By Michelle Camerlingo & Carley Stavis
City on a Hill Press Managing Editors

National Geographic writer John Roach explained in a recent article that our modern Valentine’s Day is a throwback to long-ago pagan partying, when naked men pranced around spanking young beauties with goat-skin whips in the hopes of dialing up their fertilization capabilities.

The candy, flowers, expense and high stress now associated with Valentine’s Day wasn’t tacked on until much later.

Studies by the National Retail Federation say that average spending on Valentine’s Day celebrations is around $120. With the economy in the dumps, though, it’s time for Americans to learn a lesson from the Romans: love and passion don’t have to cost a lot.

<b>Get A Little (Richard) Cheesy</b>

If red is the color of Valentine’s Day, Richard Cheese’s bellowing baritone is its soundtrack. Grab a blanket, preferably made of velvet or covered in an obnoxious animal print, light some candles, and get your sound system ready to blare the swanky singles of the self-proclaimed “Hardest-Working Dick in Show Business.” Access free Cheese songs via the artist’s MySpace — or if you want to fully Cheese out for the night, grab some Gouda, pop a bottle or two of cheap red wine, and digitally download the individual songs. V-Day winners include Baby Got Back, Like a Virgin, Suck My Kiss, and Milkshake.

<b>Flea Market Foreplay</b>

Since Valentine’s Day conveniently falls on Saturday this year, seize the opportunity to partake in a Santa Cruz tradition while satisfying your significant other (or best friend, or parent, or booty call) with a truly unique Valentine’s Day gift. Head to the Santa Cruz Flea Market, held every Saturday and Sunday at the Skyview Drive-in on Soquel Drive. Peruse the oddities offered up in search of one-of-a-kind gifts that, if nothing else, will rouse a chuckle and a fond memory for a small price. Plus, for about $5, you can enjoy a lunch of grilled corn on the cob, a Churro, and fresh fruit to be finger-fed to each other later.

<b>In-Home Spa Retreat</b>

Guys: if you want to impress your love interest, jam down to the drug store, hone in on the clearance cosmetics aisle, and get ready to be praised. Without dropping more than 99 cents here and there, you can pick up the nail polish, lotion, and candles, needed to give someone you love the gift of a personalized, at-home mani/pedi. For the extra mile, throw a magazine and some bubble bath in your shopping cart. Be prepared to be called Daddy for the day.

<b>Peruse the (Adult) Toy Store</b>

Nothing will get you in the Valentine’s Day mindset quite like roaming through one of Santa Cruz’s many adult novelty shops. Frenchy’s in Capitola has videos and an eclectic assortment of toys you probably never thought existed. Pure Pleasure, on Church Street, offers sinful Valentine’s Day staples like flavored body paint, massage oil, fuzzy body ticklers, blindfolds and candy garters, all for less than $20. Sex toys will pique the interest of just about everyone and can provide open minds with hours of entertainment — both in-store and at home.

<b>There’s Nothing Wrong with a Cheap Date</b>

Not only will it be near-impossible to get a dinner reservation for Valentine’s Day, but dinner out invariably means dropping upward of $50. Instead, head to the grocery store and gather the goods for a romantic dinner at home. Kiss over a “Lady and the Tramp”-style spaghetti dinner or compile finger foods to feed one another while watching a romantic classic. Topped off with candles and a festive beverage, you’ll have a meal as fabulous — or more so — than any at a restaurant.

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