Here's a forgotten truth about Valentine's Day: You can express your affection for someone without spending a fortune. I'm not saying you have to cheap out, merely that thoughtfulness usually beats extravagance. The home-cooked dinner, the handwritten card, the fun activity you planned because you love doing things together -- your special someone is likely to appreciate these things more than a huge flower arrangement, an expensive restaurant or lavish gifts.
With that in mind, I've rounded up some suggestions for the frugal-minded, some affordable alternatives to traditional Valentine's Day gifts. And remember, these can all work in addition to a traditional gift, too -- it doesn't have to be either/or.
Opt for outings
It's a common refrain these days that experiences are more memorable than physical things. Indeed, what's your significant other more likely to recall fondly: flowers that died in a week or the painting class the two of you took together?
That's why I'm a strong proponent of planning an outing. It shows you put some thought into the occasion. It gives you an activity to do together (and being together is what it's all about, right?). And it creates memories -- not something you typically get from yet another restaurant dinner.
Here are a few ideas, along with some estimated costs:
- Go geocaching: Free
- Take a painting class: $35-$40 per person (but check Groupon for deals)
- Try an escape room: $25-$35 per person
- Go axe-throwing or football-bowling (aka "fowling"): $20-$35 per person
- See a movie in a theater (gasp!): $8-$23 per person
Remember, it's not critical that you do your activity on Valentine's Day proper (which is a Friday this year). But you can announce the gift of the activity -- and, hey, anticipation is half the fun.
I'll also note that while the movie option may seem a little boring, it's still two hours in the dark with your beloved. You can mix it up by seeing a classic or art-house film, something out of the ordinary. But I recommend picking a flick they want to see, not whatever's at the top of your list.
Save on flowers (or skip them altogether)
How important are flowers on Valentine's Day? Probably less than you think. Last year I conducted a Twitter poll, and fewer than 10% of respondents said flowers were "fully expected." The vast majority were split between "not essential, but nice" and "not expected/wanted." (Important disclaimer: I have no idea as to the gender breakdown of the respondents.)
That "meh" attitude toward flowers is good news, because flower prices have already jumped and are about to get higher. A bouquet of roses that cost $35 in early January may now be selling for $45-$50 -- perhaps higher, depending on where you buy.
Translation: skip 'em. Or, if you like the symbolism of the gesture, a single rose or tulip or carnation will do just fine. Consider this response from @chieflittletoes to the aforementioned poll:
I hate wasting money on overpriced roses. [My husband] still wants to spoil [me], so he sends me pics of bouquets he would buy if I let him. All the thought and romance, none of the wasted money. Plus I usually get dozens of bouquets this way, in all the colors. One rose, if you HAVE to buy, is plenty!
Still feel like nothing beats flowers? Here's an exclusive deal for CNET readers: Save 15% on your purchase from UrbanStems when you apply promo code CSUS15.
If you are going to buy flowers, there's a good chance you can save even more by using a cash-back service. At Rakuten, for example, you can get a hefty 24% back from Florists.com, 30% from ProFlowers and so on. (If you're new to this concept, read my story on .)
Save on dinner
If you haven't already booked a table for Valentine's Day, well, good luck. But you know what's even better than dining at a crowded, overpriced restaurant? A home-cooked meal at home. (Psst: You're on cleanup duty as well.)
Are you a klutz in the kitchen? Consider some of the amazing things you can accomplish with an Instant Pot (or similar pressure-cooker), which allows even nonchefs to create some pretty gourmet meals quickly and easily. In fact, right now this top-rated Insignia 6-quart pressure cooker is on sale for just $29.99 (save $30).
Of course, first you'll have to learn. Then check out this roundup of , a few of which consist of full meals.
Now for dessert. You simply can't beat the classic chocolate-dipped strawberries, which are incredibly easy (and inexpensive) to make at home. Just wash and dry some berries, melt some chocolate chips on the stove or in the microwave, then dip. Hit up Google or YouTube if you need more help, but that's really all there is to it.
Save on gifts
Ah, the eternal question: What's an appropriate Valentine's Day gift? If you're thinking tech gear doesn't seem very romantic, well, you're not wrong. I'm not going to suggest something like a Bluetooth speaker or, horrors, a Fitbit, though I do have a couple gadget-y ideas. Just make sure these are the "appetizer" gift, not the main course.
How about something that's practical, pretty and seen every day? I'm thinking about a new phone case, one with a meaningful design: a custom photo, decorative floral pattern or favorite sports-team logo. It's a fun option for people who like to change up their look from time to time, and it's definitely not crazy-expensive.
At Casetify, for example, you can choose from a wide assortment of decorative phone cases, or design one of your own. Promo code DT15 will save you 15% on your order. (You can also get 10.5% cash back from TopCashback, just FYI.)
I'm also a big fan of Tile trackers, which are insanely useful and very affordable. The Tile Slim, for example, runs just $30, though I'd wait as long as possible before ordering, because Tile runs sales all the time. (There was one about a week ago; I expect another soon.) This one is designed to tuck into a wallet or purse and can help find a misplaced phone. But it works in reverse, too, meaning a phone can help find a misplaced wallet or purse.
Again, this is hardly a romantic gift, but it's all in how you frame it. "I know how frustrating it is when things go missing," you say, "and a guy I know says these Tile things are awesome." Most importantly, make sure a case or tracker is part of a larger gift experience -- the Valentine's Day equivalent of a stocking-stuffer, not the main event.
More Valentine's Day gift ideas
- GameSpot: Best Valentine's Day Gifts for Gamers (GameSpot)
- TV Guide: Best Romantic Movies and Shows (TV Guide)
- Valentine's Day Gifts for Food lovers (Chowhound)
- Best Valentine's Day Gifts (ET Online)
Originally published last year. Updated to reflect new information and prices.
CNET's Cheapskate scours the web for great deals on tech products and much more. For the latest deals and updates, follow the Cheapskate on Facebook and Twitter. Find more great buys on the CNET Deals page and check out our CNET Coupons page for the latest promo codes from Best Buy, Walmart, Amazon and more. Questions about the Cheapskate blog? Find the answers on our FAQ page.