Celebrating holidays during a pandemic can be difficult. For starters, the percentage of unemployed Americans in January 2021 was 6.3 percent, compared to 3.6 percent in January 2020. With more people unemployed and underemployed due to the pandemic, as well as a dearth of safe activities to do, it may seem silly to shell out for Valentine’s Day celebrations at all. 

But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, there’s a silver lining for the budget-conscious: Valentine’s Day spending is projected to decrease $32 per person this year, to $164.76 from $196.31, according to the National Retail Federation. One major reason for this is many couples will not be dining out or hitting fancy cocktail bars this year. Without the pressure to spend nearly $200 per person at a restaurant, many of us are free to try something non-traditional, and cheaper, this Valentine’s Day. Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Virtual concerts.: If you miss live events as much as I do, consider watching your favorite performer live from home. Josh Groban is hosting two Valentine’s Day concerts for $32 a pop, the boy band O-Town has $15 tickets for their Valentine’s Day show, and Boys II Men is doing a free concert on DoorDash’s Twitch and Facebook. Additionally, a quick search on Eventbrite reveals all types of inexpensive virtual events: from comedy shows to burlesque, cooking classes and more.
  1. Plan your future vacation: Part of the fun of going on vacation is the planning, and the pandemic can’t take that away from us! Grab a bottle of wine with your partner, and plan your next, big post-pandemic dream vacation on Valentine’s Day. By keeping a spreadsheet with the  average costs of your preferred hotels, restaurants, attractions, and flights, you can break down how much you’ll need to save each week to take this trip in a year. 
  1. Puzzles and games: This is THE year to stay in and take on a fun project with your partner. Kambri Crews, owner of the performance space and shop Q.E.D. in Astoria Queens, says she’s seen an uptick in sales of puzzles, games and candy over the last week in preparation for a Valentine’s Day at home. Jars of high-end candy sell for $5.99 at the store, date night dice go for $15.95, and puzzles run between $8 and $25.
  1. There’s no coronavirus on Memory Lane: Journal entries from after your first date. Old photos. Ancient texts to your friends. Your first emails and Facebook messages to one another. Rediscover your love for your partner by reviewing your early communication with and about the one you love. Best part? It’s totally free. 
  1. Start a new tradition. Most of us won’t be able to have our ideal Valentine’s Day, but necessity is the mother of invention. Brooklyn resident Kirsten Phung definitely knows this. “When I was a kid, my step-dad was a pilot and was gone most of the week,” she says. “One year he was gone on Valentine’s Day, so my Mom told my brother and [me] we could have anything we wanted for dinner. We wanted shrimp and artichokes. … We did it again the next year, and Mom called it our Heartichoke dinner.”  It’s been almost 30 years, and Phung says her family is still celebrating the same way, even though she and her brother have grown up, moved out, married, and started their own families.

Whether it’s your own budget-friendly version of a Heartichoke dinner, a new board game, or a concert and a bottle of wine, having a great pandemic Valentine’s Day is totally possible for under $50.

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