I have seen small fortunes spent in the fading hours of Valentine's Day, as men and women alike grasp at last-minute gifts for their significant others. This year, Valentine's Day arrives amid spiking household debt and flagging consumer confidence.
Perhaps, in the interest of fiscal prudence, it's time to skip the Hallmark holiday?
If you plan ahead, you can still celebrate Valentine's Day on a shoestring budget, according to Debbie Frye, general manager of Flyerland.ca, a website that features local flyers and coupons from across the country. You don't need to splurge to win your loved one's heart. "Planning and being personal is always less expensive than being thoughtless at the last minute," Ms. Frye says.
Here are her top tips for getting a sweet deal on Valentine's Day.
1. Avoid the Feb. 14 tax. Those special Valentine's Day dinners offered by restaurants are often priced at a premium. If you celebrate the week before or after the big day, you'll be able to avoid the prix fixe menu and may even score a discount. Plus, you won't get stuck in a crowd, knocking elbows with the couple at the next table. If you have kids, ask friends to babysit and offer to do the same for them on their night out, Ms. Frye suggests.
2. Use a coupon. If you're spending Valentine's Day with a new boyfriend or girlfriend, using a coupon on your night out can make you look cheap and tacky. But if you're married or in a long-term relationship, definitely use a coupon to buy that gift that may otherwise be out of your price range. "You don't have to tell anyone else that you used a coupon," Ms. Frye says, but your partner may be pleased that you found a way to save money.
3. Go high-end on a budget. You can get dressed to the nines and go to a fancy restaurant without breaking the bank if you just order cocktails and hors d'oeuvres instead of a four-course dinner. "It's a way to go somewhere higher end without it being too expensive," Ms. Frye says. Some restaurants will even allow you to bring your own wine on their slower days, typically between Monday and Wednesday, and just charge you a corkage fee.
4. Celebrate at home. This year, Feb. 14 lands on a Sunday evening. If you have kids, it's the perfect opportunity to have a celebration at home. Plan a dinner where each family member chooses their favourite food for one of the courses. Look around your house for everyday items to use as table decorations and have your kids decorate placemats and name cards to make the night special.
5. Just be thoughtful. The most important thing on Valentine's Day is to consider what your significant other would enjoy. One year, Ms. Frye bought her husband a vacuum cleaner for his workshop. "He did not dig that," she recalls. A thoughtful gift doesn't have to be an expensive one. Ask your partner's friends for ideas if you're not sure what they would like to receive. "If you spend time doing a little research, you can make a smart decision," Ms. Frye says. But hold on to the receipt, just in case.
Chaya Cooperberg writes the Home Cents personal finance blog for Globe Investor.