smart spending

What women really want on Valentine's Day

To be safe, don't actually enroll your sweetheart in a class unless the tuition is totally refundable; she may want to personally pick the class time or subject that most interests her. However, you can make a "classy" homemade gift certificate on your computer, attach it to a course schedule and tie the two together with a ribbon.

Rekindle the flame

Drop in to almost any department store or shop online to find the perfect passion kit to set the stage for a romantic evening alone. They come in all sizes and price tags, depending on the contents. Or make one up yourself, including her favorite scents in massage oils, candles and scented cloths. You may want to even include a game, such as naughty dice, available on for $5 to $10, a blindfold or fuzzy handcuffs. Just keep in mind, the gift's for her, not you.

Go public

There are few things that will dazzle a woman more than her man telling the world he loves her. Emblazoning it across the sky can be pretty expensive -- prices start around $1,500 -- and a billboard will set you back about that same amount per month. But for much less money you can get your message on the scoreboard at any number of professional or college sports events or during the advertisements preceding the start of the film at your local movie theater. And if that's still too much, take inspiration from the country song of a few years ago, which told of how a young boy painted, "Billy Bob loves Charlene," high on a water tower in John Deere-green paint.

Whisk her away: Plan an overnight stay or even an upcoming weekend away at a romantic inn or, if you can, at the same hotel -- maybe even the same room -- where you spent your first night together as a couple. You'll garner big points for just remembering the name of the hotel, and even more for booking it for a romantic getaway. For big-time bonus points, bring along a portable stereo with "your song" ready to play at just the right time. One last hint: If you're married with kids, line up the baby-sitter yourself. Now that's a gift of true love.

Candy and flowers: OK, OK -- if you're convinced Valentine's Day just has to include candy or flowers or both, at least don't get hung up on the idea that only long-stemmed red roses and gold-foiled chocolates in red heart-shaped boxes will do.

If your sweetheart has shared with you her fond memories of watching the daffodils come up in the spring, consider buying her a ribbon-wrapped bouquet of those cheery jonquils -- or another of her all-time favorite flowers -- instead. If you're not sure what she might like, it's perfectly OK to ask, says Ingram. "You could say, 'If I were to buy you roses for Valentine's Day, would you like that or is there something else you'd prefer instead?' Most women welcome a thoughtful question like that."

Another sentimental option: recreating a small version of your wife's bridal bouquet. A florist can put it together by working from a wedding picture. On a really low budget? Tuck a handwritten love note inside the wrapper of a Godiva chocolate bar or small box of Moonstruck Chocolate truffles. These little goodies are much less expensive than a full box of the same.

And if you are going to send flowers or candy, have your gift delivered to her place of work instead of home and make it extra special in front of her friends and co-workers. At 1-800-USA-Flowers, you can arrange for a variety of costumed characters to deliver your message in song with prices starting at around $130.

As Spizman says, many women are more impressed by the thought you've put into a gift such as candy than about the cost. The trick is in the presentation. Write her a note telling her that her love makes you feel like a kid again. Pair it with a box full of "retro kid candy" like Mary Janes, Bottlecaps, Necco Wafers and more. Sites like Hometown Favorites let you choose candy from a favorite decade (1950s, 1960s, etc.). Woodstock Candy also carries reasonably priced boxes of edible childhood memories, starting at $24.95.


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