Let’s be real: though eating chocolate and going out for dinner are inarguably fun activities, celebrating Valentine’s Day can be stressful. If you’re riding solo, there’s often pressure to immediately hunt down a semi-decent suitor and/or a nearby Galentine’s Day alternative celebration. If you’re in a relationship, there’s pressure to snag a seat at the fanciest bistro in town and splurge on champagne and crème brûlée.
And the harsh truth is that our cultural ideas about the best way to celebrate love can get downright expensive. On Valentine’s Day, consumers spend $136.57 on average, and the prices of individual items representing your blissful love have risen over the past 12 months —gift givers are spending about eight percent more compared to 2016 on commonly purchased items like a dozen long-stemmed roses, according to the Cost of Loving Index. Even that perfectly sentimental greeting card will be pricier — it’s up 16 percent from last year. Most of us live with this frustration because we believe that ponying up some cash is the only real way to celebrate the holiday.
But embracing Valentine's Day doesn't have to mean having a pricey dinner in a restaurant or going into debt to buy the last bouquet of roses in town. Those things are fine if you want them — but know that many couples have DIY Valentine's traditions that are a reflection of what they appreciate about the holiday, and each other. Read on for four couples on their homespun V-Day traditions.
Ashlee & Justin Young: Married 7 years
Each Valentine’s Day, Ashlee gives Justin her heart — in the form of a giant chocolate chip cookie.
“He has received one every year from me, and it is probably his favorite gift each year,” Ashlee said. “He really loves baked goods.”
It all started back in 2007, when Ashlee was stumped about what to get her then-boyfriend for Valentine’s Day. As it turned out, her best friend’s mom made oversized, heart-shaped cookies for friends and family.
“Justin’s favorite cookie is chocolate chip, so I thought it was perfect,” Ashlee said.
The couple has moved around a lot in the past decade, which means the heart-shaped cookie tradition has morphed into an “exceptionally large cookie” tradition.
“After moving to Omaha, I discovered a local bakery that makes delicious 1.5-inch thick cookie cakes,” Ashlee said. “Although it isn’t heart-shaped, he still looks forward to it every year, and I’m pretty sure he would be devastated if I ever forgot it.”
The spirit of consuming huge, heart-shaped items lives on, though, in the new tradition the couple made when they became parents-to-be.
“Ever since we were pregnant with our son Harrison in February 2014, we have decided not to go out to dinner for Valentine’s Day,” Ashlee said. “Instead we order a heart-shaped pizza and enjoy our time together as a little family.”
Jeanelly Concepcion & Wilbur Santiago: Married 2 years
Eight years ago, Jeanelly and Wilbur moved into their first house together, and they wanted to make that Valentine’s Day in their new home special.
“We really wanted to use that kitchen to the fullest,” Jeanelly said. “I’ve always loved to cook, but I wanted to do something that would rival any restaurant. I pulled a recipe from the internet for a seafood carbonara linguini, asked him to help, and it just became a tradition!”
The couple — who’ve been together for 12 years — now spend each Valentine's Day avoiding the restaurant scene altogether in favor of a more intimate night in, making dinner together.
They did try venturing out for the holiday once, though — but it didn’t exactly go as planned.
“The one time we decided to go to a restaurant, I made reservations and still had to wait a long time to be seated,” Jeanelly said. “We waited even more to get our food, and it was cold.”
That whole experience solidified their belief that, for them, V-Day is best spent away from the masses.
“We decided that we’d keep our tradition of cooking something special at home and enjoying a glass of wine and each other’s company.”
Johnica & Matt Morrow: Married 4 years
Cooking at home is also part of how Johnica and Matthew spend their Valentine’s Day. The couple of eight years splits up the culinary duties on the big day.
“I make us breakfast, and he makes us dinner,” Johnica said. “I think that it really stemmed from being broke students when we first met. We didn’t want to spend the money going out, but we still wanted to spend the day celebrating our love.”
Johnica has made everything from bacon roses and heart-shaped pancakes to tortillas and eggs in a hat — as well as bacon snails and a “failed attempt” at a bacon bowl to hold breakfast fried rice. Matt’s specialties include sushi and steak.
“We both love that the other one takes the time to make a special meal,” Johnica said. “Plus, we enjoy forgetting everything else for the day.”
Having a tradition for Valentine’s Day is important for the Morrows because it helps them stay grounded and focused on each other.
“It is all too easy to take your significant other for granted when you see them all the time, so it’s nice to have a holiday that allows you to take a breath and really appreciate and prioritize one another in a purposeful way.”
Meg Stice & Dillon Crawford: Together 6 years
Meg and Dillon are #TeamCookAtHome as well, and they enjoy having a special soundtrack.
“Every year we pick a meal and go to the grocery store and purchase all the ingredients we will need,” Meg said. “After we get home, we prepare the meal to the sound of old jazz music.”
The couple has spent every Valentine’s Day cooking together side by side, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Traditions on Valentine’s Day can kind of make the holiday feel less cliché and more personal,” Meg said. “The best gift anyone can give is time. Spending time together creates memories that resonate more with me than just going to a restaurant where everyone else has also decided to go. The act of creating something takes teamwork, and I really feel like it has made us bond even more.”
On this year’s V-Day menu? Homemade pancakes, bacon, and eggs.
“I love breakfast for dinner, and this will be a fun one to make together — probably in our pajamas!”