Valentine's Day is a time to show a loved one how much you care, but the costs of traditional gifts such as jewelry and fine dining can get uncomfortably high -- and some people object to the commercialization and commodification of a day that's supposed to be about loving each other. Instead of plunking down dozens (or hundreds) of dollars for the holiday, try these gift ideas instead.
CREATE A PHOTO GIFT
Photo gifts are a good way to give a unique gift without forking over too much hard-earned dough. Walgreens will put photos on a mug for a coffee lover for $12 or make them into a wall calendar for about $25, with each month highlighting a special memory. Many stores also have kiosks for uploading, ordering, and printing favorite shots that can be given as gifts in a matted frame.
GO ON A WINERY OR BREWERY TOUR
Check out the local winery or brewery scene with a tour and a tasting. Wine- and beer-tasting events are often complimentary or relatively inexpensive and frequently begin (or end) with a tour of the facilities. Either book a tour on Valentine's Day or give a card with the promise of a romantic outing soon.
GIVE THE GIFT OF TIME
Being busy makes it difficult to really kick back and enjoy favorite pastimes. Giving a significant other a day to spend alone can be more valuable than expensive jewelry or giant bouquets of flowers. It might mean providing the space and time to indulge in a hobby, or taking the kids out to allow a warm bath and hours to read in absolute peace.
DO THE OTHER PERSON'S CHORES
When a relationship has advanced to cohabitation, it's likely both partners have settled into doing certain chores around the house -- perhaps one does the dishes and the other tackles the laundry. For Valentine's Day, take on all the chores, ideally as a surprise. This can score a lot of points when a partner returns from work or an errand to find all the housework already done.
SEE A BUDGET MOVIE
First-run movies can be expensive, although costs vary widely from city to city. Add drinks and snacks for two, and the price tag in a place like New York could be $40 or more for a few hours of fun. Instead, look for theaters that specialize in second-run films and charge considerably less, or hit a new-release matinee that doesn't cost quite so much but is still a step up from watching Netflix on the couch.
BRING THE THEATER HOME
If you're not up for a night at the movies (or it really isn't in the budget), create a home movie theater experience. The local library likely has a decent DVD movie selection, and Redbox offers more recent releases for only $1.50. Grab a box of microwave popcorn, buy a few $1 boxes of movie theater candy, and grab a 2-liter bottle of soda, or even a six-pack of beer. You'll save some cash by staying in while still enjoying a movie and snacks.
SHOP THRIFT STORES
Thrift stores have some impressively low prices not only on tired clothing and household goods but also on unique finds such as vintage dishes, estate jewelry, and treasured books. With enough knowledge of the recipient's taste and some time digging around, some really special (or hilariously quirky) gifts can be found for pennies on the dollar.
GO OUT FOR DESSERT
A fancy dinner that leaves pockets empty can be more stressful than romantic. As an alternative, go for dessert after a home-cooked meal, whether you visit a specialty chocolate store to shop or a restaurant to sit down for pie. Even a dessert paired with wine costs less than dinner and drinks while retaining the feel of a romantic evening out.
GIVE AN ALTERNATIVE TO ROSES
A houseplant lasts far longer than cut flowers, which are likely to droop and drop petals within two weeks. Think about what your beloved might like a little better than the romantic but cliché red roses. Fresh herbs? Violets? Succulents? Any would be a handsome gift that keeps on giving.
COMPILE A ROMANTIC SOUNDTRACK
Like the mix tapes of yesteryear, a custom CD or Spotify playlist can express feelings that might be tough to put into words. Music can be the key to unlocking a host of beautiful memories, such as a first date or a wedding, so load that playlist and share it. Burning it onto a CD provides an opportunity to make a personalized set of liner notes, as well -- another chance to be creative, bring up inside jokes, and express how much a person means to you.
WRITE A LETTER
Writing a sweetheart a love letter may be the ultimate inexpensive Valentine's Day gift. In an era of texting and typing, taking pen to paper gives a gift an extremely personal, romantic feel -- even before the letter is read. Share what the other person means to you, why you're glad you're together, and your hopes and dreams for the future. This gift is likely to be treasured more than any expensive token. Tip: Send a pre-addressed, stamped envelope (enclosed in a larger envelope) to Postmaster -- Attention Valentines, 446 E. 29th St., Loveland, CO 80538-9998. The local post office will give the letter a Loveland postmark and send it on.
CREATE AN EDIBLE FLORAL ARRANGEMENT
DREAM UP A PHOTO SCAVENGER HUNT
Write out a list of photos for your partner to take, and be creative. In addition to your first date spot or your favorite park, include quests such as your favorite color or your favorite old-school recording artist (find a vintage record store!). Of course, the idea is to spend time together, so instead of sending your mate out alone, tag along for more fun (and hints).
BECOME A TOURIST
Instead of an expensive weekend getaway, make plans to be a tourist in your own town. With an eye toward events featuring Valentine's Day themes, visit local museums, art galleries, or displays, most of which charge only a nominal fee for admission. It can be fun to discover, or rediscover, some treasures you don't have to travel far to enjoy.
START A MEMORY BOX
Chances are, you have physical tokens of time you've spent with your loved one. Grab a decorative box from a craft store and start filling it with memories of your combined past. Ticket stubs (from movies, concerts, or sporting events), printed photos, dried flowers, a menu from your favorite restaurant -- there are countless ways to share memories. Give this memory box with a promise to add to it as the years go by.
COOK DINNER TOGETHER
Cooking at home is far cheaper than an expensive Valentine's night out. You can cook a meal on your own for your partner, but it may be more enjoyable to try to conquer a new dish together. Choose one that sounds delicious and set out to the market to buy ingredients. Cooking together can be a beautiful bonding experience.