Ways to play Cupid without breaking the bank

With Valentine’s Day less than three weeks away, it’s time to start planning what you want to buy your loved ones. Whether it’s chocolates, flowers or something else special, a big expression of love doesn’t have to come with a big price tag.

In 2012, the average person celebrating Valentine’s Day shelled out $126.03, up 8.5 percent over 2011, according to the National Retail Federation’s poll of shoppers conducted by research company BIGinsight. That was the highest level of spending in the survey’s 10-year history.

If you’re shelling out that kind of money, it makes sense to get the most for it.

“You can make your money go a lot further. You just have to be creative,” says Lindsay Sakraida, features editor at deal aggregator Dealnews.com.

Here are some tips for Cupid on a budget:

It’s time to shop now

Now is the time to buy winter clearance items like luxurious cashmere sweaters, or leather accessories like gloves at up to 80 percent off, Sakraida says. The winter merchandise will be gone if you wait much longer.

You can also scoop up holiday candy in the clearance bins, remove the big Christmas bow and redecorate the box with big red hearts instead.

Buying now applies to jewelry, too. According to research done by dealnews.com, prices usually tick up for jewelry in the first two weeks of February from January levels.

If you can’t buy now, you can try to offset those price hikes by looking for a coupon from sites like ice.com, Limoges Jewelry and Netaya.com. So start looking now for coupons that can take an extra 15 percent to 30 percent off. Most of the coupons came out in the last week of January a year ago, according to Dealnews.com’s research.

Search for special financing

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, will offer for the first time interest-free financing deals for six, 12 or 18 months on a jewelry purchase made in the store with a Wal-Mart credit card, Feb. 1 through Dec. 31. Kay Jewelers is also offering special financing.

Use smartphone to compare prices

Sites like thefind.com, a search engine that allows shoppers to get the best prices for over 320 million products from more than 500,000 stores.

Thefind.com is now offering a new price match feature, which will let you know which stores are matching their rivals. Thefind’s app lets you scan bar codes in stores and will provide a list of retailers that carry the item, prices, and whether it is eligible for a price match at a specific retailer.

If you want to send flowers, scrutinize the delivery costs, says Fiona Dias, chief strategy officer at ShopRunner, a subscription online shopping service. Some sites can charge anywhere from $15 to $25.

Try a romantic dinner

However, there may be no need to fight holiday crowds at a restaurant. Jodi Furman, author of a blog called Livefabuless.com, says it can be just as romantic to gather some gourmet food from places like Whole Foods Market and prepare a meal at home.

“It’s all about making something personal and special,” she said.

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