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Making Valentine’s Day Special on a Shoestring

By Jonni McCoy
Author of Frugal Families

CBN.comAt our house, Valentine’s Day is a special day for all of us. It’s not just for my husband and me, but also for each of us. We use the day to tell each other how special we are to one another. With this in mind, planning for the day takes on a new dimension: The meal must be fun, not just delicious; the gifts must be fun but frugal; and the activities must be family oriented. How is a family supposed to accomplish this on a penny budget?

Planning is the key to any successful day. Leaving the event to the last minute will only cost us a bundle. Decide ahead of time what the meal should look like, what the activities could be and the gifts should be. Use library books for craft, meal, game, decorating, and gift ideas. I have listed a few of my favorite resources (taken from Frugal Families) at the end of this article.

The day’s events do not need to be too elaborate to be special: It’s the time spent together preparing for it that speaks to the family members. A few simple touches can make this day fun. Have the kids cut out paper hearts and decorate the house. Use different colors and types of paper (foil, lace, etc.). Make paper chains from red and white paper. Make a chain or wreath from valentine cards you have received. We have found some great, unopened Valentine’s Day decorations at thrift stores too.

Another thing we do is study the origins of this day. We read about the saint called Valentine and why showing love is a feature of this day. There are several books in the library about this story.

One more of my favorite things to do is to have my valentines re-mailed from America’s Sweetheart City – Loveland, Colorado. For fifty-six years, Loveland has been offering it’s annual valentine program to the public for free. Anyone can receive a unique stamp cancellation by placing the valentine that is to be mailed from Loveland in a stamped and addressed envelope, then placing that envelope into a second envelope, stamped and addressed to: Postmaster, ATTN: Valentines, USPS, Loveland, CO 80538-9998. Your valentine will be removed from the outer envelope and hand stamped with the Loveland cachet. To ensure that your valentine arrives by February 14, Loveland must receive it by February 3.

Here are a few other ideas that we do to make this day special:

  • Talk as a family about giving an extra gift to a local organization that helps the poor. Go together and give the money personally (if possible), accompanied by a valentine that you have made together.

  • Make chocolate heart lollipops: Get an inexpensive chocolate mold and sticks from a craft store and pour melted chocolate into them.

  • Make strawberry milkshakes (and any other "pink" food you can think of).

  • Make festive ice cubes: Place candy hearts in ice cube trays before they freeze. Serve at dinner in the drinks.

  • Study old-fashioned valentines and make one using doilies and construction paper.

  • Bake a heart-shaped cake for the family dessert. Hide cinnamon candy hearts throughout the cake for fun!

  • Make paper placemats and cover them with clear contact paper.

  • Make coupon books and/or bookmarks for each other.

  • Have a candy treasure hunt.

  • Do a science project: Cut the base of the stem on a white carnation and put it in a glass of water that has red food coloring in it. In a few hours the flower will turn red.

  • Make an acrostic poem for someone with a valentine word (love, pink, red, heart, kiss, etc.). Make each line something you like about that person.

  • Watch a Charlie Brown movie together.

For your spouse, a touching gesture or gift usually means more than an expensive gift. Many of the gift items listed above would be well received, or make a coupon book (a back rub, a foot rub, doing their chores for a day, etc.), a handmade card, or a poem. Here are a few more of my favorite ideas:

  • A nicely written list of all the reasons that you love and appreciate him or her. Go an extra step and make the paper that you write it on.

  • Bring your loved one breakfast in bed.

  • Cut out paper hearts and write love notes on them. Place them throughout the house (and in their lunch box) so he or she will find them all day.

  • Put a heart-shaped cookie in his or her lunch.

  • Go for a walk, holding hands.

  • Pull out your wedding album and look through it together.

  • Listen to romantic music (classical, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra).

  • Send an e-mail to each other letting the other know they are being thought about.

The main meal that day should be special as well. Each course can be planned to express your love or just plain have fun. The dessert can be a scrumptious treat that is only served on special occasions; the drink can be a pink-colored drink (milkshake, soda, Kool-Aid, etc.); and the main dish can be a family favorite. How do we do that on a budget? Simple – plan the meals around frugal recipes and shop ahead of time.

I’ve picked an assortment of my family favorites for Valentine’s Day that are frugal, fun, and festive. I have taken the recipes from my frugal cookbook, Miserly Meals. I hope they help you get some ideas for your special day.

For starters, you could serve Hummus (see recipe below) or Quesadillas (see recipe below). How are these festive? Make them special! Add a few drops of red food coloring to the hummus to make it pink, and cut the quesadillas with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. For the beverage offer a pink drink. You can make a milkshake such as the Banana Smoothie (see recipe below) and add red food coloring or replace the banana with strawberries to make it naturally pink. Or offer the Zesty Tomato Juice (see recipe below) and tell your family that they add zip to your life!

The rest of the meal can have a "red theme" to it – serve foods that are red to symbolize hearts. The soup can be a tomato or minestrone soup; the main dish can be sloppy Joes, Enchilitos (see recipe below), or a Spanish Potato (see recipe below). If time is an issue, put on the crock pot early in the day with something like Enchilada Casserole (see recipe below).

For dessert you can offer a heart-shaped cake with cinnamon hearts baked thoughout the cake, heart-shaped cookies that the kids helped decorate, a Chocolate Raspberry Frosty (see recipe below) that is delicious and frugal, or a yummy Berry Cobbler (see recipe below).

None of these recipes should break the bank. Especially if you have bought some of these items ahead of time when they are on sale. And as I say in my book, Miserly Moms, "You should never confuse frugality with depriving yourself." Having fun and being on a budget can go together!

Happy Celebrating!



Serves 12 (makes 3 cups)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

▲Nutritional Analysis Per Serving

Calories 86

Fat 1 grams

Cholesterol 0 mg

Carbohydrates 16grams

Fiber 3 grams

Protein 3 grams

Sodium 234 mg

2 cans garbanzo beans (15 oz.)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 T. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. salt

After draining the liquid from the garbanzo beans, pour the beans into a blender. Blend for 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.

Options: some people enjoy adding cup Tahini (sesame seed paste), and/or 1 cup cooked carrots to the blend. Add these with the can of beans.

Note: This is a Middle-Eastern dish that is served with raw vegetable slices, crackers, or pita bread that can be dipped in the hummus.

Cost per serving (1/4 cup): $0.13


Serves 12
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1-2 minutes

▲Nutritional Analysis Per Serving

Calories 186

Fat 1 grams

Cholesterol 18 mg

Carbohydrates 20 grams

Fiber 1 grams

Protein 8 grams

Sodium 275 mg

2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
12 fat-free flour tortillas (7-inch)

Place the tortillas on a cookie sheet (you will have to do this in batches since they all will not fit on one sheet). Sprinkle cheese over them evenly. Place in the oven under the broiler for 1-2 minutes. Or heat over medium heat on an ungreased cast iron skillet. Watch them closely as they burn quickly. Remove from oven and immediately fold the tortillas in half. Cut each into 3 triangles.

Variation: For added flavor, combine a few teaspoons mayonnaise with diced green chilies and Tabasco sauce to taste, and then spread a little on each tortilla before adding cheese.

For a main dish, add diced meat to the cheese before baking.

Cost per serving (3 wedges): $0.19



Serves 2
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

▲Nutritional Analysis Per Serving

Calories 104

Fat 2 grams

Cholesterol 8 mg

Carbohydrates 20 grams

Fiber 1 grams

Protein 2 grams

Sodium 33 mg

1 banana
1 T. honey
1/2 cup low-fat milk
1 dash cinnamon
1/2 cup ice

Slice the banana into thick chunks. Place in the bottom of a blender. Add the rest of the ingredients. Place lid on blender and turn blender on for 1-2 minutes, or until the drink is smooth.

Pour into two glasses and serve immediately.

A dash of nutmeg on the top of the drink makes a nice decoration and adds flavor.

Option: Add cup frozen berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries) to the drink before blending.

Cost per serving (3/4 cup): $0.19


Serves 1
Preparation Time: 5 minutes

▲Nutritional Analysis Per Serving

Calories 25

Fat 0 grams

Cholesterol 0 mg

Carbohydrates 7 grams

Fiber 1 grams

Protein 1 grams

Sodium 669 mg

4 oz. tomato juice
1 T. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 dash Tabasco sauce, to your taste
1 pinch celery salt, to your taste
1 pinch salt, to your taste
1 pinch pepper, to your taste
1 lime slice
cracked ice (optional)

Combine all of the ingredients into a large glass, reserving the lime slice for garnish. Stir well. Let sit for a minute to chill.

Pour off the liquid, leaving the ice behind (if desired).

For a nice presentation, serve with a stalk of celery as added garnish.

Cost per serving ( cup): $0.18

ENCHILITO (Enchilada-Burrito)

Serves 8
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

▲Nutritional Analysis Per Serving

Calories 440

Fat 23 grams

Cholesterol 79 mg

Carbohydrates 44 grams

Fiber 5 grams

Protein 25 grams

Sodium 818 mg

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 tsp. chili powder
1/3 cup onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, pressed
tsp. salt
cup flour
cup water
16 oz. canned fat-free refried beans
1 cups Taco Hot Sauce (see recipe in Sauces & Dressings chapter)
1 cups cheddar cheese, grated
10 fat-free flour tortillas (7 inch)

In a skillet, brown the beef. Remove from heat and drain. Return the meat to the skillet and add the flour, chili powder, onion, garlic and salt. Toss so the spices are mixed evenly. Add the water and stir over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until smooth and creamy.

In a separate pan warm the refried beans over low-medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

In each tortilla place 3 tablespoons of refried beans and 3 tablespoons of ground beef. Fold the tortilla sides in and over the beef then flip the tortilla over so the folded side is down. Place it on a microwave-safe plate. Cover the tortilla with 3 tablespoons of Taco Hot Sauce and 2 heaping tablespoons of cheese. Heat the dish in the microwave on high for 30-40 seconds, or until the cheese melts. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas.

Cost per serving (1-2 enchilitos): $0.75


Serves 6
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Crock pot Cook Time: 4 hours

▲Nutritional Analysis Per Serving

Calories 371

Fat 19 grams

Cholesterol 72 mg

Carbohydrates 25 grams

Fiber 2 grams

Protein 23 grams

Sodium 988 mg

1 lb. lean ground beef
15 oz. canned tomato sauce
2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup water
5 fat-free flour tortillas (taco size)
1/2 onion, diced
1 cup grated cheese (cheddar or Monterey jack)

Mix the tomato sauce, water and Tabasco sauce in a bowl. Place half of the sauce mixture into a crock pot. Layer a tortilla, of the cheese, onions and meat, another tortilla, another of the cheese, onions and meat. Continue layering until all of the cheese, onions, and meat are used. Top with a tortilla. Cover the tortilla with the other half of the tomato sauce mixture. Cook on low for 4 hours.

Serve with Spanish Rice, and add condiments such as cheese, sour cream, salsa, onions, etc.

NOTE: Substitute any type of meat: pork, chicken, TVP, etc.


Serves 4
Preparation Time: 5 minutes

▲Nutritional Analysis Per Serving

Calories 371

Fat 14 grams

Cholesterol 53 mg

Carbohydrates 58 grams

Fiber 0 grams

Protein 7 grams

Sodium 200 mg

1 cup low-fat milk
cup Chocolate Syrup (see Dessert chapter for recipe)
3 cups frozen raspberries

Pour the milk and chocolate syrup into a blender. Slowly add the raspberries, 1 cup at a time. Blend for 15-30 seconds after adding each cup, or more if it is still too chunky. Do not over mix, as this will thin the drink down.

Serve immediately.

Options: Other frozen fruit can be substituted for the raspberries (strawberry, banana, etc.).

Cost per serving (1 cup): $0.54




Serves 6
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

▲ Nutritional Analysis Per Serving

Calories 189

Fat 7 grams

Cholesterol 16 mg

Carbohydrates 31 grams

Fiber 5 grams

Protein 4 grams

Sodium 342 mg

cup brown sugar
2 T. whole wheat flour
4 cups fresh or frozen berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, or boysenberries)*
tsp. lemon juice
1 T. water

*My favorite combination of berries is 2 cups blueberries with 2 cups blackberries.

3 T. butter
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
tsp. salt
2/3 cup low-fat milk

In a small saucepan, make the filling by combining the berries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and water. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once a thick sauce forms, remove from heat and pour into a greased 2-qt baking dish or bread pan.

In a large mixing bowl, make the "crust" recipe by cutting the butter into the flour with a pastry blender until it is fine and crumbly. Add the sugar, baking powder, and salt, and mix. Stir in the milk and mix to form a sticky dough. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto the berry mixture, covering all the berries. Sprinkle the top of the crust with 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar. Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Cost per serving (1 1/4 cup): $0.43


Fisher, Diana. Disney’s Make Your Own Valentines. Walter Foster, 1999.

Ross, Kathy. Best Holiday Crafts Ever. Millbrook Pr Trade, 1996.

Ross, Kathy. Crafts for All Seasons. Millbrook, 2000.

Talkington, Bruce. Winnie the Pooh’s Valentine Kit. Disney Press, 1998.

Reprinted with permission of Bethany House Publishers. No part of this article or recipes can be reprinted without permission. All Rights Reserved.

Jonni McCoy is the author of Miserly Meals (2002 Bethany House), Miserly Moms – Living on One Income in a Two-Income Economy (2001 Bethany House), and Frugal Families (2003 Bethany House). She writes and presents seminars about living on less to homeschooling and women's groups nationwide. Jonni and her husband make their home in Colorado where they homeschool their children.

For more information about Jonni's latest book, Frugal Families, visit Bethany House.

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