A romantic Valentine’s Day meal may be the fastest way to your sweetie’s heart – and an empty wallet.
The National Retail Federation expects that the 35.6% of people who say they plan to take their significant other out that night will spend a collective $3.5 billion, second only to jewelry in terms of holiday expense. Houston Asset Management, which creates an annual “Cost of Loving Index” for common gifts, says diners can expect to spend 9% more this year, due largely to higher food prices.
Despite these figures, it’s relatively easy to be both frugal and romantic, whether you’re eating out or dining at home:
Grab a voucher
Sites like LivingSocial and Groupon offer a regular rotation of half-off deals to local restaurants. Just make sure your date is OK with it. “I haven’t found it to be tacky in the slightest,” says Washington, D.C., resident Sharon Rosenblatt, who has been on a number of dates where her beau whipped out a voucher. The key: The guys noted in advance that they’d scored a deal, and picked cool places that wouldn’t otherwise be affordable.
Use everyday savings tricks
Restaurant reward programs? Check. Discounts from apps and happy hour deals? Check, check. Plenty of restaurants offer specials on Valentine’s Day to increase traffic, so make sure you peruse the options to find a good deal.
Sites that let you order restaurant food online for home delivery often offer discounts themselves. For example, first-time customers on Delivery.com get 25% off, and Eat24.com lets frequent customers earn VIP rewards, including free dishes. Provide your own candles and wine and, voilà! Instant atmosphere.
“[My wife and I] will sometimes buy special ingredients and try something new or a classic favorite of ours,” says Mike Allen, chief executive shopper for Shopping-Bargains.com. “The time together and the home ‘dinner and a movie’ approach is lots of fun and rather inexpensive.” A few ideas for cheap romantic meals:
Oysters with spicy vinaigrette. A classic and expensive-seeming aphrodisiac, this dish actually clocks in at under $10.
Beef goulash. A steak dinner can cost more than $80 on Valentine’s Day, which is why Isra Hashmi, of “TheFrugalette.com,” says she prefers a slow-cooked version that lets you use a cheaper cut. Her version costs $3.45 per serving, leaving “a lot more leftover for flowers,” she jokes.
To make it, warm two tablespoons vegetable oil over med-high heat. Add two pounds of beef chuck in 1” pieces, turning until brown on all sides. Put in a slow-cooker. Add two chopped onions to pan and fry until soft. Add two cloves chopped garlic, a tablespoon each of paprika and tomato paste and two cups chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then pour over beef in slow cooker. Add one chopped bell pepper, cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over egg noodles topped with a little sour cream.
Chocolate-covered-cherry cake truffles. Kris Schoels, of “YoungMarriedChic.com,” suggests swapping in this recipe for standard homemade truffles.
Roast Cornish game hens. They’re often more per pound than a roaster chicken, but at a lower weight, still clock in at less than $10 for two. Here’s how Candace Conley, of “TheGirlCanCook.blogspot.com,” prepares them:
Preheat oven to 450. Rub hens with 1 tablespoon of canola or grapeseed oil. Season hens inside and out with salt and pepper. Place two lemon wedges and a sprig of rosemary in the cavity of each hen. Arrange in a large, heavy roasting pan with a pound of baby potatoes and two chopped onions scattered around the hens. Roast for 25 minutes, and then reduce oven temperature to 350.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together a third of a cup each of white wine and chicken broth. Add a pound of chopped mushrooms to the roasting pan and pour the wine mixture over the pan contents. Roast another 25 minutes, or until hens are golden brown and juices run clear. Baste with pan juices every 10 minutes. Once hens are cooked, transfer pan juices to a medium saucepan and boil about 10 minutes, until they reduce to a sauce consistency. Serve the hens split open, with vegetables and sauce.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.