How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day on a Budget

Love is in the air and the money is flowing like heart emojis. According to the National Retail Federation, the average American spends $221.34 on Valentine’s Day each year. That’s a lot of money to spend on a one-day celebration!

Lucky for you, there are ways to enjoy a romantic evening with your partner without going into debt. Here’s how:

Work with a budget

Instead of spending mindlessly and regretting it afterward, designate a budget for all your Valentine’s Day expenses, and be sure to stick to it. In addition to helping you keep costs under control, working out a budget in advance will allow you to choose how to spend your money. You may decide to spend more on a gift and less on dinner, or maybe you’d rather skip both of these and splurge on a fun activity instead. Best of all, a preplanned budget means there will be no regrets spoiling the memory of your special day.

Shop smarter with a sales app

Check out shopping apps, like ShopSavvy or PriceGrabber, to score deals on that dream Valentines’ Day gift. The apps help you compare prices at online and in-store retailers, locate coupons for items you’re searching for and even bring up cash-back options to put money back into your wallet. Why pay full price when you don’t have to?

Save on flowers

Did you know that Americans spend close to $2 billion on Valentine’s Day flowers each year?

Save on those beautiful blossoms with these tips:

  • Shop for flowers at Costco, Trader Joe’s or Aldi. You’ll find great deals on fresh flowers that will outlast the cheaper ones you might find at street vendors.
  • Don’t buy flowers online. They’re unlikely to last well through the shipping and delivery process.
  • Use the food. The small packet of flower food that comes along with your blossoms will help them last longer and stay vibrant and fresh — but only if you use it.

Bring down your dinner costs

Don’t break your budget on a romantic dinner for two.

First, consider dining in. Yes, we know your kitchen table isn’t the hottest place in town, but you can find another area in your home and turn it into a special spot for a special meal. Consider laying down a blanket in front of the fireplace for a picnic-inspired experience, moving a small table into the living room or even setting up a cozy corner in a rarely used room in your home, such as a storage room or guest bedroom. Cook up a storm, or order in — you’ll still save on restaurant costs by forgoing beverages, gratuities and other add-ons you end up blowing money on when you eat out.

If you or your loved one are really looking forward to dining out, make it less expensive by learning how to beat the psychological tricks that restaurateurs play on diners to get them to spend more:

  • Look left. Restaurant owners strategically place the most profitable items on the menu in the right-hand corner — the spot most people look to automatically.
  • Say the price out loud. Notice the lack of dollar signs on the menu? It’s a trick to get you to spend more. Make the price real in your mind by saying it out loud.
  • Ignore the decoys. Restaurants famously place popular dishes near ridiculously overpriced items on the menu to make diners believe they’re getting a great deal. Your weapon against this trick is to completely ignore the most expensive item on the menu.
  • Dumb it down. Reading a restaurant menu can sometimes feel like reading French — even if you’re eating Italian. When choosing what to order, isolate the actual item on the menu instead of getting lost in all those descriptive phrases.
  • Take no notice of negative space. Another restaurant trick that gets diners to spend more is to create a pocket of empty space around high-profit items on the menu. This draws the eye to where the restaurant owner wants it to go and gets you to spend more than planned.

Celebrate late

If you dare, postpone your Valentine’s Day celebrations by a day or two for steep savings on all related expenses. You’ll find Valentine’s Day candy and greeting cards on clearance, gifts already marked down, and you won’t have to pay inflated restaurant prices for the same meal.

Use these hacks to plan the perfect Valentine’s Day on a budget.

Your Turn: How do you save on Valentine’s Day costs? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
clark.com
rd.com
nerdwallet.com
mentalfloss.com

Simple Steps to Start Saving

Everyone knows how important it is to regularly put money into savings, but research shows that 25% of Americans have no emergency savings at all.

Don’t let this be you! If you’re ready to start saving, but you don’t know where to begin, Advantage One Credit Union can help. Here are seven simple steps that can get you on the fast track to building your nest egg today:

Step 1: Set a goal

It’s always a good idea to work backward when setting up a plan.

Take a few minutes to think over your long-term and short-term savings goals. These can include saving for retirement, a dream vacation or covering a large purchase like a recreational vehicle or a new phone. Make sure to assign a dollar value for each goal.

It’s important to note that, when you actually start putting money into savings on a regular basis, it’s best to start with building an emergency fund that includes three to six months’ worth of living expenses before moving on to other saving goals.Outlining your more personal goals before you get started will help motivate you on your journey toward saving.

Step 2: Start tracking your expenses and income

Determine exactly how much money you need to get through each month. For three months, keep a paper or digital record of each of your expenses and all streams of income.

As you complete this step, be sure to include seasonal and occasional expenses. Calculate an estimated annual expense amount for these costs and then divide it by 12. Add this value when factoring your monthly expenses.

At the end of the three-month period, review your expenses and income to see how much money you really require to live on each month.

Step 3: Trim your expenses

If you find that your income exceeds your expenses by a generous amount, you’re in a good place and you can skip to the next step.

If your expenses are greater than your income or the numbers are too close for comfort, it’s time to scale back. Look for ways to trim your expenses without feeling the pinch. Start with your biggest non-fixed expense, and move from there, cutting costs wherever you can.

The money you trimmed from your expenses can be used for savings.

Step 4: Create a budget

With your newly trimmed expenses, you’re ready to create a monthly budget. Using your list of monthly expenses and income, designate an appropriate amount for each monthly expense. Be sure to include savings in your budget — as if it were actually an expense.

When working through this step, you can go the old-fashioned route and use pen and paper for a detailed budget, or use a budgeting app, like Mint or YNAB.

Step 5: Choose your savings tools

With your numbers all worked out, you can move on to choosing a place to park your savings.

It may be a good idea to choose a separate location for your long-term and short-term saving goals.

For long-term savings, look for a savings option that offers an attractive interest rate, like a share certificate at Advantage One Credit Union or an IRA for retirement savings. Keep in mind that you may not be able to open a long-term savings account immediately if you don’t have the amount of funds required for your minimum initial deposit.

Short-term savings are better off in an account that allows for easy access and some monthly transactions if needed, like a checking account or money market account at Advantage One Credit Union.

Step 6: Make it automatic

You’ve got your numbers worked out, and if all goes well, your savings should start growing today.

Unfortunately, though, impulses can sometimes get in the way of our best intentions, holding us back from reaching our goals. Keep this from happening to your savings by making them automatic. Ask us about setting up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account so you never forget to feed your savings again.

Step 7: Review and adjust as necessary

Your savings plan is good to go! Remember, the earlier you start, the more interest your funds will accrue.

While you may have automated your savings, that doesn’t mean you can set it and forget it. Be sure to review your budget every now and then and to check whether you should adjust the amount allocated for savings.

Your Turn: What are your saving tips for beginners? Share them with us in the comments.

Learn More:
thebalance.com
nerdwallet.com
lifeandabudget.com

Money-Saving Tips From Top Bloggers

A roundup of the best cost-cutting tips from bloggers
Who can’t useSavingMoney a little financial advice? We all want to sock away extra money; however, most of us more commonly check our bank statements, wondering where exactly the money has gone. Every cent spent — from groceries to gas — may not immediately feel hefty, but these costs do add up.

Pinching pennies doesn’t have to be difficult, however. A few simple cost-cutting tips can be incorporated into your everyday life, and make all the difference. Take a cue from these top bloggers about how to save your money, and start applying their advice to your own situation today:

Save spare change – You know those annoying coins swiveling around on the bottom of your purse or in a front-seat car compartment? It’s money that you don’t think twice about, but if you toss all of that spare change into a bucket, you may be surprised at how quickly it can add up. That’s what The Thrifty Peach blogger Robin’s husband did and the couple saved $357.

Cook – It’s that simple. Even just a few meals a week, preparing a homemade meal can save you big (and it’s healthier for you, too).

“The best way to save money on groceries is to prepare meals at home using as few convenience items as possible — this means hamburger helper, frozen dinners, and canned soups that have ridiculous amounts of sodium. Prepared foods are more expensive than staples,” according to Gary of Gajizmo.

Find a creative way to reduce energy expenses – A great example of this is curtains. These pieces of fabric are all you need to lessen the costs of heat or air conditioning.

“Look at ways to regulate the temperature in your apartment so you can use less energy on cooling it during the summer and heating it during the winter. A simple way to do this is invest in some ‘blackout’ curtains that cover windows and can reduce energy costs by up to 25%,” says Ben Feldman of ReadyForZero.

Track your net worth – “Tracking your net worth is an essential step to managing your finances,” says Rob Berger of the blog Dough Roller. “In a single number your net worth can measure your financial progress, whether you are climbing out of debt, building an investment portfolio, or both.” Your net worth is a way to measure your financial progress each year. That said, you don’t have to have a large income to have money in the bank, as long as you have a high net worth.

Use (and decode) coupons – Something you might already know is to spend time clipping coupons — they are, after all, free paper money. But what you also should know is how to make sense of them, which will save you more money in the end. Tracie Fobes of PennyPinchinmom.com explains further:

“When you look at a coupon, you should disregard the photo you see printed. Many manufacturers will run a shot of the most expensive item in the product line in hopes that you will spend the most money.”

Repurpose items – Before dumping things in the trash, consider if you can use them again.

“Look twice at things before throwing them away. Could you cut off the fronts of some of your Christmas cards to use as gift tags next year? Could you paint that old piece of furniture or spray paint a chandelier to give it a new life? Save nice glass jars for giving. You’ll never have to buy a box for shipping if you save a stash!” says Kristl Story of TheBudgetDiet.com.

Save on gifts – If each year during birthdays or around the holidays you realize you’re spending a lot of cash on gifts, you may need to slow it down. If you have a large family, consider picking a name out of a hat to find out whom to buy a gift for.

“Instead of giving gifts to each one of your siblings and their children consider drawing names. In my family, we only give gifts to the children, no longer to my siblings,” says Mercedes Levey of CommonSensewithMoney.com. Also, consider gifts that don’t cost physical money. “Offer to bring me a homemade dinner for my family, or maybe just come and visit while I get stuff done around the house. Consider doing this also with older relatives. They probably appreciate more you coming over to visit and helping with household chores or maybe doing their holiday shopping for them. Help is an often overlooked gift and it’s probably one of the most appreciated.”

There’s advice everywhere, so be sure to do what’s best for you.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.