Money can cause a lot of financial stress, and that's especially true during Hallmark holidays like Christmas, your anniversary and, of course, Valentine's Day. The holiday is all about celebrating love — with presents of course.
Between flowers, jewelry, candy and other gifts, the average spending on Valentine's Day in 2017 is expected to hit $136.57 per person, according to the National Retail Federation. But you don't have to drop hundreds of dollars to prove your love.
To help you celebrate Valentine's Day on a budget, we asked personal finance experts the best gifts they ever gave and got for $20 or less. Here's what they had to say.
Homemade Chocolate Truffles
Chocolate-dipped strawberries are a classic Valentine's Day gift. But if you have the time, homemade chocolate truffles are a unique and classy dessert to gift. That's one present Ashley Marcin, founder of lifestyle blog (never)homemaker, was happy to receive.
She said her husband never makes dessert. "So, when he handed me a tiny box filled with dark chocolate truffles he had rolled from scratch — I was floored," she said.
Treasure Hunt Across Town
For a gift that lasts all day, put together a treasure hunt that takes you and your loved one across town to visit low-cost attractions, like local parks.
That's what William Charles, an investment banker and writer for Doctor of Credit, received one year. "It's really a day about spending time with the person you love, and this was a great opportunity for us to do this without spending a lot," he said.
You don't need to spend a lot on clothes, if that's what you plan to gift this year. Charles said he once bought his girlfriend a vintage dress from a thrift store for $5. "My girlfriend loved it and after wearing it for several months she eventually sold it — with my blessing — on eBay for $80."
Sometimes, the best gifts are free and easy to execute. "On more than one occasion, I have promised to clean the entire house by myself, and it's gone over very well given that we have two boys who make it their mission to keep things in a constant state of disarray," said Tim Lemke, a personal finance writer for Wise Bread. "It may seem like an unromantic gift, but the look on her face when she sees a freshly scrubbed kitchen floor is brighter than any expensive jewelry could buy."
Brush up on your origami and try this gift idea from Jon Dulin of Money Smart Guides. He said he made roses out of paper towels.
"I took things a step further by using markers to color the flower and stem so they really stood out. My girlfriend loved them, not only because of the thought but also because they will last forever."
Homemade Valentine’s Day Card
Jeremy Biberdorf, founder of Modest Money, admitted he tends to spoil his valentine. But, he does have one frugal gift idea.
"One inexpensive gift that I've got in the habit of giving is a custom homemade card. All it ends up costing me is a couple bucks to get it printed on card stock at a printing store. It does take some effort, but then she values it much more than something bought at a store."
"My wife and I really don't exchange much when it comes to Valentine's Day as we tend to be pretty frugal," said John Schmoll, founder of Frugal Rules. He said his wife once gifted him a six-pack of different craft beers, which he adored and only costs between $10 and $15.
Cards With Handwritten Memories
One year, personal finance writer Louis DeNicola said his girlfriend made him a deck of cards filled with her 52 favorite memories from the previous year. "Each card was themed, and every week I can flip to a new one and it puts a smile on my face," he said.
Shasta Walton, who writes on her blog Faithfully Free, said one of the best gifts she received was a mixtape. "It cost him $10, but I have never forgotten it," she said. "The songs he chose were ones that made him think of me or described our relationship in his eyes. When I hear those songs play on the radio my heart melts all over again as I think about the gift he gave me years ago."
Ben Edwards of Money Smart Life touts a classic Valentine's Day gift: flowers. "When I was younger, I used to think that sending flowers on Valentine's Day was a rip-off, but I've since changed my tune," he said. "Now I see them as a great way to say 'I love you.'"
Luke1428.com founder Brian Fourman suggested going a step further and having the flowers delivered to her workplace. "Not only will she experience the initial joy of receiving the gift, but the 'oohs and aahs' emanating from her coworkers all day long will increase the significance of the gift and her appreciation for your thoughtfulness tenfold," he said.
Be sure to use Valentine's Day coupons and deals to save on this gift idea.
Bob Lotich of SeedTime said the perfect Valentine's Day gift depends on the recipient. Consider the simple pleasures your loved one indulges in. For example, Lotich said that, among his wife's favorite gifts, Starbucks was among the top.
Envelopes Filled With Date Ideas
David Carlson of Young Adult Money received a unique gift from his wife: Twelve envelopes filled with different date ideas. Each month he opened one envelope, and he and his wife would do whatever the card said. For your own gift, opt for low-cost or free date ideas, like going to the museum on free museum day or building blanket forts at home and "camping."
For a simple but thoughtful gift, try gifting a custom mug. Glen Stephenson of Monster Piggy Bank received a beer mug with his favorite football team's logo stamped on it, and he still keeps it, he said.
It might sound odd, but if your loved one has kids, a bit of quiet time can be the perfect gift. "Not only does it cost nothing — at least financially, it's definitely hard work wrangling your kids by yourself — it gives her a much-needed break," said J. Money of Budgets Are Sexy and Rockstar Finance. "I've never once heard a mother turning that down."
When in doubt, a hearty meal at home is a thoughtful gift — especially if you don't tend to cook. The Penny Hoarder founder Kyle Taylor said, "My partner, whose cooking skills usually begin and end with ordering takeout, spent the entire week learning how to cook one of my favorite meals, pulled pork and cornbread.
"There were several nights of test batches and many laughs as the recipe was improved each night leading up to Valentine's Day," he added. "It was so thoughtful and the memory was worth way more than any gift that could have been purchased."
As you shop for a Valentine's Day gift, swing by thrift stores for truly unique gift ideas. Stephanie Steinberg, a reporter for The Detroit News, said her mom once bought a Hershey's Kisses fondue set. "If you want to have a sweet — and affordable — night in with your significant other this Valentine's Day, I promise dipping strawberries, marshmallows and Oreos in melted chocolate is the way to go," she said.
A Private ‘Restaurant’ Experience
Tiffany "The Budgetnista" Aliche once decorated her boyfriend's dorm room with Dollar Store finds. She said she thumb-tacked curtains to the ceiling to create a canopy, bought scented tea light candles, a red tablecloth, candy and balloons. "I used all of these things to create an inexpensive, private romantic 'restaurant' that I dubbed Chateau Le Me," she said.
Handmade Heart Pin
Jeff Yeager of Ultimate Cheapskate made a handmade heart pin from the first Christmas tree he and his wife had together. He admitted that, early on, they didn't have a lot of money at the time, so it was a sentimental and affordable gift he could get her. Decades later, she still owns it.
An Afternoon Picnic
If weather permits, plan an afternoon picnic. Stephenson said he put together a homemade lunch and visited a natural reserve. "The spot was amazing," he said, "it overlooks the ocean on one side and the countryside on the other. The food was hardly Jamie Oliver quality, but it was probably the best Valentine's Day I've had, and it was certainly one I remember well."