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The idiot's guide to Valentine's Day - on the cheap

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Valentine’s Day can be a very romantic holiday, but if you are on a budget it may seem like more of a financial burden than a celebration of love. Must it be so? Here are a few ideas for ways to make her swoon without getting behind on rent.

1. Forget roses. Get a beautiful, colorful, diverse bouquet for much less than a smaller but more expensive rose bouquet. If you choose well, and do everything else right (more on that in a moment) she will likely not even notice, or care, that your flower arrangement forgoes the overpriced staple. Whatever you do, do not buy any flowers that are not kept in water. They have likely been sitting out all week and will die right away. Remember that the store will sell them even if they are already withering, so be mindful and don’t waste your money.

2. Use your savings from the bouquet to spend a little more on chocolates. Still be selective and look for the best value, but do not get sucked into buying the holiday specific boxes—they tend to be overpriced and overrated. Maybe the box is not shaped like a heart, but if the packaging looks expensive she will not mind. Plus you will get more, and better, candy for cheaper.

3. The card. It is possible to find an affordable but romantic one, but you may have to scour the card section to find the right fit. Stay away from the funny ones; even if she is usually into your humorous side, surprise her with something heartfelt today. Don’t get hung up on saying something overly poetic if it isn’t coming out right; it is more important to be genuine. Really let her know how you feel about her and she won’t care how much the card cost.

4. Shop around. Even if you are getting something last minute, think ahead of what the best stores are in your area to shop at. Albertsons and Smiths usually have pretty good selections of flowers for better prices than you’ll find at the gas station or pharmacy.

5. Good wine needn’t be expensive. It all depends on where you shop. The supermarket may not be the best option here. Total Wine And More has a superb selection of great wines, many of which are in the ten dollar range.

6. Presentation is everything. Put everything together in as impressive a way as possible and give it to her at the best time. Pay attention to lighting, background details, and timing. If you set everything up on a table that is cluttered or dirty it will not look as spectacular as it could. Natural light is best for flowers. Open a window, clean off the table, take out the trash, or do whatever you need to do to make sure that nothing else in the room is going to take away from the gifts you got her. Try out a few different arrangements; just remember that the better it looks the less she will care about the price tag.

7. To eat out or not to eat out—that is the question. Restaurants like to up the prices on holidays and Valentine’s Day is no exception. If you are not the culinary type, cooking at home can become a nightmare though. Also keep in mind that restaurants that don’t usually require reservations may tonight; not to mention there will be a wait even with one. If you stay in, make your entre something simple that you are confident you can pull off. If you go out, choose wisely. Be sure to call ahead to see if they are price-gouging for the holiday lest you be surprised by a “special” menu.

When it’s all said and done, the absolute most important thing about tonight is that what matters is how special you make her feel. The time and effort you put into the occasion will speak for itself and the one you love will undoubtedly see it and appreciate you for it. That is the real Valentine’s gift.

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