McKenzie Griffin, 27, and her fiancé Dustin Wallis, 33, aren’t dining out on Valentine’s Day.
Instead, they’re saving to spend money on events that really matter to them and their families. They’re planning a $20,000 destination wedding later this year.
“We don’t like the jacked-up prices, the long wait times or the crazy crowds,” Griffin said about Valentine’s Day dinners. “If anything, we tend to stay home, order pizza and watch a movie. That’s our favorite type of date.”
She’s not the only person who feels that way.
For many couples, going out on Feb. 14 gets complicated well before the date arrives.
More than 30% of Americans dine out on the holiday, according to OpenTable, which means reservations can be hard to come by. Restaurants often charge more than usual for special occasion Prix fixe menus. And even when you don’t go out, there’s often pressure to splurge on gifts, maybe go on a trip or surprise a spouse with a novel activity.
“Valentine’s Day is notoriously known as the most romantic day of the year,” dating expert Julie Spira said. “There is pressure to spend. It’s hard when you’re on the social media sites and you see this one got gorgeous roses, this one got engaged, this one has got a diamond ring.”
However, couples with future big purchases in mind are opting out.
“I’m just going to make dinner for him at the house,” said Berta Hernandez-Villa, 37, a mother of two in Brooklyn, New York. “Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday when you don’t want to inconvenience anyone else’s day, like a babysitter. So, we are going to keep it low key.”
Hernandez-Villa has a newborn and has her mind on child care costs. She and her husband often wait until the day after Valentine’s Day to dine out.
“Celebrating on the 15th is a good idea because you may get better service at a restaurant and better prices,” Spira said.
In previous years, 26-year-old Shavon Marbory and her fiancé Sedric Hogan, 28, would spend hundreds of dollars on one night. They’d get gussied up, buy expensive wines, eat out at fancy restaurants, Marbory said.
But late last year, the two got news that changed the way they approached spending.
“I found out I’m pregnant,” Marbory said. “We had to pivot to thinking more about buying a new house and spending money on the baby.”
Marbory and her fiancé are spending $20 on comedy show tickets this year and using an Olive Garden gift card to cover dinner costs. They’re planning a wedding in the months ahead.
These couples are also representative of an underlying shift that’s happening in the dating and relationship world where people are being turned off by all the pomp and circumstance online and focusing on personal moments, experts say.
“In most modern relationships, everything is so visible with social media,” said Camille Virginia, dating expert and author of the Offline Dating Method. “We see other people and their perfect vacations, dates and the best pictures. People are getting burned out. After enough pressure, you reach a burnout point and you want to get back to authenticity.”
Despite the number of adults who are rolling back the spending this weekend, holiday shopping is up this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual Valentine’s Day survey. Those who are celebrating plan to spend an average $196.31, up 21% over last year’s previous record of $161.96.
Spending is expected to total $27.4 billion, up 32% from last year’s record $20.7 billion.
For those looking to cut back, having those hard conversations about what you can afford is a sign of a healthy relationship, Virginia said. “What greater gift is there than saying, ‘You don’t’ have to take me out to a fancy meal. I want quality time with you.'”
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Getting to a point of financial transparency was not without hiccups, Marbory said. In fact, for each of the couples, conversations around fiscal responsibility were birthed out of necessity and sprang up at pivotal points in their relationships.
Marbory spent much of 2019 traveling, running her hair care line, and “living my best life,” she said. That was until she had to shut down her business and find another job.
“That caused a lot of friction and anxiety for us talking about the situation. I was stressed out. I took a risk and it ended up not working out,” Marbory said. Hogan handled most of the major bills to compensate for the slow business period. Money has become part of “a majority of our conversations,” she added.
When Hernandez-Villa met her husband 9 years ago, she refused to split bills. He was a gentleman, she said. As time progressed, they started to split things 50/50.
“At first, I had to fight for the bill,” Hernandez-Villa said.
Griffin, who’s juggling three jobs while studying full time, said conversations about wedding costs have been “uncomfortable” but “necessary” since family members are pitching in to help.
She and her spouse have always approached spending from a “what’s logical and what’s fair perspective,” she said.
“Relationships are about fairness,” Griffin said. “If you’re all in, you’re all in. Assets and emotions are a part of that.”
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.