Guess what, guys? It's not a dozen long-stemmed red roses and a pricey box of chocolates that women get all misty-eyed over when mid-February rolls around each year. True, retailers love to push these traditional heart-day gifts, but most women would be far more impressed by a simpler -- and often less-expensive -- gift that somehow touches her heart.
It really is the thought that counts -- not that you thought to get something, but that you put some thought into what you got. You'll make your sweetheart feel special by picking gifts that connect with her personal passions rather than falling back on the same old same old, which, in effect, is telling her you didn't care enough to put any thought into it.
Usually, expensive means very little. "In fact, depending on where a couple is in their relationship, extravagant gifts like expensive lingerie or fancy chocolates can seem overwhelming," says author and etiquette and gift-giving expert Leah Ingram. "If you've just started dating, a big gift can imply more depth to the relationship than is really there. It can also be awkward if the guy splurges on a big Valentine's gift, but the woman doesn't do the same."
Men in married or long-term relationships can also take heart: your sweethearts, too, can be wowed by relatively inexpensive but thoughtful gestures, says author Robyn Spizman, author of "Make it Memorable" and "The Giftionary."
"Woo her with a single rose, with a note attached that says, 'You're my one and only.' Or on Valentine's morning, cut self-stick notes into heart shapes, write something sweet, and leave them in key places: her bathroom mirror, the refrigerator or her car door.
"More than expensive gifts, women want their men to show them that they truly cherish them. By doing a little homework and paying attention to the things their loved one really cares about, men can make women feel adored," Spizman says. "It's not about cost."
Here are some other creative and modestly priced Valentine's ideas for gift-challenged men:
Show a special feature: Invite her to your place for a special movie night, complete with popcorn and hot cocoa. Show that you've been thinking of her by buying her favorite romantic movie online (again, it's OK to ask her for movie suggestions without revealing your entire plan). Check for movie deals at sites like Deep Discount DVD or compare prices at comparison sites like My Simon or Google Product Search. A few favorite feminine V-Day flicks: "Sleepless in Seattle," "You've Got Mail," "An Affair to Remember" and "Love Actually." If you're a little on the artsy side and don't mind subtitles, try "Like Water for Chocolate," from Mexico.
Say it in your own words: Who needs Shakespeare? Many women, including Fawn Fitter of San Francisco, say a heartfelt card is worth its weight in gold. "Not some verse from Hallmark, just something sweet in his own handwriting. That's all it takes," she says.
Eat in: Consider making a romantic dinner at home for your sweetie instead of going to a pricey restaurant on Valentine's Day. After all, many women hate the crowded restaurant scene on Feb. 14 as much as men do. Or how about breakfast in bed? If you've got even a shred of culinary talent, get up early and prepare her favorite -- pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream, perhaps, with hot coffee, a carafe of mimosa and two champagne glasses.
Make a public display: For guys looking for something a little out of the ordinary, Spizman likes the personalized "pop art" certificate at Gallery of Love. For $34.95, the site will personalize a comic-book art-type certificate that your sweetie can hang on her wall as a reminder of your love. If you're on a budget, you may wish to frame the certificate yourself -- if you purchase a frame at the site, your gift will, with shipping, tip over into the $100-plus price range.