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5 Tips for a Cheap (and Romantic) Valentine’s Day

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Love-struck consumers will stuff $17.3 billion into Cupid’s cash register on Valentine’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation, with the average gift costing as much as $126. Vicky Oliver, author of “The Millionaire’s Handbook: How to Look and Act like a Millionaire, Even if You’re Not,” says that’s a big ask so soon after the holiday season. Overspending can send the wrong signal that at least one person is moving too fast, while spending too little can mean the giver is not taking the relationship seriously enough. “It’s a consumer holiday stoked with anxiety,” she says.

Here are some ways to avoid that trap:

1. Don’t buy a ring (unless you’re proposing).

If it’s the early days of a relationship, buying a ring could send the recipient running for the hills. Oliver says buying a ring without a long-term commitment could also raise questions, like, “What does he or she expect from the relationship?” If in doubt, don’t do it: “Give a pen rather than a ring,” she says. “Valentine’s Day is a love with a lower case ‘l” and should be about more affection and fun. As a compromise, go for a key ring hand-engraved with the longitude/latitude of where you first met.

2. Shower your partner with freebies.

Love is blind, even when it comes to price tags. Write Post-it love notes, says eHow.com money editor Amy Kniss. “Leave one on the pillow, bathroom mirror, breakfast table or even the car steering wheel.” For the tongue-tied, find a classic poem – with the appropriate credit. (Steer clear of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”)  Other gestures: a message of love on the grass making sure to use a water-soluble, non-toxic aerosol paint or request their favorite song on the radio. (Kniss also suggests “I Love You” posters on lampposts, but this may run afoul of local litter laws – and may scare rather than inspire.)

3. Dig through your closet for sentimental sweaters.

If she’s always stealing your sweater, maybe Valentine’s Day is the time to say, “Keep it.” Also, think of other items left in the bottom of the closet. “Let’s say she just loves the color pink,” Oliver says, for a last-minute Valentine’s scavenger hunt a never-worn pink scarf is a good start. As long as the gift isn’t personalized – a crystal goblet subtly engraved with the logo of a golfing competition, for example – it’s okay to re-gift,  according to Daniel Post-Senning, great-great grandson of the grand dame of etiquette Emily Post.

4. Dream up recipes for romance.

Who wouldn’t like a bowl of chocolate spaghetti? (Keep a home delivery menu handy, just in case.) “It’s a tiny bit over the top and bohemian,” Oliver says. It’s cheaper than eating out on Valentine’s Night, as some restaurants jack up the prices with set menus and rush diners, she says. Plus, it’s an alternative for those who may feel smug sitting in a restaurant or, worse, fear being surrounded by a flash-mob table of singletons. Also, create a cocktail based on your lover’s tastes and background, print it out as a recipe, bring it to a bar and – if all goes well – roll it out again for the engagement party. “You’re honoring that person by creating their own signature drink.”

5. Clean house.

Many wives and mothers are happy to have a day away from family life, says Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of EtiquetteExpert.com. It’s also a perfect time for husbands to help with housework, attend to long-standing odd jobs and perhaps finally organize the garage and basement, she says. “Housework is not the most glamorous gift, but would be very much appreciated by someone who is also practical.” Hire someone, she says, to make sure the job gets done.” For those who get a day off, many spas are offering Valentine’s Day deals through daily deal sites like Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com in the hope that people will continue to get massages and facials all year around, she says.

For more on finding finance and romance, read “How to Marry A Millionaire.”

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    • I stand behind the isginht and intensity that I bring to the job in my role as City Council liaison to my departments. That is my job. I am being criticized for doing my job and doing it well.Hello Zoppo? Being mean, threating and rude is doing our job well? Your job as liaison is not the day to day operations, not oversteppping the dept. heads. You let power get to your head. Stand behind your job?? Get real!! You are not a leader. You are not a communicator. You do not work well with people. You do not know how to manage. The books you read tell you one thing, its another to apply in everyday life and work.Sorry Ellen but your days of being rude, nasty, condscending and vidictive to good people is coming to an end. It has NOTHING to do with hormones either.

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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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