Valentine’s Day on a Budget

By: Sharna Johnson

Valentine’s Day can come with a big price tag and no shortage of pressure, especially for students on a tight budget, but celebrating the day of love doesn’t have to put you in the red financially. 

This year, Americans are expected to spend less on Valentine’s Day than they have for the last two years, with total spending dropping to $18.2 billion, according to data from the National Retail Federation, a trade association that closely monitors consumer trends. 

Of those that will be buying gifts this year, people are expected to spend the most, about $85, on their significant other or spouse, around $26 on family members, and about $4 to $6 on friends or coworkers, the NRF reports. 

For many, no matter how badly they’d like to shower their loved ones or romantic interest with gifts and great entertainment, the money is either impossible to come by or near impossible to justify. 

It may be a relief to know that historically, Valentine’s Day wasn’t a particularly expensive holiday and has, from the start, been centered on expressions of affection, primarily in the form of notes. 

There is some uncertainty about what actually brought about the Valentine’s Day holiday – some think it’s tied to Lupercalia, a Roman fertility festival, others point toward the legend of the third century Roman priest Valentine who married couples in secret against the orders of the emperor, or there’s another theory the holiday coincides with the start of mating season for birds. 

It wasn’t until the Middle Ages, however, that the tradition of exchanging sentimental greetings between romantic interests came about and from that point until the mid-1800’s, the holiday was all about words.  

Inexpensive but heartfelt, Valentine’s Day wasn’t about giving gifts, but about taking a risk and sharing one’s feelings with the object of their affections. 

Times have, however, changed, and regardless of the holiday’s history, meeting modern expectations on the day of love can add pressure to an already awkward scenario, especially if one is strapped for cash.  

If you find yourself short on funds but desperate to make sure your amour knows how you feel, here are a couple of low-cost or free options for pulling off an impressive Valentine’s Day without exposing your pocket fuzz: 

  • For the crush – You’ve been watching from afar and have daydreams of surprising the object of your affections with dozens of red roses, a string quartet and candlelit dinner. Truth is, it’s way to early to go full tilt. If you feel you must do something, less is more. Hand deliver a simple “Happy Valentine’s Day” note or try just having a conversation. If you hit it off, there will be other Valentine’s Days for you to wax eternal.  
  • The new relationship – You want to be romantic but it’s too early for serious gifts. Try an experience instead. The NRF reports that 40 percent of people would prefer an experience to a gift – good news since you’re still getting acquainted and building memories. Take a trip to the zoo, even if it’s cold or rainy. Bundle up and pack an umbrella, after all, what could be more romantic than snuggling under the same umbrella while you walk and check out the animals. Memories can be made for $4 each, a little extra for drinks and change to feed the ducks.   
  • The long-term relationship – If your relationship has any semblance of communication, your partner already has a sense of your money situation. Lucky for you, it really is the thought that counts, especially after being together a while. Drop all other plans, get some affordable theater-style snacks – popcorn, gummy candies, chocolate malt balls, some sodas too – get Netflix ready on your laptop and have movie night together. If you don’t have a subscription to a movie service, that’s no excuse, if you have to, find one with a free trial offering and cancel later. Rom-coms, sappy dramas, old black & whites, animated classics or scary movies that make you squeeze close are great places to start.  

Some other Valentine’s Day ideas for friends or couples rich in love but short on dollars: 

  • A kind gesture such as carrying a friend’s books, bringing your roommate coffee in the morning or sharing your ramen stash and eating together are simple ways to make the day feel a little more special. 
  • Let it snow! If Eastern is lucky enough to get some snow as predicted, get a box of instant cocoa, a package of disposable cups, a jug or thermos of hot water and call your significant other or friends outside for a Valentine’s snowman contest or snowball fight. Finish by writing Valentine’s notes in the snow, pour the hot chocolate and enjoy while admiring your handiwork. 
  • Write some personal and thoughtful notes on colorful or decorated paper to keep the tradition alive and let people know you thought of them. 
  • Remember Valentine’s Day can be a tough one for some, so if you do nothing else, smile more, say hello at every opportunity, sit with someone eating alone at lunch or strike up a conversation with someone you sit next to in class – you might just be bright spot they need today.