It is Valentine's Day. For desperate, procrastination-prone men everywhere, the clock is ticking. You might assume that expensive jewelry or a pricey night on the town are your only options. But, according to 10 women who understand value better than most—after all, they write about money and personal finance for their livelihoods—the best, most memorable and romantic Valentine’s gifts don’t cost much money at all.
I asked a bunch of personal finance bloggers to tell me about how they spend Valentine’s Day, and to recall their favorite, best-ever romantic gifts that didn’t cost a ton of money. Based on their responses, what really matters on Valentine’s Day isn’t how much cash anyone spends but how much quality time couples get to spend together. And when gifts are involved, it really is the thought behind the gift that counts. So men, get thinking—pronto. Or just steal one of the ideas below. But do so quickly. The clock is ticking.
Laura D. Adams, author of Money Girl’s Smart Moves to Grow Rich:
One of the best Valentine’s gifts I’ve received is a homemade dinner. My husband even came up with a special name for the meal: Pasta Valentine! He shopped for everything, wouldn’t let me in the kitchen to help cook, set the table beautifully, and did all the clean-up. The food, wine, flowers, and card that he bought cost less than $25.
We love going out to dinner, but restaurants are always packed for Valentine’s. It was his idea to stay in for a low-key evening and avoid the crowds, and I must say that it was super-relaxing. I think what really made the gift special and memorable was that he came up with the idea, planned everything, and made it happen. Even though it cost much less than a fancy restaurant, it took way more creativity and time to pull off.
Amber Nash, who blogs at BlondeandBalanced:
A couple years ago, I gave my fiance a huge homemade Valentine’s Day card made out of heart-shaped posterboard. I wrote a poem on the front that included words that were the names of popular candy and glued that particular piece of candy to the posterboard where the word was. Clever, huh? ;) I think my poem went something like this:
Dear [Sugar Babies]:
I am so lucky to have such a [hot tamale] like you. You always make me [Snickers] so much. You are worth more to me than [100 Grand]. I love you to [Reese’s Pieces], you [Tootsie Roll]. Happy Valentine’s Day!
I decorated it with cheap heart decorations I found at the craft store and extra Hershey kisses. I think my fiance was pretty confused, but I was proud of it. :) It was fun to make and only set me back about $10. You can find tons of other poems online if you Google Valentine’s Day candy poem.
Kimberly Palmer, who blogs at Alpha Consumer and is the author of Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back.
This is going to reveal what a dork I am, but my favorite gift was a CD of Beyonce’s “I Am…Sasha Fierce,” given to me by my husband last year. It cost about $10. He knows how much I love her and how much I love dancing to her music. So of course we immediately had a dance party in our living room to celebrate.
(Read: Q&A with ‘Generation Earn’ Author Kimberly Palmer.)
Kara McGuire, who covers personal finance for the Minneapolis StarTribune:
My husband gave me Penzey’s steak spices the first year we were together for Valentine’s Day, the same year he bought one of his brothers a bottle of MSG for Christmas—seriously. And I still married him!
After the steak spices, I enacted a “soft and shiny” rule. Then there was the period when I just told him what to get me, but there’s nothing very romantic about that. These days, with three kids and a full-time job, all I really want for is time alone with him.
We’re not big on Valentine’s Day. But our financial values are aligned and that’s worth its weight in diamonds, boxes of chocolate, and roses.
My birthday falls on February 15, so sometimes V-day doesn’t get proper distinction in my life. But the most notable Valentine’s Day gift I ever received was in 2008 when my distance boyfriend (now fiancé) surprised me by visiting me a day earlier than I had expected. He was supposed to come on my birthday (the following day) but decided to train up from Pennsylvania and be with me on Valentine’s Day, as well. I was just planning on going to the gym, watching HBO and ordering in.
His impromptu visit was the last thing I was prepared for and it had me jumping up and down the entire night. It was the perfect gesture.
Kerry K. Taylor, of Squawkfox.com:
To be completely honest, I don’t have much love for Cupid’s special day. There’s no worse day to go out for dinner since restaurants are packed, flowers are at the highest price point of the year, couples feel pressure to be romantic, and heart-shaped chocolate boxes are so common it’s almost tacky.
So my best tip for couples looking for a little romance is to stay home. Make the effort to cook a remarkable meal, open a fine bottle of wine (you won’t pay the restaurant mark-up), and cuddle with your honey for free.
The Best Valentine’s Day Present: Give your loved one a day off. The most precious gift is your time. A day without cooking, cleaning, and entertaining the kids is sexy, especially if it involves a bubble bath and a good book.
Back when I was single, two of my girlfriends snuck into my apartment on my birthday and filled my living room with helium balloons trailing long, pink ribbons. It was an absolutely amazing sight and totally blew me away. Three dozen balloons creates a heck of an impact and will cost you less than $40–a big gesture for a not-huge cost.
(Read: Q&A with ‘The Ten Commandments of Money’ Author Liz Weston.)
Carmen Wong Ulrich, author of The Real Cost of Living:
Funny enough, the anniversary of our first date is February 13. So, we actually do the fancy-dinner on the 13th and for Valentine’s Day, we celebrate at home.
I get a very nice gourmet meal cooked for me for Valentine’s Day, along with a nice bottle of wine. Not cheap, but it certainly costs a lot less than going out to a restaurant! Plus, ask many women: Isn’t having your loved one serving you a great, inexpensive V-Day??
The best Valentine’s present (which, coincidentally, is also my anniversary with my boyfriend) is probably a box of chocolate truffles and a bottle of ice wine, and a nice card with a heartfelt message. It sounds cliche, but the reason why it works is that my boyfriend knows I love truffles and I love ice wine, but ice wine is just expensive enough that I don’t like to splurge on myself. I think the chocolate truffles were $15, the ice wine was another $15 or $20, and the card was probably around $5. For $40 or less he absolutely made my day. He’s also not a big card giver, so the fact that he picked out a card made me very happy.
Another V-day / anniversary gift he got me was Marc Jacobs perfume and lotion set that he picked up at Marshalls. $35 for something that originally retails for $100+. (We actually saw it together right before Christmas and he insisted on buying it and wouldn’t give it to me until February!). Swoon goes the PF blogger in me. I love the smell of gardenias, so it really is the perfect scent for me. Now whenever I wear that perfume, I remember and smile.
Manisha Thakor, founder of the Women’s Financial Literacy Initiative:
My sweet hubby & I have declared Valentine’s Day a gift-free day. We usually celebrate by making a good meal at home and watching a movie we’ve picked out together on Netflix.
We find time together just enjoying each other and our home to be so much more rewarding than getting stressed out trying to find that “perfect gift.” Just getting to BE on Valentines Day has been the best treat. On top of that, I’m a big minimalist, and given a choice between a possession and an experience, I’d take the latter in a heartbeat.