The beginning of the year, although somewhat dreary, can actually be a very romantic time. For those wanting a wedding, a proposal in the opening months can mean a hot summer vacation to have a chapel wedding. Cold nights and dark evenings also mean plenty of opportunities to snuggle up and watch a film or do a wintery getaway.

Of course, the beginning of the year also includes Valentine’s Day, and set menus and restaurant specials can mean a price hike for many. There are many alternatives, however, for cash-strapped lovebirds who want to mark a special occasion.

Skip the clichés

Card companies, restaurants and manufacturers make a killing off of your desire to impress a loved one. Even though just over half the population celebrates Valentine’s Day, Americans are expected to spend $143.56 each for this day, which is a pretty incredible figure. You can still absolutely impress a loved one, but not have to buy the box of chocolates, the elaborate bouquet of flowers and an expensive 10-course romantic dinner for two.

Finding a small token or recognition of who they are as a person and what they love means far more than a big cardboard shaped heart. To do this affordably, all you need is a little time and planning. Instead of running into the most expensive florist at 6pm the day before your big night, have a think during a week or two beforehand to mull over what really makes them tick.

If the clichés weren’t your thing in the first place, the things like an evening bike ride or walk might provide some rare and romantic alone time. If you live in a colder climate, you might prefer the latter; wrapping up warm and taking a moonlight walk to your local bar is a chance to walk and talk and get out of the house. If you live in a city centre or town, finding a fountain to sit near or a park bench to star-gaze is also a movie-like moment you can share for free.

Dine in

This can initially conjure images of a microwave meal for two and a tea light on the coffee table, but it doesn’t have to be so. Making a slow-cooked beef casserole, a proper carbonara (no jarred sauces if you’re going all-out romantic) or a melt in the middle chocolate pudding at home show twice the effort of a pricey restaurant meal. If your other half has a favourite meal they never get to eat, all the better. Coming home to the smell of cooking and seeing the dining room or kitchen diner completely transformed is just as impressive as being told you’re being taken out for a meal.

Setting up your dining area with candles, table confetti and hand-picked leaves and flowers mean that you get to talk about what you want, when you want, without being kicked out because someone else needs the table. Using your own champagne bucket, or a handy alternative, shows that you can do all the bells and whistles at home. Plus, it means that you’re likely to do this again – why leave love and romance to just Valentine’s day?

Pairing this with a special movie night at home, or maybe even a game of cards while you finish the bottle of fizz to get you talking and laughing might provide a rare night of intimacy and talking amongst a busy work life.

A proposal?

If you’re looking to February, or more specifically Valentine’s Day, as the time for a romantic getaway, then last minute bargains are always available. There are plenty getaways within the US, which avoids the extra cost of flights, currency exchange and checked luggage. In fact, last minute getaways are a cheaper option in general, with people spending less on average if they impulsively go for a late vacation.

It’s understandable to want to make a big gesture with a romantic getaway, so pretty soon all the champagne, flowers and maybe even…er…a ring… might add up. Staggering the cost over the year ahead might make sense for those who don’t have the budget, Bonsai Finance loans, for example, are available to those who can’t bear to look at their credit rating. Popping the question doesn’t necessarily need a private boat and a room full of dedicated staff. Assembling the moment yourself shows that you not only care but that you’re dependable.

What’s on?

Keeping your eyes peeled for free events around town will provide a romantic evening for those who can’t afford to see a big show. Cinema deals, free art exhibitions or a gig on at your local bar give you an excuse to get dressed up for the evening and make an event of it. Seeing what’s happening in your own town makes for a small ‘staycation’, meaning that instead of taking the sights of your hometown for granted, you can explore them all over again with the one you love.

Get creative

Aside from the bouquet of flowers, chocolates, the gift that most people sweat over when it comes to romance is the card. It doesn’t help that shops are usually full of gushy and elaborate cards that might make non-traditionalists wince. Even if you can’t draw, practicing a bit of calligraphy with a few kitsch hearts dotted around your message on the front of the card will still look cute and impressive. If you’re so inclined, writing a poem or your ownmessage inside is better than an automated ‘roses are red violets are blue’ Hallmark message.

If you find yourself counting your last dollars regularly, then you shouldn’t have to leave romance behind. Ultimately, what makes for intimacy is rarely a show of money. Whether you decide to pick your own flowers, write your own poems or show off some new-found cookery skills, impressing your loved one is a show of effort and thought. If you are planning to pop the question, they’ll hopefully be after your heart and not your wallet.