- Pay off your debts.
- Build up your emergency fund.
- Add to your IRA.
- Save your Valentine’s Day budget for a larger purchase later on.
Let’s face it: Americans are pros at spending (and wasting) huge sums of money, and that’s especially true during any national holiday.
Before Christmas, crowds of parents queue up to snag that year’s overpriced “must-have” toy. And only few months later, we drop boatloads of cash for pastel one-wear dresses, lavish buffets, and overpriced Easter candy that will lead to even more expensive dental bills.
In between, there’s Valentine’s Day – the one day where we prove our love with another round of material pageantry. And we’re not forking over chump change, either; according to the National Retail Federation, Valentine’s Day spending was estimated to be $18.9 billion in 2015 – the highest amount ever on record.
According to the NRF’s Valentine’s Day Consumer Spending Survey:
• The average guy or gal planned to spend $142.31 on their sweetie in 2015 – nearly $10 more than 2014’s $133.91
• Among respondents, 53.2% planned to buy candy ($100 in candy???)
• 21.1% bought jewelry
• And 37.8% bought floral arrangements that shriveled up and died just a few weeks later
But not everyone participated. Another study, for example, showed that 46% of respondents basically ignored the holiday that year.
That makes me feel warm and cozy because, you see, I was one of them. For some of us, the idea of a formal holiday to celebrate our loved ones is preposterous. Thank you very much, but I show my husband I love him every day. And, quite frankly, there are a slew of better ways to spend that money anyway.
7 Better Ways To Spend Your Valentine’s Day Dollars
Here’s the good news: There are plenty of ways to make those Valentine’s dollars last longer than a rotting bouquet of azaleas. If you’re opting out of the holiday, here are 7 better ways to spend your money this year:
1. Pay Down Debt
According to a recent analysis by Nerdwallet, average U.S. credit card debt stood at $16,140 per household in early 2015. Average mortgage debt was $155,361, and average student loan debt was $31,946. In total, American consumers owed $11.85 trillion in debt earlier this year.
If a piece of that belongs to you, consider gifting yourself a loan balance that is a few hundred dollars lower for the holiday. That’s right; instead of buying your Valentine something, you can simply give them a card that says, “I paid $$$ on our credit bill in your name.” Now, isn’t that romantic?
Of course I’m being facetious, but it’s really not that bad of an idea, is it? According to Kansas State University researcher Sonya Britt, money problems are the biggest source of marital stress – and ultimately, divorce.
“It’s not children, sex, in-laws or anything else,” Britt said. “It’s money — for both men and women.”
While one big debt payment – or even a few – won’t solve your money woes overnight, it can’t make the situation worse. And you never know; you might create a new habit and dig your way out once and for all.
2. Beef Up Your Emergency Fund
Want to stress less this year? If so, a beefier emergency fund might be exactly what you need. According to a recent study from the American Psychological Association, 54% of study respondents agreed that one of their biggest stress triggers was not having enough money saved up to cover unexpected expenses.
A few hundred dollars might not seem like a lot, but you could grow it over time with the goal of reaching a few months’ worth of expenses if you stick with it long enough. And while saved money isn’t technically a gift, you could always make a nice card and announce it in a festive way: “Happy Valentine’s Day. In your honor, I saved some money for emergency car repairs.”
3. Top Off Your IRA
Have you topped off your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) for the 2015 tax year? If you haven’t, you still have until tax day – April 15, 2016 – to do so, and that’s true whether you use a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA.
For 2015 and 2016, the maximum amount you can contribute to an IRA is $5,500 ($6,500 if you’re 50 or older). According to the IRA, your traditional IRA contributions are probably tax-deductible. However, “the deduction may be limited if you or your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work and your income exceeds certain levels.”
4. Save Money In Your Children’s College Funds
If your state offers a tax-time advantage for contributions to a qualified college savings plan, you’d be remiss to overlook this strategy. In my state of Indiana, for example, we get a 20% dollar-for-dollar tax credit on the first $5,000 we stash away in 529’s every year – with a maximum credit of $1,000.
Several other states offer their own version of a tax incentive for college savings, though it’s important to study your state’s rule to make sure you’re getting the maximum benefit. This page offers up-to-date details on your state’s treatment of college savings dollars.
5. Put Money In Your Health Savings Account (HSA)
If you have a high deductible health plan (HDHP), you may be eligible to contribute tax-advantaged dollars to a health savings plan. The deadline for 2015 contributions is the same for IRA’s – tax day or April 15, 2016.
For the 2015 tax year, contributions to health savings accounts are limited to $3,350 for individuals and $6,650 for families ($4,350 for individuals and $7,650 for families 55 and older). While you can invest your HSA dollars in your provider’s plan, you can also open an HSA on your own. For example, Health Savings Administrators is a popular option among those who want their healthcare dollars invested in low-cost mutual funds.
6. Start A Rainy Day Fund
If you want to put your Valentine’s dollars somewhere you could easily get to them, stash them away in a savings account and save them for a rainy day. Just because you don’t particularly want to do something on Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you might not want to do (or buy) something eventually. If you stash the cash you would normally spend away, it will be there when you need it.
Because, let’s face it, February isn’t the ideal month for gallivanting around in pursuit of something fun in most parts of the country. Why not wait until it’s a little warmer out to enjoy a weekend getaway, try a new activity, or explore an outdoor hobby? By saving your money for a rainy day, you get to decide how it’s spent – and how to use it to celebrate your relationship.
7. Splurge Thoughtfully
Here’s an idea: If you’re not wrapped up in typical Valentine’s Day gift-giving, you could always use the funds to buy things your family really wants. If you think traditional Valentine’s gifts are cheesy, try to think outside of the box to find a surprising or even quirky alternative.
Think a set of dishes instead of a flower-toting teddy; an upgraded camera instead of a dozen roses; or a new coffeemaker instead of a new set of underwear. Whatever it is you (or your loved one) wants, splurging thoughtfully is one way to celebrate the holiday without wasting money on stuff no one really needs.
If you’re ready to take a break from Valentine’s Day, you don’t have to pretend the holiday doesn’t exist. Instead, you can take the dollars you would have spent and allocate them to something that will improve your life, help ward off stress, or bring you long-term joy.
Even better, you could invest your dollars and let them grow over your lifetime. After all, what’s more romantic than retiring early (and comfortably) with the person you love the most?
Do you have any plans for Valentine’s Day? How much do you normally spend?