MAKE THE DAY SPECIAL
With Christmas more than a month in the past, you might have heaved a sigh of relief about the end of gift-giving mania. Well, take a deep breath. Valentine's Day arrives on February 14 and a survey by the National Retail Federation found that people who celebrated last year spent an average $133 on all the paraphernalia, from gifts to cards, dinner, and candy. Although such largesse may serve as an acute economic stimulus package, as a declaration of love, it's really not necessary.
There's a lot of truth to the old maxim that gifts from the heart are the ones most cherished. This year present your special someone (even the kids) with a gift made by your own hand.
MEMORY GIFT FOR HIM
Take your guy on a trip down memory lane with a unique Valentine's Day gift that's far from saccharine and sappy. A collage of old photographs combined with current images is a personal demonstration of your affection. Or, create a love-song mix CD or MP3 playlist. As you listen together, relive memorable moments and renew the shared experience.
FEED YOUR MAN
It's often said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Preparing your special guy's favorite dish is the obvious route, but add some pizzazz to create a unique Valentine's Day gift. Bake heart-shaped cookies or pastries using inexpensive heart cut-outs and/or whip up a batch of homemade chocolate truffles. Here's an excellent recipe from Food Network.
With a little imagination and DIY effort you can create a masculine bouquet your man will love. Buy a few inexpensive gifts, like boxer shorts, a mini bottle of liquor, and a t-shirt, and attach them all to craft sticks. Set them in a tin bucket, and there you go -- easy and thoughtful for little cost.
TRADITIONAL GIFTS FOR HER
For your special gal, stick to a simple but unique Valentine's Day gift. Although traditional presents of the flowers-and-chocolates variety may seem compelling, a little more effort on your part, particularly if the result helps alleviate everyday stress, will be most welcome. Start with a romantic home-cooked meal coupled with wine and glowing candles. Afterwards, give her a relaxing massage or draw a rose petal-infused bath enhanced with homemade bath salts. If you decide on a bouquet of flowers, pair it with chocolate-dipped strawberries. Pricey to buy, these delectable treats are easy to make at home; online recipes are just as easy to find.
COUPON CARDS FOR HER
These are a unique gift for Valentine's Day that can be totally personalized for her (or him). About.com offers an array of free love coupons and voucher printouts and templates. Just fill in the blanks with whatever you can give -- a free massage, a week's relief from house cleaning or preparing dinner, an afternoon of child care so she can enjoy a bit of "me" time, and so on.
A LOVE LETTER FOR HER
In this fast-paced and high-tech world, the handwritten note is fast becoming a remnant of another century. A genuine and heartfelt letter is a truly unique Valentine's Day gift that can provide special pleasure for writer and recipient. If you've forgotten how to write with a pen, punt and go electronic.
SCAVENGER HUNT FOR HIM, HER, OR THE KIDS
Forget spending money on an expensive gift and go for an experience that will be long remembered. Put together a scavenger hunt for your special someone based on key pieces of your history together. You can also do this for your children with playful notes and small toys (think pencils, Play Doh etc); they will relish the experience.
VALENTINE'S DAY PICNIC FOR THE FAMILY
Do you have little ones at home and want to treat the whole family to a romantic Valentine's Day without spending a lot of cash? Stay in and order carry-out dinner. Set up a picnic on the living room floor. Lay out a blanket and pillows, light candles, play music, and enjoy the evening by talking and laughing with your loved ones.
HEART ATTACK FOR THE KIDS
Okay, we're not really suggesting giving someone a heart attack -- we're talking about setting up a cute "heart attack" display. Cut out hearts of all shapes and sizes and write little notes about how you love your children on each. Stick them to the kids' doors and all over their rooms while they're asleep and watch their delight when they wake up. The same can be done for your significant other, but this time affix the hearts to his or her car.
Pretty much any Valentine will get a kick out of this idea. Commit to creating an entire day's worth of meals in the shape of hearts. Start off with heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast, move on to heart-shaped sandwiches and heart-shaped fruit for lunch, and finish the day with a heart-shaped pizza at dinnertime.