Valentine’s Day, while a sentimental tradition for many people, can also be expensive. In 2020, Bankrate found that U.S. adults planned to spend an average of $152 on their partner. College students hoping to celebrate with their loved ones may find it particularly difficult to work gifts or entertainment into a tight budget. Fortunately, there are plenty of other free or inexpensive ways to show those close to you that you care about them.

5 budget-friendly ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day as a college student

A memorable Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to mean a depleted bank account. If you’re looking for inexpensive ways to celebrate, start here.

Host a movie night

Hosting a movie night for your partner or for a group of friends is a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day for a fraction of the cost of going to the movies. If you’re celebrating with a significant other, make the night special by lighting candles (if your residence hall allows them) or purchasing flameless electric candles — both of which you can find for $15 or less.

When it comes to movie snacks, check the clearance section at your local grocery store or see if the store offers any student discounts. The dollar store is also a tried-and-true way to stock up on inexpensive movie snacks, like popcorn, candy and soda. If you’re inviting your friends over, have everyone bring a Valentine’s Day-themed snack or drink of their choice to share with the group.

Have a picnic and watch the sunset

Picnics are a great way to show someone you care, and depending on the climate where you live, watching the sunset can be a thoughtful, romantic way to spend the evening with a significant other.

Many restaurants, especially those in college towns, offer holiday specials on meals for two people. However, if you’re trying to save money or if takeout isn’t in the budget, consider what dining options are included in your campus meal plan. Many colleges give students an allotted balance to spend on meals outside of the dining hall at other on-campus restaurants.

Plan a small road trip

If you have access to a car, a daytrip with some friends or a loved one can be a way to create memories and get a change of scenery. For a more adventurous date, pack a lunch and hike near the mountains or in a national park. For a more laid-back day, visit local towns near campus or grab a coffee and take a stroll in the city.

As long as you prioritize your shared interests, a short road trip with a loved one is the perfect way to show them that you love spending time with them.

Take advantage of free on-campus activities

Between student center activities, on-campus clubs and residence halls, it likely won’t be hard to find campus-sponsored activities that are geared toward Valentine’s Day.

If you live in a dorm, talk to your RA to find out what events are planned for the day. More often than not, there will be at least one event, and you’ll be able to score some free swag or food without having to leave your residence hall.

You can also see what your school is offering by checking the college’s social media accounts and website. It’s likely that the student center or the on-campus clubs will hold special events that could double as inexpensive date options, like a couple’s cooking class or a special Valentine’s Day meal.

Treat yourself

Give yourself some love and take the day to treat yourself to an inexpensive day of self-care. For example, take advantage of free yoga classes offered by your school fitness center or have a self-care day in your room by getting your favorite snacks and a comfy pair of sweats and cozying up with your favorite show or a good book.

If you need a change of scenery, look for online coupons for experiences near campus. There are plenty of apps, like Groupon, that list out discounted food, exercise and spa services based on your location. It’s also worth seeing if there are any student or Valentine’s Day discounts available.

How to create a budget for Valentine’s Day

Due to the commercially charged nature of Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to overspend on holiday gifts, especially as a full-time college student. However, that doesn’t have to be the case.

When budgeting for Valentine’s Day, first take a look at your finances to see where you’re spending your money. Necessary expenses like groceries and bills need to stay in your February budget, but you may be able to make some room by cutting back on restaurant and bar outings, skipping clothes shopping or pausing a few monthly subscriptions.

The most important thing is to determine exactly how much you can and want to spend, and to respect your limits. While it may be tempting to take your significant other out to a fancy dinner or buy them an expensive gift, it won’t be worth it if it puts you into credit card debt or depletes your emergency fund. Simple and sentimental acts of appreciation or love can be extremely meaningful, and showing someone that you care doesn’t have a price tag.

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