Kate Harper, a card designer based in Berkeley, Calif., doesn’t think most people care how much they spend on Valentine’s Day cards in the name of love. “I don’t think money is an object,” Harper says. “It’s like a birthday, it’s a special occasion." But then there are those frugal types who just can’t stand to overspend, even when it comes to love.
Indeed, exchanging valentines is firmly rooted in America, according to the Greeting Card Association, which estimates people will buy 145 million greeting cards this year for Valentine’s Day, making it the second most popular card-buying day after Christmas. Those numbers don't even include the packaged children’s valentines cards that are popular among schoolchildren.
If you're among those who plan to give valentines this year, there are ways to keep your costs down. Remember, the difference between email and paper cards is the rate at which they are likely to be opened, according to Paul Reiss, president and owner of signaturecards.net, an online source for business greeting cards. People “are still buying cards,” Reiss says. “Ninety-six to ninety-eight percent of greeting cards are opened. You can’t get any better than that. It’s the warm and fuzzy touch.”
Reiss, a former CPA with a Fortune 500 company, developed his own card business in 2002, and added his website in 2009. These days, he sells cards for as low as 99 cents apiece, which he attributes to low expenses because, for example, he doesn’t have artists on his payroll. “We don’t have that overhead,” he says.
Reiss has no illusions about the business he’s developed. “During this economy, a lot of people cut back, and cards were one thing people cut back on,” he says. “There are sales representatives that no longer carry cards.”
Though the number of brick-and-mortar storefronts has shrunk, many card designers and card companies have developed online businesses with specialty cards aimed at a particular market, such as business greetings or upscale individuals.
With cards selling at retail during the past 10 years for as much as $9 a card, business owners have looked for ways to compete by selling cards at lower prices. “I think prices are coming down,” Reiss says. “Customers do not want to pay that high a price anymore.” The most he charges for a card is $2.55. Many styles sell for $1.65 each, and when Reiss has a sale, he drops the price to 99 cents each for some styles.
Everyone isn’t interested in cards that are sold at mass market. Some people seek original designs, and may have to pay more for them. The kind of paper used for the cards, the type of printing and any embellishments add to the price of cards. A style may look similar, but it may cost more, for example, because the paper is thicker or a higher quality, says Mariam Naficy, founder and CEO of minted.com, an online source that includes personalized cards to which a children can add their photograph. “There are sites where the price is lower,” Naficy says.
[Read: Six Smart Ways to Save on Groceries.]
Here are more ways to save on valentines this year:
Buy a smaller card. If your child needs to give a valentine to every child in her class, consider the smaller cards that come in packs of 15 cards for $14, in some cases. Look for several cards for a flat price rather than buying individual cards.
Buy valentine postcards instead of cards with envelopes. When shopping online, look for postcards as an alternative to full-size valentines. The cost of mailing a postcard is 34 cents compared to 49 cents for a card in an envelope.
Make valentines yourself. Allow your children to spend an hour making valentines for their classmates. “Turn it into a family activity,” Harper says. Head for the kitchen table equipped with a variety of supplies such as construction paper, a red rubber stamp, colored pencils, crayons or colored markers. ”Take over the kitchen table,” she says. In addition, look for items around your house that can be used for cards such as cardboard, ribbon and packing tape to hold it all together.
[Read: Four Frugal Ways to Say 'I Love You'.]
Shop at discount stores. The valentines might be “old stock,” says Reiss, but you’ll save. Decide what is important to you: thinking of the person, and handing them a card you found and liked, or finding the latest styles, and paying a premium for them. “A card doesn’t have to be expensive,” Reiss says. “People are looking for discounts. Everybody is looking for coupons. That’s the way it is today. People are always trying to save money.”
Hand out cards rather than mailing them. If you’re planning to give cards to family members, why not hand them out personally? You’ll save on postage, and, if you’re lucky, have the added pleasure of watching them open it.
Join mailing lists. You’ll get discounts and promotions on cards if you sign up for certain online sources, Naficy says.
Whatever kind of card you choose, remember it's the sentiment that's important. Just giving or sending a card shows you were thinking of the other person, no matter how much you spend on it.