Valentine’s Day can easily drain your wallet, no matter if you’ve been married for 40 years or only just begun dating.
In fact, consumers expect to spend an average of $267 on their romantic celebrations and gift giving this Valentine’s Day, according to a recent Bankrate survey. In addition, the National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend $20.7 billion on the holiday this year.
That doesn’t mean everyone is looking to splurge, though. There are plenty of ways to say “I love you” without giving into the commercial hype or having to make a dinner reservation months in advance.
Whether you’re planning a romantic day for that special someone, treating yourself or even just celebrating with a group of friends, here are some ways you can celebrate Valentine’s Day without blowing your budget.
1. Put your heart into a home-cooked meal
If you didn’t plan ahead with dinner reservations, you can still share a meal together.
“Breakfast in bed is always such a special treat, or just making dinner,” says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot. “Life gets busy. If you have kids it’s crazy, so making someone dinner or lunch or just a meal really helps out.”
Setting aside time to prepare a meal with your partner can also be a great way to unwind after a long day and share quality time you may not always get together.
If you’re not a regular home chef and aren’t sure where to start, look for inspiration on apps like BigOven and Yummly or sign up for a meal kit delivery service like Blue Apron or HelloFresh. In addition to helping you save on Valentine’s Day, these can also be great resources to keep you from dining out every night, saving you money over time.
2. Relax at home
Sometimes simply spending time together can fall to the wayside of a relationship in the face of busy schedules and obligations.
“People have to work, they have to get up early, so doing things at home, keeping things pretty chill, easygoing and lowkey is definitely the way to go,” Skirboll says, “not only because of schedules but also because of your wallet.”
Staying at home doesn’t mean you can’t still make Valentine’s Day special, though.
Set up an at-home spa night or find your latest Hulu binge and enjoy each other’s company. Skirboll says planning something fun like a game night can be the perfect at-home, money-saving celebration for couples and groups of singles alike.
3. Check for free local events
Whether you live in a large city or small town, there is bound to be a wealth of free events open to couples, singles and every status in between on Valentine’s Day.
Check out neighborhood newsletters, public Facebook events, websites like Eventbrite and even the local newspaper to find activities.
Open community spaces like parks, bookstores, museums and universities often have free events and can be fun places to spend an evening together listening to a guest lecturer or taking in a musical performance.
4. Get creative
“You don’t have to break the bank when it comes to shopping for Valentine’s Day,” Skirboll says. “It sounds cliche, but it’s true: Really just thinking and giving from the heart is the most important part.”
If you have a talent, like painting, music or writing, channel your inner Shakespeare or Debussy with an original piece of art. Create a photo album, either on paper or digitally, of all your favorite memories together. Set up a scavenger hunt around your city at meaningful destinations.
Skirboll recommends combining your creativity and frugality by taking a trip down memory lane.
“If you’ve been with someone for a really long time, why not re-create your first date?” she says. “Consider going back in time and trying to remember what you actually did.”
Valentine’s Day falls on a Thursday this year, which may not be the most ideal day for grand celebrations.
“Don’t just think about that Thursday, think about Friday, Saturday and even Sunday,” Skirboll says. “Lots of restaurants and even retailers are going to be providing holiday savings all weekend long.”
Delaying your celebratory dinner until the weekend after Valentine’s Day can help you score deals at your favorite spots. Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao, for instance, is offering customers who dine between Feb. 14-17 a gift card redeemable for a return visit before May 2. Also until Feb. 17, you can take advantage of Black Angus Steakhouse’s $29.99 Valentine’s Day dinner deal at qualifying locations.
Those who want to celebrate with traditional gifts, especially candy and chocolate, can benefit from waiting until the weekend as well. Discounts on leftover Valentine’s Day items begin immediately after the holiday on Feb. 15.
6. Plan for the future
Even the most mundane tasks can be romantic with the right person.
If you’re already trying to stay conscious of your finances this Valentine’s Day, take it a step further and celebrate by talking money. Pair a cheap dinner and bottle of wine with discussions about your financial health and future plans.
Couples with joint accounts may want to evaluate whether they’re earning the best rates on their savings and holding the credit cards that best fit their needs. Those who choose to keep their accounts separate or who haven’t yet talked about their financial health may want to spend time discussing their individual savings and investing plans as well as any debt.
Make the process a bit more fun by planning some short-term goals as well. According to RetailMeNot, 32 percent of people want a vacation or trip this holiday season. Even if you can’t take a trip over the holiday itself, you can start planning and open a vacation fund to save for later in the year.
Not only can you spend time learning more about your partner and your relationship, you’ll also have something to look forward to together in the future.