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Valentine's Day: Can You Be Romantic on a Budget?

Dear Carrie,

I'm in my 40s and always celebrate Valentine's Day with my husband. My problem is that it can start to feel so commercial, with people spending a lot of money. I'd love any suggestions for meaningful and budget-friendly ideas.

—A Reader

Dear Reader,

It's not unusual for normally financially responsible people to lose their heads when it comes to Valentine's Day. And it's not just because they're in love. The day may be dedicated to romance, but it also comes with a lot of financial—and commercial—pressure. I'm all in favor of celebrating a loving relationship, but, to me, it should be about the value of the commitment, not the cost of the gift. 

In fact, especially when money is tight, it might be a lot more thoughtful to be frugal, rather than extravagant. So in the spirit of the day, and with an eye on your finances, here are some ideas for ways you and your husband might enjoy not only Valentine's Day—but also the days and years to come.

Do some financial reminiscing

You say you're in your 40s. When you were younger, chances are you had less money, but still found fun and romantic ways to celebrate. So think back. What did you do then? Could you recreate a special moment from the past that didn't put a hole in your budget?

This is a time when it really is the thought that counts. A single rose can be just as meaningful as a dozen. A dinner at an intimate restaurant can be just as special as a date with the latest celebrity chef. Or what about cooking a gourmet meal at home together, splurging on a good bottle of wine, and lighting some candles? 

The point is that just because you may have more money today, you don't have to feel compelled to spend it. It might even be more fun to see just how little you could spend and still create a romantic experience. And reminiscing about your past together and all the fun and inexpensive things you did may make the evening even more special.

You could even cap it off by agreeing to put whatever you saved by not buying that expensive jewelry or high-end dinner toward another goal.

Set some special goals together

Speaking of goals, you might just enhance the romance of the evening by making plans and setting new goals together. Whether it's a long-desired exotic vacation, a new car or a retirement scenario, focusing on shared dreams and coming up with new plans can bring you closer together—as well as being financially prudent.

And don't stop with the big ideas. Make your goals concrete, even setting a dollar amount and a timeline for each. It will be exciting to visualize them—and you'll be more financially motivated to make them real.

Make saving for the future a part of your gift

With a renewed commitment to your goals, you can now make a commitment to each other to save for them. As you each figure out ways to redirect your money, whether that means cutting back, making trade-offs, or just being more aware of your expenses, you'll be able to share the excitement of watching your savings grow. And what a meaningful mutual gift it will be when you achieve that first special goal together.

Celebrate every day

It's wonderful that you and your husband want to celebrate Valentine's Day, but don't feel pressured to compete with your friends—or even each other—in coming up with an expensive gift or event.

Rather, I suggest that you talk to each other openly about your finances and how you can work together to use them wisely every day. Money issues are notorious for causing disharmony in a relationship. The fact that Valentine's gifts could add to money worries seems to fly in the face of what the day is all about. By all means, make the occasion special in your own way but remember that it's just one day in a hopefully long, loving and financially rewarding life together.

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