Create a Special Valentine’s Day on a Budget

Love makes people do foolish things. Nothing is more foolish than going into debt for Valentine’s Day.

We’re not anti-love. We just want you to celebrate Valentine’s Day without losing your mind or life’s savings.

Consumers are expected to spend $27.4 billion on Valentine’s Day this year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. That’s almost 33% more than 2019.

“Valentine’s Day is a sentimental tradition, but gift-giving can be driven by the economy,” NRF President Matthew Shay said. “Consumers spent freely during the 2019 winter holidays and they appear ready to do the same in the new year.”

The economy is good, but 40% of U.S. adults still don’t have $1,000 saved to pay for an unexpected car repair bill or emergency room visit. A lot of them will probably blow $100 or more on Valentine’s Day, and they’ll put it on a high-interest credit card.

Call them fools for love.

Allow us to explain how to escape the foolishness without breaking anyone’s heart.

The Valentine’s Day Financial Massacre

First, you and your significant other must appreciate just how much America’s Valentine’s Day invoice is.

If you had a stack of 27.4 billion worth of $1 bills, it would be 187,947 miles high. That would reach about 80% of the way to the moon.

It’s more than annual GDPs of almost half the countries on Earth. The total value of goods and services produced in Iceland this year will be less than what Americans spend on candy and roses on February 14th.

The average consumer who celebrates Valentine’s Day will spend $196.31. Men will spend $291.15 and women will spend $106.22. According to a WalletHub survey, here’s what they’ll spend it on:

  • Jewelry – $5.8 billion
  • An evening out – $4.3 billion
  • Candy – $2.4 billion
  • Flowers – $2.3 billion
  • Gift cards – $2 billion
  • Greeting cards – $1.3 billion
  • Psychiatric care – $538 million.

We made up that last one, though it’s becoming apparent a lot of people need some sense talked into them. The evidence – consumers will spend $1.7 billion on gifts for their pets.

As much as you may love your Chihuahua, chances are it won’t even notice if you don’t send it a card or buy it a ruby-studded collar. A nice belly rub would be a lot cheaper and probably more appreciated.

How did society get conditioned to spend so much money on a contrived holiday?

The Valentine’s Day Mystery

Nobody knows for sure how it began, which shows how bogus Valentine’s Day is.

One theory is it was concocted by the great 14th Century poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who apparently had an uncle in the candy business.

Another theory is it sprang from the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia. That was quite the affair, with naked men whipping women with blood-stained hides of sacrificed animals.

In the Bronze Age, people sacrificed animals to the Gods. In the Digital Age, we buy them $1.7 billion worth of dog treats.

Which Age is really crazy?

Anyway, Pope Gelasius I, who did not have a significant other to beat with an animal skin, eventually started a cleaned-up version of Lupercalia in honor of St. Valentine.

Or it might have just been started by Hallmark Cards Inc. Whatever the origin, it’s not like there’s an obvious historical or Biblical reason it exists or must be observed.

There are ample reasons for it not to exist.

Why Valentine’s Day Is Overrated

As the sonnet says, “How do we not love Valentine’s Day, let us count the ways.”

  • It encourages credit card abuse: Americans racked up an average of $1,325 in holiday debt in 2019, according to MagnifyMoney. Just as those bills are showing up, along comes another financial whammy a lot of people can’t afford. For millions of hopeless romantics, the best gift might be enrolling them in a debt management program. If they follow through, they’ll eventually want to kiss you all over in gratitude.
  • The stress level: Americans will waste untold hours wondering what to buy their significant others. Or worse, they’ll forget about Valentine’s Day and have to spend double to avoid a costly divorce. And after all that anxiety, 43 million people said they didn’t get a gift they wanted in 2019, according to a WalletHub survey.
  • Conflicting signals: In that survey, 53% of women said they’d break up with their significant other if they didn’t give them a Valentine’s Day gift. But 40% of women said irresponsible spending is a bigger turnoff than bad breath. The lesson: Instead of blowing $79 on roses, men should buy a year’s supply of breath mints for themselves and say they are giving their woman the gift of breathing fresh breath.
  • Every day should be Valentine’s Day: If you truly care about your significant other, you don’t need a randomly-designated day to treat your significant other like a Queen or King.
  • It turns millions of people into suckers: Cupid’s arrows have many targets. About 37% of Millennials will buy a Valentine’s Day gift for more than one romantic partner, according to In other words, as Mr. X is spending $173 on dinner at Morton’s, his date might well be fantasizing about going on a cheap picnic with another guy.

The Right Way to Spend Valentine’s Day

Despite its sketchy origins and silly price tag, we realize you can’t just say, “Honey, our love is so real we don’t need to make a show of it.”

It’s okay to do something for Valentine’s Day. The point is you don’t have to over-do it. Here are a few suggestions that should satisfy your wallet and your significant other.

  • Enjoy a nice evening at home: Plenty of fun and eye-gazing can be had in whipping up a nice meal with your significant other, then dialing up a romantic movie on TV. If you want to really gussy things up, go to a Dollar Tree and buy a bag of balloons, a couple of candles and a stuffed animal. If nothing else, a $1 Teddy Bear with one eye should be good for a laugh.
  • Go to Valentine’s Day breakfast: Who says it has to be dinner? A fancy breakfast costs a lot less, mainly because nobody orders a $100 bottle of wine with their hash browns.
  • Do something noble: Valentine’s Day can be tough for someone who’s recently lost a loved one or is lonely. Tell your significant other you feel so lucky having them in your life, you feel compelled to spread your joy to the less fortunate. Then go visit an elderly relative or neighbor. Not only is that free, you (and, hopefully, your significant other) will go to bed that night feeling a joy money cannot buy.

Joey Johnston has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist with the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times. He has won a dozen national writing awards and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and People Magazine. He started writing for InCharge Debt Solutions in 2016.



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