Valentine’s Day: The Battle Between Frugality and Disappointment

Valentine's Day hearts

This time of year there are lots of tips about how to save money on Valentine’s Day. Advice abounds about ways to show your love for free and alternative gift ideas such as coupons for kid-free days and taking over your partner’s chores for a weekend. While all of these are very valid ways to show your love and save money on Valentine’s Day, they assume that your partner will be okay with a completely frugal holiday.

Unfortunately, many people have partners who adore Valentine’s Day and who will be disappointed if they don’t get at least some of the traditional trappings. Usually these partners are the women, but I do know some men who really enjoy Valentine’s Day, too. To the lovers of Valentine’s Day, things like coupons for experiences, home-cooked dinners, and handmade cards are likely to fall flat. (I know, it shouldn’t be this way, but it often is. I’m in the camp that it should be about the gesture, not the money spent, but not everyone feels this way.) If you don’t want to end up with a bitterly disappointed partner, you’re going to have to find a way to balance your frugal nature with their need to have Valentine’s Day. Here are some ideas:

What Matters?

Figure out what matters most to your partner. Instead of going overboard buying flowers, cards, candy, jewelry, and dinner, figure out which gesture means the most and do that one thing. Does your partner love eating out in nice places but only gets to do so once or twice a year? Then choose dinner. If she or he loves sappy messages, then a gorgeous card with a special note from you inside is in order. Does your partner treasure tokens of love from past holidays and special occasions like earrings, bracelets, and the like? Then go for jewelry. It takes a little thought (and maybe a fact finding mission) to figure out what gesture will make the most impact, but if you choose well, you’ll win the day and you won’t have blown money on a scattershot approach to the holiday.


Be traditional, but with a frugal mindset. Instead of flowers, get your partner a flowering plant. It will likely cost less and will live for much longer than cut flowers. Instead of overpriced boxed candy, get them their favorite food. (I know someone who got his partner three boxes of Twinkies because that’s what she loved but she’d never buy them for herself. She loved it.) Many junk foods come in holiday versions these days, so you can probably find something. Instead of a super expensive ring, select a necklace with a charm that reflects something about her or your relationship. These sorts of ideas save you money, but they also show that you’re thinking about your partner and the relationship.

Non Traditional

Get your partner something they need or want that isn’t traditional. I kid you not, the best Valentine’s Day gift I ever got was a scanner for my computer. I was in serious need of one, but just hadn’t pulled the purchase trigger yet. On Valentine’s Day, my husband bought me a scanner and I was thrilled. That was better than any jewelry could ever have been because 1) I needed it and it solved some problems for me and 2) it meant that my husband had really been listening to me and knew what I needed to make things easier. The fact that the thing was red was merely a bonus! I got the thrill of opening a present on Valentine’s Day, but it felt more frugal because it solved a need I had and, since it wasn’t over-hyped “Valentine’s stuff,” my husband was able to track it down on sale. Be willing to look beyond the traditional gifts and get your partner something they will use and enjoy.


Presentation is half the battle. Avoid anything that looks like it was thrown together at the last minute. Neatly wrap any presents in festive paper or gift bags. Put cards in their envelopes and maybe decorate the outside a little bit if you’re artistic or creative. If you’re giving something like a plant, a Valentine’s themed bow is a nice touch. If you’re going the dinner route, make your reservations well in advance so that your partner doesn’t overhear you begging the restaurant to let you in. (And make the evening smooth. Already have the car gassed up and the babysitter on call. Don’t be rushing around at the last minute trying to throw everything together.) Make it look like you put a lot of thought into your ideas and your partner will appreciate the effort.

Change the Date

See if he/she will agree to an alternate date. Instead of celebrating on February 14th, see if your partner will agree to an alternate date. Promise them the full Valentine’s experience, just a few days earlier or later. Everything form flowers to dining out is cheaper on an alternate date.


Plan ahead. If you plan ahead, you have a chance to shop the sales, use coupons at checkout online or find off-line coupons, and look for discounted gift card offers that might defray some of your costs. When you wait until the last minute, you have to pay the asking price. Plus, when you plan ahead you get the “good stuff” instead of having to pick through whatever is left over.


Be honest. If you can’t afford Valentine’s Day, or if the thought of spending money on a commercialized holiday makes you ill, be honest with your partner. It’s better that you’re honest up front so that his/her expectations don’t get too high. You partner might still be disappointed, but it’s a less crushing form of disappointment than expecting a big celebration only to get nothing.

About the worst thing you can do to a lover of Valentine’s Day is to ignore it or to slap something together at the last minute. Well, that or give them something that shows no thought whatsoever. Take your time and really think through all of your options. Chances are you can find a compromise between gross overspending and reducing your partner to tears of disappointment.

(Photo courtesy of terren in Virginia)

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59 Responses to Valentine’s Day: The Battle Between Frugality and Disappointment

  1. Sara says:

    I think I’m still waiting on the best vday gift ever received… but Im giving a really good one this year of NHL tickets next week, so its kind of a gift for the both of us!

  2. MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

    This will be sappy, but seriously, the best gifts I have ever given AND received are my daughters. Ages 5 and 3 (&3/4 as she will tell you).

    Nothing my husband and I have done can beat that!

  3. CB in the City says:

    Worst Valentine’s gift I ever received? A dozen red roses, given with the air of, “Well this is stupid, but it’s what you want, right?”

    Best one: a dozen red roses from a secret admirer with a mushy note about my beautiful eyes!

  4. tls simms says:

    my hubby took me to new orleans for valentine’s (before hurricane katrina) ..thanks

  5. Joan says:

    Best gift I ever received: A HUGE nutcracker statue at Christmas from my best friend.

    Best give I ever gave: Hmm. Probably the sneaky one I gave the same friend – she’d gotten professional pictures done of her son, but didn’t have the money to order many, so I went back and added a BUNCH of big items to her order and surprised her with them!

  6. The best gift I’ve received was an hour long massage! I would never buy one for myself so it was an awesome treat. The best gift I’ve given was a group effort by my sisters- we surprised my parents for their 25th anniversary with a limo that picked them up and took them out to a nice restaurant (we obviously covered the tab!)

  7. Jennifer says:

    Although I’m one of those people who LOVES Valentine’s Day and doing something special, beyond all that is purchased or eaten, my favorite gifts are the heartfelt notes that come with it – the time that was spent sharing true feelings and loving sentiments!

  8. Selene M. says:

    Best gift was getting my engagement ring lost diamond replaced by hubby. Best gift given was the surprise 50th anniversary party for my in-laws.

  9. Wendy says:

    The best Valentina’s day gift ever. It was a scavenger hunt. My husband left a Valentine’s coffee cup on the kitchen counter. Next to it was a clue. Each clue tole me a reason he loved me and led to a place in the house. As I found the next clue, it was accompanied by a couple of chocolates. The scavenger hunt was clever and sweet and FUN!

  10. runinboise says:

    Gosh, I don’t know what was the best I have given or received. I am taking my friend out for lunch for his b-day this week, but I don’t think that will be his best gift ever. lol

  11. JD says:

    Best gift ever was a lot of roses and nice dinner out.

  12. Megan Blumenthal says:

    The best gift I ever got was a scrapbook my friend made me of all our memories together. I loved the thought and effort she put in it!

  13. min says:

    best gift received: diamond ring
    best gift given: time

  14. Therese says:

    Great ideas!

  15. Emi says:

    Bests gift was my twin daughters. Worst gift – long stemmed roses and chocolate for a first date (too cliche)

  16. Gary Black says:

    Love is first in all things. Then, the gifts will just enhance everything.

  17. Angela E says:

    Best gift I’ve received – massage gift card from my boyfriend. The best gift I’ve given – This really kickass homemade wooden chess board and chess pieces to my boyfriend. He LOVES it and it looks wonderful on shelves.

  18. Annmarie W. says:

    My hubby to be gave me a pinball machine…the same Christmas I gave him a fussball table! Instant gameroom!

  19. cathy henatyszen says:

    Best gift I ever received was a garnet ring on my 16th birthday

    best given… well, I try really hard to give great personalized gifts… the hand tooled leather wallets I used to make were really great

  20. Amy Peschel says:

    My children. I don’t know what the gift would be that I gave.

  21. Lee Broom says:

    My best gift was my husband loving me and marrying me! I don’t have a worst gift.

  22. Melissa says:

    best gift I ever received was the gift of a breast reduction. best gift was a pair of earrings, given anonymously to someone who would love them.

  23. laurie damrose says:

    My hubby and children are the best gifts I ever gave and receieved

  24. Diane says:

    Best gift was an iPad.

    Worst gift was a pair of men’s gloves.

  25. Angel Jacklyn says:


  26. Angel Jacklyn says:


  27. Cheryl Chervitz says:

    The best gifts were always the handmade ones from my kids. Not sure that I have given anything great that I remember, not really big on Valentines.

  28. Valerie says:

    I think one of the best gifts I received and given is a home cooked meal. My hubby put lots of thought into what to cook, cooked it, presented it beautifully, it was delicious, and I didn’t have to worry about it costing too much, I didn’t have to go anywhere (I’m a home body) and I didn’t have to clean up afterwards. loved it and I love giving the same gift to family and friends.

  29. Patricia Oliver says:

    I was given a beautiful cedar chest many years ago. I gave my daughters & my son vehicles for gifts.

  30. domestic diva says:

    A beautiful love letter.

  31. Lori P says:

    My husband wrote me a letter with a poem in it.

  32. jenni webb says:

    Travel is the best I’ve given and received!

  33. HaydenRossi says:

    Don’t know about best, but most recent–I LOVE the earrings that my hubby recently got me during surgery recovery. Not only are they beautiful, they were unexpected. Big time brownie points right there. 🙂

  34. sandra says:

    the best gift received was a heartfelt note. the best given was a scavenger hunt

  35. shelley says:

    I made an oil pastel of the chapel my hubby and I were married in and he loved it.

    My fave was a fleur de lis diamond necklace.

  36. Terri says:

    I received a laptop and I gave season tickets to a playhouse theater

  37. received? love
    Given? My kids

  38. CarolH says:

    Best gift: Tickets to see/hear The Canadian Tenors (now The Tenors) in Florida.

  39. Judith R. says:

    The best gifts I have ever received are books that I never would have thought to read if I hadn’t received them as gifts. The most expensive (best?) gifts I have ever given are gifts to my children. I tend to give them on their birthdays whatever they had been saving up to buy.

  40. steve weber says:

    I received an ipad.. I gave an awesome SLR lens for a camera.

  41. Allie L. says:

    Laptop. I’m not sure what the best gift is that I’ve ever given…maybe $50 Sephora gift card to my mom.

  42. Jo says:

    We celebrate Valentines Day a few days befoe or later too less crowded and cheaper

  43. Emma says:

    I’m a fan of not celebrating and doing plenty of things throughout the year! Nice post 🙂

  44. Lisa R says:

    flowers and candy…my husband goes crazy on me for xmas though

    greatest gift i ever gave was to my son and he loved it….a fajati maker….he said it was the best thing ever according to him…..LOL

  45. Gabe A. says:

    A night of intimacy. Giving my complete an undivided attention to someone that needed to talk/vent.

  46. Alicia K says:

    a polly pocket toy when i was little

  47. kelly nicholson says:

    What is the best gift you have ever received and what is the best gift you have ever given?

    i once got breafast in was a mess

  48. Trillina Palemi says:

    that i have received .. a bag
    that i have gived the elettronic cigarette for my mum :))

  49. Krista Grandstaff says:

    The best gift has been the cards my kids make each year…and the best I have every given… a set of drums for my husband because I knew he really missed playing 🙂

  50. Alex Roach says:

    travel! studying abroad

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