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By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 2/9/2009 5:11:03 PM ET 2009-02-09T22:11:03

Everyone knows that Valentine’s Day is supposed to be romantic. You know what’s anything but romantic, though? Fights over money.

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Yes, spending too much on this holiday, particularly during tough economic times like these, could lead to utterly unromantic clashes mere weeks from now when your credit card bill shows up in the mail.

As unpleasant as that scenario sounds, there’s no need to worry: You really and truly don’t have to spend big bucks to enjoy a special day together. The following tips can help you brainstorm fun-yet-frugal ideas for what could turn out to be your best Valentine’s Day yet.

1. Devise a plan. Especially if money is tight right now, sit down and talk about what makes the most sense for both of you this Valentine’s Day. Is this really the year to long for diamonds? For expensive flowers that will wilt and die in a matter of days? For a high-dollar night out? Instead, consider focusing on spending quality, memorable time together this year — sans a big outlay of cash.

2.Stay in and relax. Valentine’s Day conveniently falls on a Saturday this year — and that means you could put your heads together and dream up the most ideal day at home ever. This Thursday or Friday, you could stock up on your favorite foods and drinks and rent movies that you both want to see. Tidy up the house ahead of time so you’ll be able to resist the urge to wipe down countertops and fold laundry all day long. If you have children, make baby-sitting arrangements for at least part of the day if at all possible.

3. Enjoy a real spa retreat. Part of your romantic day in could include a trip to the “spa” you create at home. For a surprisingly reasonable sum of money, you could swing by a discount retailer this week and nab some lotions, bubble bath, bath salts, candles and even a bathrobe and slippers if you need them. One — or both of you together — could combine these items into a gift basket that could keep on giving for weeks and months to come. Clean your bathtub and the rest of your bathroom thoroughly before Saturday so you won’t have to be bothered with such chores on your day off together, and get your “spa” all ready before the big day.

4. The weather’s about to change, so appreciate it while you can. Maybe staying in for the whole day just isn’t your speed. If you decide to head out, you still don’t have to burn through too much cash. For instance, many parts of the country still have snow on the ground — but not for too terribly much longer. Could you bundle up and go snowshoeing or hiking with Thermoses of hot chocolate and a picnic lunch that you pack from home? Or, if the weather isn’t that cold where you live, could you do something completely out of the ordinary for the two of you, such as taking a rowboat or paddleboat out on a nearby lake, or going for a stroll through a park or neighborhood you’ve never visited before?

5. Dinner doesn’t have to cost a bundle. There’s really no need to drop $90 to $250 on a romantic dinner at a restaurant. In fact, with some advance planning, you could have a fabulous candlelit dinner at home — and, heck, you could even get all dressed up for it! Again, be sure you have every single food item on hand before Saturday. You don’t want to be bothered with having to run out to the store to pick up lemons or onions.

6. Get all gussied up for a low-budget night out. If the two of you really want to hit the town on Saturday night, you could simply have coffee or a drink and dessert at a dark, romantic bistro or an expensive cafe or restaurant. At any time of the year, this avoid-the-entrée trick is a surefire way to savor the atmosphere — and your date — without busting your budget.

7. Enjoy some live music or theater. Your local entertainment listings just may reveal that a college or university in your area is offering up all sorts of nifty live entertainment on Feb. 14. Performances by a college music or theater department may be free or may cost a fraction of the price charged by professional orchestras or opera and theater houses.

8. Seek out some quiet time to read and think. Here’s a potential date idea if you’ve both been stressed out lately: You could wander through a library or a bookstore that has a coffee shop and encourages browsing. Rediscover passages you love from your favorite books, and enjoy the silence. Just be careful not to blow too much money on overpriced paperbacks during an outing like this!

9.If you give each other gifts, do something thoughtful. One way to avoid overspending this year is to agree to give each other gift certificates for your services. Such services could include making a nice dinner, cleaning the house, repairing the car or giving a massage. You also could make a handmade gift that genuinely is nice, not cheap or disappointing. For ideas on thoughtful do-it-yourself presents, check out this past 10 Tips column on the subject .

10.Write your feelings down. With the help of a package of inexpensive Valentines from the drugstore or grocery store — or, for that matter, any kind of paper — you could write out dozens of reasons why you love your mate. Leave the messages all over the house, in both noticeable and hidden-away places. This is another one of those gifts that could keep on giving for several weeks, if not months, down the road.

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