Valentine’s Day Date Ideas for $50 or Less

TSD’s Holly Johnson and Jon Gorey have, well, different perspectives on some things. Here, they share some ideas for a frugal Valentine’s Day date night.

Valentine’s Day may be nothing more than a Hallmark holiday, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, your sweetie may be secretly aching for a little bit of romance. And if you ignore that, you’re just asking for trouble.

Of course, Valentine’s Day gets tricky when money is an issue. Perhaps you’re working hard to pay down debt, saving for the down payment on a new home, or have agreed as a couple not to throw around more money than you need to.

If that’s the case, it’s smart to whip up a Valentine’s Day surprise on a budget. Yes, living on a budget can suck, but that doesn’t mean your Valentine’s date night needs to.

If you’re ready to show your man or lady you care without breaking the bank, here are some low-cost ways to celebrate this Valentine’s Day.

Holly: Cook a gourmet dinner at home.

Many people associate Valentine’s Day with a fancy dinner out. But a candlelit, gourmet dinner in your own home can be just as romantic and delicious – and your effort counts, too. Figure out what your partner loves to eat, then search Pinterest, Epicurious, the Food Network, or other sites for the most enticing recipes you can find.

If you’re not experienced in the kitchen and feel like you need some help, you can also order a box with prepackaged ingredients and step-by-step directions from a service like Blue Apron or Plated. While these services may not offer the world’s best value, they do make it easy to cook a quality meal regardless of your skill level.

Beyond the food, remember to set the mood: Bust out the tablecloth and the fancy wine glasses, and light a candle or two. You can even move the table so it’s next to a window and stream some music in the background.

Jon: Go all in on dessert.

What’s the most sensual part of any meal? Decadent dessert, of course. So instead of spending $100 or more on an entire dinner out at a nice restaurant, eat dinner at home — and save some room. Then go out to an upscale spot for dessert and coffee or an after-dinner drink.

Pair some pastries or cannolis with a robust latte in an Italian cafe, or splurge at that pricey restaurant with the gorgeous view. Even at the fanciest restaurant in town, a coffee and dessert won’t set you back more than $20 apiece, and you’ll get to linger in the elegant ambiance just the same.

Holly: Netflix and… relax.

Movie night can make for a great romantic date at home. Prepare some snacks like popcorn or candy, choose a movie your partner’s been aching to see, and get cozy.

The key to a Netflix date night is clearing your schedule of all other distractions. To make the night special, you need to focus all your attention on your significant other – not your work, your cell phone, the dishes, or the laundry.

Since you’re spending next to nothing, you can afford to order in your partner’s favorite take-out dish, too — all the while knowing you’re avoiding the huge Valentine’s Day dinner crowds.

Jon: Think films, not movies.

There’s just something inherently romantic about foreign-language and old black-and-white films… je ne sais quoi. You may not watch them all that often, or ever, and that’s the point — Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a special occasion, not your usual Saturday night routine.

If your city has an art house cinema or independent theater, see if they’re playing any romantic foreign language films or screening a classic movie for Valentine’s Day. In our area, for example, you can often find Casablanca or a French swooner like Amelie on the big screen this time of year, and they’re typically cheaper than seeing the latest Transformers sequel.

Holly: Enjoy the great outdoors with a picnic.

Okay, it’s February, so this date idea may not work if you live in the blistering cold — but it could be winner if your winter weather is mild. The only thing better than dinner out is dinner OUT — as in outside.

Start by picking the perfect spot for a romantic picnic – a local park, manicured museum grounds, a golf course, or even a beach if it’s mild enough. Head to the store to buy dinner ingredients you can assemble outdoors easily. Think salads, crackers and cheese, fruit, and sandwiches. Top it off with a cheap bottle of wine and you’re good to go — just don’t forget to pack a corkscrew.

Jon: Visit a new place nearby (ideally by train).

If you like the adventure of discovering a new place together, but don’t have the time or money for an exciting weekend getaway, try picking a random town less than an hour away that you’ve never been to before. Maybe you’ve heard of it, or even gone to a store there, but have you ever actually hung out and walked around?

Visit the town center and stroll around, exploring the downtown together for a couple of hours. New settings can spur new ideas and conversations – let your feet and your minds wander. Find a cute coffee shop to duck into for a warm treat and simply savor each other’s company in a different setting.

Even better? If you live in a fairly dense urban area like the Northeast, you may be able to take a train to such a place for just $10 to $15 – and what’s more romantic than a train ride? Pack sandwiches or a baguette and a bottle of wine, head somewhere you’ve never been, and ride home and watching the world whiz past in the window together.

Holly: Sing your heart out at karaoke night.

With most couples doing the standard sit-down dinner thing, you may have your favorite karaoke bar all to yourself — a perfect opportunity to belt out some Journey or Beyonce without the pressure of a big crowd, and to connect with your loved one, too. (You probably ought to dedicate at least one power ballad to your date.)

Save money by eating at home before you go, or picking up some cheap takeout on the way. A few drinks shouldn’t set you back too much. Besides, you’ll be too busy singing about streetlight people and all the single ladies, right?

Jon: Check college events calendars for free or cheap entertainment.

If you live in a city or a college town, there’s bound to be some student or amateur performances going on, usually cheap and often even for free. Check the calendars at local universities: Conservatories and music schools often offer free student recitals, student theater groups perform dramatic plays and musicals, and independent music venues host up-and-coming bands and songwriters virtually every night of the week in most big cities. A $5 or $10 cover charge still leaves you plenty of cash for a drink or two each.

Holly: Plan a spa night.

“Real” spas charge crazy prices for massages, facials, and pedicures. But you? You can plan a cheap, pampering spa night at home for a fraction of the price.

Pick up some $6 Biore strips, or a Bliss Facial In a Box for just $12, at your local drugstore. Heck, throw in a VO5 Hot Oil Treatment for her hair. Top things off with some nail polish and remover, then go to town. Pro tip: Shoulder rubs and back massages are free!

Finish the night off with some pizza from your favorite local joint. Delivery only, please. You’re busy beautifying.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.

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How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day this year? Do you have a cheap date night lined up?