10 Valentine's Day Ideas That Won't Break the Bank... or the Romance

What does it cost to show your loved one that you care this Valentine's Day? Probably not as much as you think. My wife and I always try to celebrate with something that isn't too extravagant. This year, consider a more creative approach that relies on a little thoughtful pre-planning instead of digging into your savings.

Here are 10 ideas to get you started:

1. Begin at the beginning. Couples get together for a lot of reasons -- maybe your relationship began at work, a party or a bus stop. If there was a snippet of conversation that sparked your affection or a particular place that held mutual interest, revisit that starting point to reclaim those memories.

2. Ask a few questions. Maybe it doesn't sound that romantic, but how about asking your significant other about his or her best Valentine's Day... or even the worst? The answers might reveal interesting and inexpensive alternatives. For the best answers, don't wait until 48 hours before Valentine's Day -- ask creative questions about what your love likes 365 days a year.

3. Cook. Are you a top chef in the making? Try an inventive new meal at home to save money. It's a more intimate setting for a special dinner and you're providing the labor and cleanup.

4. Deliver kindness, not presents. Instead of wrapped gifts, what about chores or crafts? Focus on a gift based on something you know how to do rather than something you could just buy. Try a homemade coupon book or card that allows your friend, family member or significant other to "collect" those kindnesses throughout the year.

5. If it's a night out, do your homework. Valentine's Day can be one of the most crowded and expensive nights to go out. If you have a restaurant or an event in mind, research everything you can about the food, ambiance and specials at various times of day -- particularly during early, fixed-price periods and slower days of the week. It's true you might actually find a great deal at an unexpected place on Valentine's Day or another night when crowds are low and deals are high.

6. Grab those coupons, free passes and points. Mileage, restaurants and online discount clubs can offer a range of options. Points can be used for discounts or free nights out on Valentine's Day or your next date night. Decide which offers are the best deals and leverage them the best that you can.

7. Consider substitutions and alternatives. Why have that glass of champagne or celebratory cocktail at the restaurant if there's a happy hour nearby where you can save a little money? The same goes for a beloved neighborhood spot for ice cream or dessert that's roughly half the price. Consider mixing and matching venues to save money.

8. Declare a staycation. Visit museums on half-price days or out-of-the-way eateries you always thought about trying. Even if you really want to get away from home for an overnight stay, aim for days off during the week when cheaper local hotel deals are available.

9. Sometimes a rose is... a daisy or a potted plant. A dozen roses are classic, but potentially cheaper alternatives are everywhere. Keep in mind that the cost of flowers increases for Valentine's Day, so shop alternative stores and bouquets. Also, if you have access to a flower market that allows retail sales near where you live, check it out. You might find affordable and creative alternatives to delight your partner. If your loved one has a green thumb, buy potted plants or seeds they'll sow later. Remember, spring is right around the corner.

10. Bling responsibly. If this Valentine's Day involves a wedding engagement or another grand gesture of romance, research and get advice, particularly if you're considering diamonds, other gemstones or precious metals. And most important -- know your loved one's taste. If your significant other likes antique jewelry or can live without high-end baubles, maybe a thrift, antique or online store can provide the perfect keepsake.

Bottom line: Valentine's Day can be one of the most wonderful days of the year without being the most expensive. If you know your partner, there are inspired, romantic and creative ways to make him or her happy without overspending.

Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa's financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.