Valentine's Day on Zero Dollars
By Jesse Carey
January 9, 2009
Valentine’s Day can get expensive. Not only is the practice of exchanging candy hearts, boxes of chocolate and pink greeting cards the norm, going out to dinner, buying flowers and planning dates can break the bank.
For those of you wanting to do something a little less materialistic—and more original—this year, below are some cash-conscious ideas to help you celebrate Feb. 14 on (almost) zero dollars. And whether you’re an anti-consumerism social idealist or just tight on the green, our list of cheap Valentine’s Day options has something for you.
Sure, it’s fun going out on a well-planned date, eating dinner at an expensive restaurant and heading off to the movies all dressed up. (What could be more American than the quintessential dinner-and-a-movie date?) But sometimes, staying in can be just as fun as a night on the town. And just because you’re staying in, doesn’t mean you can’t get dressed up (if that’s your thing). Light a couple of candles and put on your Sunday best, and you can create the same romantic vibe as that little Italian restaurant downtown. Here’s a site that features some cheap and relatively easy recipes that even the novice gourmand could attempt.There are even some movie options on TV that, depending on your cable provider, offer several romantically themed entertainment choices for your post-dinner activity. But if none meet your Valentine’s Day entertainment requirements and your still wanting to watch a flick on a limited budget, don’t forget about your local public library. These days, most cities stock their library with a large catalog of DVDs—some even deliver them right to your mailbox.
Planning a Valentine’s Day getaway isn’t typically cheap—but it can be. Depending on where you live, there may be some cool options available for free, right in your own backyard. The folks at outdoor clothing company LL Bean have compiled a huge database of parks and local outdoor spots for every interest, from canoeing and bird-watching to picnicking and scenic drives. Just choose your state and select which activities you’re interested in to see what your options are.
Most state websites also have a section dedicated to information about local parks (you’re best bet is to just Google your state’s name and “parks.”) Just because it’s free (in most cases; some parks charge a few dollars to maintain the facilities), doesn’t mean it can’t be memorable.
The story behind Valentine’s Day is one of love and sacrifice—not some sappy romance story–about a saint dedicated to serving his neighbors and giving his life to those in need. Although many of our major holidays still involve elements of service to the less fortunate (Christmas coat drives and Thanksgiving food outreaches), Valentine’s Day is often focused on more self-indulgent activities. If you are wanting to do something different this Valentine's Day, look into volunteering at your local homeless shelter. Not only is February one of the coldest months of the year in most areas, but research from the National Coalition for the Homeless found that the number of homeless rises significantly in February compared to other times of the year.
Serving at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen may not strike many people as the most romantic activity, but planning a service outing (any time of the year for that matter) is a way to express love those in need—and that’s something we could all do more of.
Making It Yourself
It wouldn’t be an American holiday if they’re wasn’t some kind of gift-giving involved. And if you can fight the urge to indulge in Shrek-themed chocolates and over-priced greeting cards, than exchanging gifts the old-fashioned way may be a good option. For artsy individuals or creative types, going the craft route won’t be a challenge (who didn’t love constructing homemade Valentine cards back in elementary school?), but for those of you who aren’t artistically inclined, fret not, because you’ve still got options.
Here’s a few sites with printable cards in a variety of themes. Some of them are a little cheesy, but there are some decent finds in the batch: Picturebuzz.com, American Greeting (requires membership, but offers one free month), ScrapbookScrapbook.com, Blue Mountain, Hoover Web Design.
If you don’t have the cash to dish out for a box of Russell Stovers this year, don’t worry either, there are still homemade options. Baking a plate of cookies, a tray of cup cakes or a batch of brownies is a great way to spread the Valentine's Day love with co-workers, friends and family—plus, what date won’t like some freshly baked snacks?
What are some other ideas? Post yours below.