtful and won’t break your wallet.

4. Redeem your credit card rewards

You don’t earn credit card rewards for sport; redeeming rewards is like a valuable rebate on your spending. And yet many people have unused rewards year after year. A 2021 Bankrate survey found that one-third of rewards card holders (31 percent) never redeemed rewards in the previous year. If a penny saved is a penny earned, then failure to cut your expenses by using rewards is no better than leaving money on the table.

In some cases, hoarding rewards makes sense. For example, some people might want to accumulate more rewards for a specific reward, like an award flight or hotel room. This strategy is not without risks, however. Travel providers regularly devalue their loyalty programs, and your favorite travel currency may simply not be the same next year or at some point in the future. In addition, thanks to the revenge travel phenomenon, snagging a business class award or a room at a popular luxury resort is getting harder and harder due to dwindling availability.

If you’re not interested in redeeming your rewards for travel on Valentine’s Day, you might want to considering redeeming your rewards for gifts. For example, your credit card may allow you to redeem your rewards for gift cards, or you could put a new card’s welcome bonus toward a gift for a loved one. Also, make sure to check out your credit card’s limited-time-offer program — like Amex Offers or Chase Offers — for deals you can earn by shopping with select merchants.

5. Take advantage of gift cards

Gift cards can make a great Valentine’s Day present, as long as the object of your affection loves the merchant (and gift cards). However, be sure they don’t neglect using them — gift cards are easy to lose or forget about. According to a 2022 Bankrate survey, over half of U.S. adults (51 percent) had unused gift cards, vouchers or store credits in 2021, with the average value being $116 per person.

For a stressed-out Valentine’s Day shopper, a gift card can be an easy way to make their partner happy. In 2022, a U.S. consumer planned to spend $17.22 on average on a Valentine’s Day gift card — the highest amount spent over a 10-year period.

Alternatively, if you have any unused gift cards from over the holidays in December, you may want to consider using them to buy a gift for a loved one.

6. Set a budget and stick to it

There is nothing wrong with pampering the person you love with gifts as long as you know what you can afford and don’t go over your budget. Whether you intend to spend $60 or $1,000 on Valentine’s Day, make an itemized gift list and stay on track with your finances. Valentine’s Day might be the most romantic holiday of the year, but there is nothing romantic about going into debt for over-shopping. Be realistic about what you can and can’t afford and stick to your budget.

The bottom line

Valentine’s Day can be an expensive holiday, but you don’t have to spend a lot to impress your loved one — especially if you plan ahead, stick to a budget and think of some creative Valentine’s Day ideas. If you’re looking to save money, you may want to exchange thoughtful, homemade gifts rather than expensive gifts, or you may want to try a low-key couples activity like cooking dinner together at home. On the other hand, if there’s a new restaurant you’ve wanted to try, you can use this occasion to check it off your list.