It’s that time of year again: red and green Christmas goods have left store shelves, but they’ve been replaced by red and pink displays stuffed with hearts, flowers and teddy bears.
It’s little wonder that retailers are pushing Valentine’s Day in 2015. The holiday is expected to rake in more than $18.9 billion in the U.S. alone, according to the National Retail Federation.
But you can opt out of the romantic retail bonanza. “Ideally, the whole point of Valentine’s Day is spending time together, so gifts really don’t have to be a part of it,” says Stephanie Nelson, founder of money-saving blog Coupon Mom.
If you’re on a limited budget or just don’t feel like buying into the hype, check out these no-cost and low-cost ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Thanks to modern technology, we no longer have to go to the theater to see what Hollywood is up to these days. Rent a DVD for a buck from your local video kiosk or grab a favorite from your personal collection and celebrate Valentine’s Day in the living room.
If this sounds too much like a typical Saturday night, make an effort to jazz it up. Sip your favorite wine while you watch a romantic movie. Or pick an out-of-the-ordinary movie like a foreign film.
And make sure you’re connecting with your Valentine. “Turn your phone off to avoid distractions, and be sure to snuggle or hold hands,” says Rachel Jones, author of the simplicity website Nourishing Minimalism.
If you live near a city of any size, you’ve probably got a plethora of free attractions within a short drive.
Many towns have museums that don’t charge admission, Nelson says, so grab your significant other and spend Valentine’s Day learning about something new. Best bets for free museums: college campuses and other public buildings, like city halls.
Visit the American Alliance of Museums’ website and click “Find a Museum” to see all the options in or near your town. Taking the time to find lesser known collections can make for some interesting experiences.
For example, take the Mary Kay Museum in Dallas, devoted solely to the famous cosmetics line; or the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin, which boasts that it has “the world’s largest collection of mustards and mustard memorabilia.”
Even if you aren’t wowed by the collections, you’ll at least have a good laugh.
Get your blood pumping this Valentine’s Day, literally, by taking your sweetie out for a fun workout session.
You don’t need to be a fitness rock star to try this one out. Just taking a brisk walk around a scenic park will give you some quality time.
“You’ll get a chance to talk, and you’re exercising at the same time,” Coupon Mom’s Nelson says.
Other options: hiking a local trail, riding bikes around the neighborhood and ice skating at your favorite rink or pond, if you live in a colder climate. Being romantic and getting in shape at the same time is a win-win.
In today’s never-slow-down climate, making some time to rest and relax can be the best Valentine’s Day gift of all.
Try forgoing the flowers and chocolate this year and turn your home into a spa for the night.
“Light some candles, play calm music and give your special someone a massage,” Nourishing Minimalism’s Jones says.
If your massages tend to cause more pain than they do pleasure, school yourself online. There are many channels on YouTube with videos that demonstrate at-home massage techniques. Hopefully, your partner will return the favor and your formerly tense shoulders will thank you on Feb. 15.
Who says Valentine’s Day just has to be about two people? If you’re an altruistic kind of couple, brainstorm ways that you can help make the holiday brighter for someone else, says Jazmyn Strickland, who is involved with the nonprofit Ward House Charities in San Luis Obispo, California.
For example, you could volunteer in an elementary school classroom to help kids make Valentines for their parents, or make some yourself and deliver them to the residents of a nearby senior care facility.
“Many of these people feel unloved and are happy to have visitors,” Strickland says.
While this technically qualifies as a “gift,” it made the list because it can’t be plucked off a store shelf.
Decorate a small box or other container and fill it with mementos that represent some good times you’ve shared with your Valentine. This could include a matchbook from your favorite restaurant, ticket stubs from a movie you’ve seen together, vacation photographs and more.
To up the wow factor, glue them to poster board and make a collage. “It’s a great way to say, ‘I love you, and here are reminders of some fun things we did together,'” Nelson says.
Thoughtful, romantic and creative — that must be some kind of Valentine’s Day trifecta.