Budgeting and romance aren’t mutually exclusive, when it comes to cooking up a romantic dinner for two this Valentine’s Day.
Depending on which survey you believe, Americans are set to spend an average $98 (Chase Blueprint) $134 (National Retail Federation), or $213 (American Express) apiece on their sweeties this year.
That covers gifts like flowers, chocolate and cards, as well as “entertainment” like dinner out.
But if you’re smart about it, you can pull together dinner at home for a song.
It’s not just the cooking skills that are sexy—plenty of aphrodisiac ingredients are bargains, particularly compared with the cost of a multi-course restaurant meal.
Throw in a bargain bottle of wine (which avoids the 300% markup restaurants charge), and you’re good to go.
8 aphrodisiacs to consider working into your menu:
The obvious choice, and one that is alluring whether you go for the $1 bar (to dip strawberries in) or pricier gourmet truffles.
Susan Schenck, author of The Live Food Factor, says raw cacao in particular has aphrodisiac properties.
But start with just a tablespoon or two (like in the raw chocolate cheesecake in our roundup).
Otherwise, you might be up all night—in a bad way. “It contains theobromine, so if you eat too much, you will get insomnia,” she says.
Another quintessential aphrodisiac, oysters are believed to boost testosterone, thanks to plenty of zinc.
Many seafood counters and fishmongers have oysters for just $1 or $2 apiece. (Call ahead, and they’ll shuck them for you, too.)
Stick with just one or two as an appetizer to keep costs down; a simple vinaigrette is all you need to make them shine.
The fruit routinely tops the list of inexpensive love-inducers and prices often run as cheap as 50 cents a pound.
Adelmann’s pick for serving them includes a trifecta of aphrodisiacs: A banana pudding that also includes chocolate and avocado.
This aphrodisiac used to be served to grooms at the wedding.
It’s also a top pick at spring farmers markets, selling for just a few bucks per bunch.
Serving coffee with dessert is a smart way to end the meal.
“The strongest predictor of low sexual desire is fatigue,” says Nicole Prause, a sexual psychophysiologist at the University of California.
“One might reason that caffeine [in sweet coffees] would be an excellent aphrodisiac to wake up those tired career folks and moms and dads,” she adds.
A pound of good-quality coffee runs about $5 (or less, with creative savings tactics).
Spice up your love life—literally.
Experts say the capsaicin will make you hot (raising your body temp) and prompt your heart to beat a bit faster.
Peppers cost roughly $4 per pound, but you only need one or two to make an impact.
Try it in Aztec hot chocolate, or in savory dishes as a flavor boost.
This time of year, it’s easy to find avocados with deals like 4/$5.
“The high vitamin E levels help maintain youthful vigor and energy level,” says Stef Safran, owner of Chicago-based dating service Stef and the City.
Frugal Foodie likes to use them in a salad with strawberries (another aphrodisiac) and chicken.
It must be true love if they’re willing to kiss you after a garlic-laden meal, right?
Kidding aside, it might be the cheapest aphrodisiac out there, with a bulb going for well under $1.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.