Whether you’ve been with your partner for 30 years, or 30 days, Valentine’s Day can be draining both emotionally and financially.

If American sitcoms have taught us anything, it’s that Valentine’s Day can be somewhat of a relationship minefield. There’s a lot of pressure to find the perfect gift, and to plan something truly special for your significant other. And, from a budget standpoint, how are we supposed to gauge how much is too much—or maybe more importantly, how much is not enough?

Personally, I’ve never fully understood why we put this unnecessary stress on ourselves.

Even going all the way back to elementary school, Valentine’s Day confused me. Most of the other holidays we celebrated at school had some form of historical significance, or at least a lesson that corresponded with the origins of whichever holiday we were celebrating.

But for Valentine’s Day, we just showed up and exchanged candy with classmates for no particular reason. Then after we exchanged the candy, our teacher served sugar cookies and fruit punch, which in retrospect seems ill advised from a glycemic standpoint—but I’m getting off track here.

Maybe if we take a closer look at the origins of Valentine’s Day, we can better understand the intended spirit of the celebration.

Why Do We Celebrate Valentine’s Day Anyway?

If you aren’t sure why we celebrate Valentine’s Day, you are definitely not alone. It actually turns out that most historians aren’t entirely clear on the origin story either.

One of the most widely accepted theories however, is that Valentine’s day stems from the feast of Lupercalia that was held between February 13th and 15th in 3rd century Rome. What did the festivities consist of you ask? Buckle up…

The feast of Lupercalia celebrated spring by conducting a “lottery” in which men and women were matched up, and then the men would get drunk (and naked) before whipping the women with the carcasses of recently sacrificed goats and dogs.

Ugh. So romantic. 💗

If that’s not sexy enough for you though, there’s also the story of St. Valentine that some historians claim is the basis for our Valentine’s celebration. It’s unclear on whether or not there were multiple St. Valentines, but at least one dude that went by that name was beaten to death with clubs and then beheaded on February 14th in Rome circa 270 A.D.

Pushing Back Against Dated Customs

Now that I have learned a little bit about the history of Valentine’s Day, I am somehow more confused than when I started.

via giphy

How does any of this translate to lavish gifts and expensive dinners?

It makes about as much sense as the magic rabbit that hides painted chicken eggs for you to find on Easter. Or the morbidly obese wizard that breaks into your house to leave gifts and eat baked goods on Christmas.

At what point do we start to challenge some of these antiquated traditions that require expensive gifts as social obligations? If you’re on a financial independence journey or trying to retire early, does it really make sense to dip into your expendable income for a Valentine’s Day gift?

That’s for you to decide.

Regardless of what your budget is, there are undoubtedly effective ways for you to invest in your relationship this Valentine’s Day instead of just buying a gift for the sake of buying a gift.  

Investing in Your Relationship

The concept of becoming an investor instead of a consumer, is something that can also be applied to our personal lives to strengthen our relationships.

So what are some ways you can invest in your relationship?

Experiences Instead of Stuff

Instead of buying a tangible item, consider planning a memorable outing that you and your partner will both enjoy doing together.

Have you been meaning to check out a local museum, zoo, or art gallery but haven’t had the chance? Now is a great opportunity; and the best part is that you get to set the budget.

Brad in Portland weighs in: “A few years ago I surprised my girlfriend with a trip to a local museum of modern art for Valentine’s Day. We spent the whole day together enjoying the museum exhibits, and then we walked to a nearby park afterward to have a picnic. The whole outing cost less than $50 and we both agree that it’s one of our fondest memories together.”

Hint: If you need ideas, there are lots of inexpensive options in the Things To Do section of Groupon.

The Couple That Learns Together

Taking a class together is a great way to learn new skills, while also growing closer as a couple.

Perhaps a cooking class could help you both hone your culinary skills so you can save money by eating at home instead of eating out. Or maybe a woodworking class could help prepare you for dealing with home repairs.

Regardless of what type of class you decide on, it will be something new and interesting to bond over and enjoy in the future.

Tell Your Story

If you don’t already have a scrapbook that tracks your relationship up until this point, you might consider spending the time together to create one.

Is it a little cheesy? Yeah, I’ll grant you an 8/10 cheese factor, but listen, if you talk to people who are in the twilight of their life, this is the type of stuff they’ll tell you they wish they did more often when they had the chance.

This is something that you’ll enjoy making, looking back on, and possibly sharing with your children one day. Etsy is a great resource for handmade personalized scrapbooks that are very reasonably priced.

Do it for the ‘Gram

Are you really even a couple if you haven’t taken awkwardly staged photos in public? Investing in a set of couples photos will create memories that you can keep quite literally forever.

This is another gift idea that you can set your own budget for. There are a lot of up and coming photographers trying to build their portfolio and get their name out there, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find someone willing to do an inexpensive photo set. (You might also just know someone with a nice camera who would be willing to help you out.)

*Bonus if you submit those photos to a stock photo site as a mini side hustle.

Make Valentine’s Day Great Again

Whether you intend to spend a lot, or nothing at all, with a little creativity there are plenty of options available for meaningful Valentine’s Day gifts that will create priceless memories.

How do you invest in your relationship? Let us know in the comments!