Without a doubt, this Valentine’s Day is going to be tough on a lot of people. Unemployment continues to rise, investment accounts are taking a beating, and money is just tight all around. That doesn’t mean you have to completely put the romance on hold this year. There are plenty of things you can do to save some money while still enjoying time with your loved one.
The biggest problem about going out is obviously the cost. Even if you aren’t dining at an upscale restaurant, the total cost for what you get is pretty steep. The food itself is obvious, but what about the other expenses? If you want a glass of wine, you better be prepared to shell out some money. You also have sales tax where in many places, if you buy food at the store on your own, it isn’t taxed. And then you have the tip. Whether it’s 15 to 20 percent or more, that clearly adds to the bill. Even a modest dinner can cost a couple an arm and a leg. Two dinners at $20, plus another $12 for two glasses of wine, $3 in sales tax, and a $10 tip, and you’ve just spent $65 for maybe two hours and some food.
This doesn’t mean you should never go out to eat, because it is good to get out of the house once and a while. But if money is tight this year, there’s no need in going out just because everyone else is. You can recreate a nice dining experience for a fraction of the cost at home.
Food is Relatively Cheap
Compared to what you pay in a restaurant, food is cheap. Now, I’ll admit that if you go to a nice place, you’re getting food that is prepared by a professional that may be nearly impossible for a novice to prepare at home, but this isn’t the case for everything. You can certainly create great tasting meals on your own with a few simple ingredients and pay significantly less.
For example, just last night I made a great and quick meal of fresh jumbo sea scallops, a fresh salad, and some asparagus for two for literally about $16. If you’re a seafood fan, you probably know that large sea scallops are usually pretty expensive at a restaurant, and not always easy to come by. If you wanted a full meal of scallops you’d expect to pay anywhere from $20-$30 at least. But, buy them on your own and you can probably find them for less than $18/pound, even way up here in the midwest where there isn’t an ocean for a thousand miles.
So, I picked up a dozen large scallops for about $14 the other day at the store. This made about a 6-8 oz portion each for each of us. We also had a large bowl of already prepared salad in the fridge that was made on Sunday. And then I picked up a handful of asparagus sprigs at the store for about $1.50. Just enough for two people.
Preparation couldn’t have been easier. Salt and pepper the scallops, and sear them in a skillet with some butter and olive oil for about 2-3 minutes per side, and they are done to perfection. The salad was already chopped and ready to go, so it took a minute to put some in a bowl and dress. And the asparagus went under the broiler with some olive oil, salt, and pepper while the scallops were cooking. And there you have it — a gourmet-like meal for hardly more than 15 bucks and about 10 minutes of of prep and cook time. No need to sit in traffic going to and from a restaurant, didn’t blow $70 or more, and the meal was still delicious and satisfying.
How to Do This On Your Own
I know what you’re saying. How can someone who isn’t good at cooking or even know what to buy at the store ever going to pull this off? Don’t worry. You don’t need to be a professional chef or even know your way around the kitchen to prepare a tasty meal and impress your partner. In fact, check back tomorrow for foolproof recipe provided by a guest poster, Jeff Rose. He has created an inexpensive and incredibly simple shrimp pasta dish that is almost impossible to mess up.
If you don’t already have a bunch of recipes under your sleeve, then it can be a little intimidating when thinking about what to prepare and what you need to buy. But, there is help out there. Springpad now has a very useful date night planner just in time for Valentine’s Day. What this planner does is allow you to create the details of your date night and keep everything in one easy to remember place. Even better, it can provide reminders so you don’t forget an important date. In addition, you can then share the details with someone else.
While the date night planner doesn’t have the actual recipes, it does allow you to type in your own if you have a recipe already, or even import a recipe from a URL. This is great news for Food Network fans. When you find your recipe over at the Food Network website, go ahead and import the URL. It will automatically pull in all of the ingredients and a link to the directions right on your date night page.
And if your Valentine’s Day or date night involves more than a meal, you can use the date night planner to search for movies, concerts, restaurants, and more right in your area and add them to your online planner. And if you find it works well for planning your date night, you can use their regular weekly planner that allows you to plan out meals, restaurants, or events for the rest of your week as well.
Save Money on Valentine’s Day and Beyond
If you try a night in this Valentine’s Day and find it successful, I bet you’ll start spending more time at home. Not only will you save money, but you’ll pick up some useful culinary skills and spend even more time together. Of course, it’s still great to get out on occasion and have dinner with friends, but you can make romantic one-on-one dinners part of your regular routine right at home without breaking the bank.
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About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.