Consumer IQ

MintStyle: Valentine’s Day Ideas That Won’t Break the Bank

Ah….Valentine’s Day. The holiday during which we’re led to believe that the only true expression of love includes flowers, bonbons and pricey trinkets.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2012 spending survey, the average person will spend $126.03 this Valentine’s Day, with total national spending expected to be a whopping $17.6 billion.

That’s a lot of chocolate.

“Traditionally, Valentine’s Day is the time to go overboard with gifts but that’s not always possible in today’s economy,” says Bernard Luthi, VP of Marketing for Buy.com. When times are tough, Luthi recommends personal gifts such as a romantic comedy DVD package or something more intimate that shows you’ve spent time thinking about the recipient.

The old adage goes that it’s the thought that counts, so no matter your price range, put some thought into your gift. A 2012 Sears survey found that nearly eight out of ten women complained about receiving a thoughtless Valentine’s Day gift. Worse yet, 61% of men in relationships admitted to having given one.

Here are some thoughtful ways to express your love this Valentine’s Day that range in price from frugal to fabulous to free:

Wine or Dine

In days gone by, no Valentine’s Day was complete without a trip to an expensive restaurant for a multi-course meal paired with equally pricey wine. These days, couples can be more inclined to stay in and order out, but there are other romantic variations such as a fine wine with a home-cooked meal or an over the top dessert.

Wine.com’s resident wine expert, Gwendolyn Osborn, suggests offering your love a different kind of bouquet this Valentine’s Day. Here are some of her recommendations for wines that taste (and look!) deliciously high-end without actually putting a dent in your wallet:

- Flowers Pinot Noir: A sophisticated and romantic wine with a light balance of tangy fruit and savory herbs.
- Mumm Brut Rose: A pink bubbly that’s unexpected and fresh with a surprisingly tasty price tag.
- Godiva Dessert Bubbly & Wine Gift Set: Combines the best of both chocolate and bubbles.

Want to add even more magic to your night? Delish.com has come up with a list of 13 decadent Valentine’s Day dessert recipes.

In the Mood

DJ Cassidy, who has spun at President Obama’s inauguration and Jay-Z and Beyonce’s wedding, knows a thing or two about setting the tone with music. When asked how to create a perfect playlist for a romantic night in, he quotes Quincy Jones: “If it gives you goose bumps it will give people goose bumps.” He adds, “If you feel it, then the person you love will feel it.”

Cassidy shared his top five romantic albums to make sure that they’re feeling it (in no particular order):

- Rod Stewart- The Complete Great American Songbook (Arista Records, 2007)
- R. Kelly – Love Letter (Jive Records, 2010)
- Sade – The Best of Sade (Sony Records, 1994)
- Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto (Verve Records, 1964)
- And one of DJ Cassidy’s own mix tapes, La Musique de Bateau, free to download from his website.  Listen and swoon.

Make it Sparkle

There’s a lot of pressure to be extra romantic on Valentine’s Day, which can lead to an incredible amount of disappointment. What happens if you’re planning something big, but sense that your beloved will only be satisfied with a small black velvet box?

TV host and wedding guru, David Tutera, says, “Offering a gift with a disclaimer can take the romance and spontaneity out of the moment.” He continues, “Instead of focusing on what you’re not ready for, try highlighting the feelings you do have and the reasons why.”

To that end, Tutera has created a new line of rings for Sears that include “Promise Rings” to celebrate the early stages of love, since he believes “there are many other occasions that can and should be marked with a special piece of jewelry.”

If you’re still stumped when choosing jewelry, the North Bennet St. School’s jewelry making program offers tips on choosing more unique jewelry.

- Pay attention to craftsmanship. Examine the clasp, setting, finish and other details.
- Silver is the new gold. As gold prices continue to soar, silver jewelry is making a comeback. Pieces stamped with “925” or “Sterling” are 92.5% pure. “Nickel” or “German” silver contain no silver at all.
- Custom designed pieces don’t have to be out of your price range and can incorporate elements unique to you and your honey.

And if you do decide to go the engagement ring route, you can follow these tips on engagement ring shopping on a budget.

Make it Personal

Aside from the tried and true, there are many great ways to let someone know you care enough to think outside of the eggshell blue box:

- A key chain takes on new meaning when attached to a heart shaped locket engraved with both of your names – and includes the keys to your apartment. Check out personalization mall.com for excellent and affordable options.
- Trying to hint to a friend that you’d like some more of their benefits? Aragosta Bistro’s outdoor firepits at Boston’s Fairmont Battery Wharf Hotel help you ease anyone out of the dreaded friend zone. Cozy up under a blanket together, sip some hot chocolate and remind them just how much you warm their heart.
- Too broke to buy? Cardcash.com offers the opportunity to trade in unwanted gift cards for cash or the ability to swap unwanted gift cards for others of equal value.
- Love notes are a classic way to show you care. Lisa Reynolds, personal finance expert at Redplum.com, suggests that you write down all the reasons why you love someone. “All you have to do is type out I love you because.. notes, fill in the reason, cut them into strips and put them in a bowl.”

Be Creative

While Valentine’s Day is traditionally about celebrating romantic love, sometimes it’s fun to surprise close friends and family with gifts as well. Since yellow is the color of friendship, Ricky Eisen, Owner of Cookie Panache says, “If you want to send something to a friend, change the red to yellow.”  Send yellow flowers, yellow heart cookies or sweets in yellow boxes.

Have a charity you’re passionate about? Combine your love for both your significant other and your cause. For a minimum donation of $50.00, Central Park Conservancy, the non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and maintenance of the park, will plant tulips and daffodils in honor of your loved one. They’ll also send an e-card with your personalized note notifying them of the donated flowers.

Treat yourself for a change. Aveda Love Pure-Fume Absolute comes in a small roll on applicator and blends exotic spices with romantic floral notes. Want to emulate the look of love all year round? NuBrilliance is a microdermabrasion device that offers you the ability to have at-home diamond exfoliation treatments, with suction, for about the same price as a single spa treatment. Smart and beautiful.

Finally, whatever you do splurge on, make sure it’s a gift from the heart!

Rachel Weingarten is a style expert, marketing strategist & personal branding consultant for CEOs, politicians and celebrities and the creator of MintStyle. She is the award-winning author of Career and Corporate Cool and Hello Gorgeous! Rachel writes for top media outlets including CNN, Fortune, Forbes Life, MSN, USA Today, Yahoo Finance and many others. She is a regularly featured expert on TV shows including Good Morning America and The Today Show. Visit her online at www.racheletc.com or on Twitter @rachelcw.