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Valentine's Day tips that won't blow the budget

Roses, diamonds and chocolate are important on Valentine's Day, but there's something even more crucial about Feb. 14.

"The most important thing is they don't forget," said Christine Forsell of Elmquist Jewelers in Willmar. "It's very important that you remember."

And have flowers delivered to work, so everyone gets to see them, adds Linda McCormack, owner of Crown Floral in Willmar.

The traditional big three gift categories still lead the list of Valentine's gifts, according to local merchants. However, other possibilities are endless, even for those whose usual Valentine's budgets have been squeezed by a recession.

McCormack said she doesn't believe people will give up sending flowers for special occasions, even when money is tight. "It's a reasonable gift," she said. "It's fun to get something you don't really need."

Valentine's Day on a budget

Counselors at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service, a program of Lutheran Social Service, brainstormed some ideas for celebrating

Valentine's Day on a budget.

Cutting back on Valentine's Day can be tricky, "because you're dealing with all the emotions," said Cherrish Holland.

Their general advice: It's OK to do some traditional Valentine gift-giving, but cut back from previous years if money is tight or find a new way to celebrate.

"This isn't the year to do nothing," she said. "Especially when the economy is down, you need a little lift."

"Practical gifts always make sense," she said. Gift certificates can be practical and address particular interests -- for example, a certificate to a nursery could give a gardener a head start when spring planting time arrives.

When shopping, it's best to go with a list. "We always recommend it, especially with emotional shopping," Holland said. It's also helpful to set a dollar amount before going shopping and to avoid shopping at the last minute.

The counselors had some other ideas for celebrating on a budget:

Couples could trade babysitting duties. Each couple could have a dinner out while the other couple watches their kids. Cutting the babysitting bills would make a night out affordable for more people.

A family fun night, with games or a rented movie, could make a fun family Valentine's Day. A red-themed dinner, maybe featuring lasagna, Jell-O or other red foods, could add to the fun.

"You can make it a special evening without spending a bunch of money," Holland said.

Roses still rule

The orders for Valentine roses started weeks ago, McCormack said. Men and women order roses and other bouquets for the special people in their lives.

Some people like to get away from tradition and order spring flowers like tulips and iris, McCormack said, and flowering plants are also popular.

Crown carries a variety of gifts that can be given alone or paired with flowers. A collection of plush animals offers something at all price ranges, from less than $10 to more than $100.

McCormack said the novelty animals are particularly entertaining. Her current favorite is a stuffed monkey who grooves along as he sings "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe" just like Barry White.

Crown Floral has a long-standing policy that its littlest customers, who sometimes come in with a handful of change, will leave the store with something to take home, said owner Linda McCormack. The previous owners started the tradition and she has carried it on.

For grownups on a budget, there are still plenty of ideas, McCormack said.

The shop has vase styles to accommodate just a few flowers and some that have room for two dozen stems.

Proposals popular

Elmquist Jewelers has been instrumental in a number of proposals over the years, and Valentine's Day is an increasingly popular day for them, said owner Mike Noonan.

If a man is in the store looking at engagement rings, said owner Mike Noonan, he'll sometimes ask, "How are you going to give it to her?"

Some have their own ideas; others are open to suggestions. Elmquist -- in business more than 100 years -- can provide lots of different ideas.

Perhaps the most visible proposal recently was in November, when an Elmquist billboard in Kerkhoven helped Benson Police Officer Paul Larson propose to Sara Sneller of Benson. "That was a lot of fun to be part of the process," said employee Karen Thibault.

The store had one man who had to sneak out of his dinner with his soon-to-be fiancée. He ran to the store, where the stone was being set in the ring, and returned to the restaurant so the server could deliver it on a little tray.

Noonan said the store can do a lot for customers who are dealing with tight budgets right now.

One customer just traded in some old gold jewelry for a diamond heart pendant for his wife.

The store carries lower-priced jewelry, like Pandora bracelets, a collection of plain bracelets and beads that can be added over time. Pieces in the collection start as low as $35.

Micro pave rings are becoming popular. They use tiny diamonds in a cluster around a larger stone, to add some extra sparkle.

Noonan held up a micro pave engagement ring he had just finished -- "You can get a big look without a lot of money," he said.