If you’re married, dating, or just plain sweet on somebody, Valentine’s Day is one of the most important days of the year.
It’s also one of the most expensive.
In fact, we as a people spend more money on Valentine’s Day than we do any other holiday, with the exception of Christmas.
Last year, we spent over 18.6 BILLION dollars on Valentine’s Day-related goodies (chocolates, wine, flowers, jewelry, dinner reservations, hotel rooms, etc.)
This means that, on average, we each spent $131 on stuff designed to make our lovers happy.
Men do the majority of the spending, at $175 per head on average, while women spend roughly half of that ($88).
Numbers are at an all-time high for the holiday, and there’s no reason to expect anything but even higher numbers in 2014.
But even in years past, we spent way too much on Valentine’s Day. The lowest average in recent years came in 2003, when we spent $80.44 each.
So even in years when we don’t feel like blowing all our money, we still blow way too much of it.
However, despite advertising’s insistence that, if you don’t blow your entire paycheck on February 14th, you deserve to be forever alone, you can absolutely celebrate Valentine’s Day on the cheap.
By putting in a little bit of work, and for under $50, you can woo your lover with an unforgettable evening that no swank $150 restaurant could hope to touch.
Cook Up a Delicious Candlelight Dinner for Two
Let’s face it — eating out on Valentine’s Day is expensive.
In an attempt to impress, people tend to splurge on the most expensive stuff on the menu, including uber-expensive wine that’s been aging since World War I.
That is 1000% unnecessary, as your lover will appreciate your home cooking far more. So give it a shot. Select a delicious recipe, pick up the ingredients, and get to cooking.
Even if you’re not the greatest chef on the planet, the fact that you thought enough of your mate to spend the time to actually make something for them will speak louder than any slightly-overdone steak over could.
As far as the wine goes, just buy a $10-15 bottle of your favorite variety.
Most wine only needs aging for a few years anyhow, so paying hundreds of dollars for a 50-year-old bottle is literally useless.
Write a Song or Poem for your Lover
Speaking of making things, expressing your love through creativity is a surefire way to end your Valentine’s Day with activities we can’t describe here because this is a family site.
If you have a guitar or a piano handy, why not write them a love song?
String together a few pleasant-sounding chords, jot down some smile-inducing lyrics, and belt it out for your lover’s delight.
Because you wrote it for them, the music doesn’t have to be Billy Joel-quality, no more than your home-cooked dinner has to satisfy Gordon Ramsey.
If you have no instrument, and absolutely no confidence in your singing, a simple poem will suffice.
Again, you don’t have to be Maya Angelou to write a heartfelt bit of poetry designed to make the most important person in your life swoon, and doing so will cost absolutely nothing.
Netflix Romantic Movie Night
Instead of taking your lover out for an expensive show or night at the cinema, load up your Netflix queue with lovey-dovey films and TV shows, and watch together to your heart’s content.
If you don’t have Netflix, Hulu, or any other streaming service, you can get it for dirt-cheap.
Most of them cost maybe $8 a month, and if you catch them at the right time, you might be able to get your first month free.
Meanwhile, seeing one movie in the theater will run you about $15 per person, not to mention whatever obscene amount they charge for popcorn and candy these days.
Oh, speaking of candy…
Bake Your Own Chocolate Candy (or a Cake)
It’s a lot easier to make your own candy than you might think, and doing so will yield more sweets for less dough than any expensive box of chocolates ever could.
In addition, those boxes typically feature a variety of chocolates, some of which your lover might not like.
By taking the time to make the chocolates yourself, you’ll not only impress them mightily, you’ll guarantee them a flavor they’ll actually like.
If making individual chocolates sounds like too much work, then making a chocolate cake will more than suffice.
Maybe you can decorate it with heart-shaped sprinkles, or write out “I Love You” in tasty, tasty icing. Whatever you do, they’re likely to love it.
Plus, whether you make your cake from a mix or from scratch, you’ll save a ton of money over buying one from the store that may or not be any good.
Each of these suggestions have one thing in common — they have you doing something for your love, instead of paying somebody else to do it for you.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day this way is far less expensive, way more personal, and a dozen times more romantic. And last we checked, that’s the point of the holiday.
Mary Hiers is a personal finance writer who helps people earn more and spend less.