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http://www.crown.org/LIBRARY/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=446

By CCCS Atlanta

Love may be in the air, but for many consumers, paying for Valentine’s Day may last well into the summer and beyond. Last year, consumers spent an average of just under $120 on cards, candy and gifts for loved ones; total industry sales were in excess of $16 billion dollars according to the National Retail Federation.

While Valentine’s Day might offer a post-holiday boost for retailers, for would-be Cupid’s, the holiday takes aim directly at their wallet. "Showing someone that you care shouldn’t involve going into debt," said Mechel Gless, director of education for Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Greater Atlanta. "Thoughtful, creative gifts are much more appreciated and won’t result in late fees and interest penalties."

For many couples, agreeing not to go overboard on Valentine’s Day is important. If you set a spending limit and you don’t stick to it, it could be a sign of financial challenges in your relationship down the road.

CCCS offers some creative ideas to keep you in love and out of debt this Valentine’s Day.

Have dinner in – Instead of making reservations, make her favorite meal and plan a night in. You can have a wonderful meal, complete with dessert for a fraction of the cost of eating out.

Be childish – Plan an inexpensive evening roller skating, bowling, or miniature golfing. Dine on "fun food" – pizza, hot dogs and ice cream.

Get crafty – Gather your favorite pictures of the two of you and tickets, postcards or anything else that reminds you of good times. Compile them all in a scrapbook or photo album and present it to your sweetheart.

Valentine’s Day cards – Whether you opt for a traditional greeting card, a free e-card (try http://www.bluemountain.com or http://www.hallmark.com), or a good old-fashioned hand made card, the most important thing to remember is that nothing beats a heartfelt message telling your loved ones why you think they are special. Instead of a card this year, write a poem and print it on nice stationery to present to that special someone.

Skip the flower delivery – Instead of spending a small fortune on flowers, hand deliver a single rose or a hand-picked bouquet of wildflowers to your favorite girl.

Make sweet music – Download and burn a CD of her favorite songs, songs special to your relationship, or love songs. Add your own voice between tracks—whispering sweet nothings that make it complete.

Satisfy a sweet tooth – Make heart-shaped cookies or cupcakes and deliver them to your special someone at work.

Be hands-on – A massage package from the spa is always a big hit, but for Valentine’s Day it is more intimate – and cost effective – to do it yourself.

Volunteer – Spend an evening together helping others. Work side-by-side in a food kitchen or spend time working at an animal shelter.

Go parking – Arrange for a romantic evening at the park. Pack a picnic dinner, grab a lantern or candles and head outdoors. If it’s too chilly, move your picnic inside.

Go Hollywood – Create your own premiere event by renting the movie each of you likes best. Add some popcorn and candy and you’ll be the star of the evening.

"Every day provides us with an opportunity to express our love to the special people in our lives," said Gless. "The best gift you can give is one from the heart. Money can’t buy love."