Want to celebrate Valentine’s Day without going into debt? Think fun.
Some of the best gifts involve sharing time, along with a little thoughtfulness. And the memories last far longer than a dozen roses or a box of chocolates. Here are 14 ways to express your love on the 14th — or any other day for that matter.
For a spouse or significant other:
1. Time in a bottle: Give your hardworking spouse a full day to do whatever he or she wants — or just to relax — no interruptions allowed. For him, that means he gets to engage in his hobby, watch the game, play 18 holes or do absolutely nothing. For her, that might means you feed and entertain the kids while she indulges in a good book, a bubble bath or a manicure. Announce your gift — along with your most heartfelt message of love and appreciation — in your best handwriting or play with various fonts on your home computer. Clean up an old wine bottle and insert the rolled-up message tied with a red bow.
2. Dining out: Sure, you can take your loved one out to dinner, but that can get expensive. Instead, eat out — as in outdoors. A picnic in a park or at the beach will fill the bill. In frostier climes, set up a picnic blanket and basket at the dining room table, on the living room floor or in the middle of that king-size bed. Add a rose or two (rather than a dozen) for atmosphere.
3. New adventures: Do something different. Go somewhere you’ve never been before, or “someplace you haven’t been in a while that’s special,” says John Gray, author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” The site of your first date, for example. When you vary your routine, “that’s what creates the memory,” he says.
4. Surprise, surprise: For guys that don’t normally cook, Gray says, your best attempt at a home-cooked meal can be a huge treat and doesn’t have to cost anything. Or hide a note under her pillow the night before or little notes around the house on the day, telling her what she means to you. Look at the little things. “What men don’t realize about Valentine’s Day is that it doesn’t have to cost a lot,” says Gray. “Little things make the difference. The surprise factor is nice, whenever possible,” Gray says.
5. Culture up: Does your significant other delight in museums, foreign films or rare books? In most metro areas, you can find high-culture, low-dollar activities if you know where to look. (Start with the local paper, check online and you can even call the local library or cultural organizations for suggestions.) Many museums have free days. Movie houses have special times when tickets are heavily discounted. For the book lover, plan a trip to a rare book shop, and splurge for cappuccino and biscotti at a nearby coffee house.
For the parents:
6. Creature comforts: For mom or dad it’s always a good idea to focus on the creature comforts. Let her sleep late and bring her coffee or orange juice and a simple breakfast in bed. “Some of the best stuff is free,” says Melina Bellows, author of “The Fun Book for Moms: 102 Ways to Celebrate Family,” and editor in chief of National Geographic Kids. Give dad or mom — especially if you have a single parent — the gift of an hour of “me-time” when they get home from work just to decompress, says Eric Stromer, author of “Do-It-Yourself Family: Fun and Useful Home Projects the Whole Family Can Make Together,” and host of HGTV’s “Over Your Head” and AOL’s “Do-It-Yourself with Eric Stromer.” “Try it Friday or Monday,” he says. If you know dad will retreat to his man-cave, post some kind of thank you note or affirmation there, just to let him know how much you appreciate his hard work.
7. Get techy wid it: The perfect gift for parents from teens and college kids. “Offer to be mom’s tech concierge,” says Bellows. Teach her to text, or show her how to download music or movies. If she’s wanted to investigate social networking, introduce her to Facebook, and create (with her permission) a page for her, so that she can catch up with her high school and college friends. Or, if you have a few bucks, do the old mixed tape one better and load up her MP3 player with a playlist with of music you know she’ll like.
8. Child labor: Sure, you’re busy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a little time making sure your parents know you love them. Make a book of coupons for your parents filled with jobs you promise to do for the week, month or year: things like shining dad’s shoes, washing mom’s car, watering the plants or even taking out the trash.
For the kids:
9. Cooking up some love: Kids will remember the Valentine’s Day they baked cookies with mom or dad. With little kids, opt for something simple, like heart-shaped cookies. With older children, consider cupcakes with more elaborate Valentine’s Day decorations. Then turn off the TV one night and have family game time or story time. Get out the old favorites or create a few new ones.
10. Treasure of love: Kathy Peel, author of “The Busy Mom’s Guide to a Happy, Organized Home,” suggests hosting a treasure hunt. “Post clues (pictures, rhymes or words) to direct family members from one location to another until they find their treasure: a small Valentine’s Day gift,” she says.
11. Get crafty: Try a family craft project, says Stromer. “Nothing spells love more than a heart made out of balsa wood and hung on the front door,” he says. Balsa is inexpensive, easy to work with (you can often use tools that you already have), and available at local craft stores. Paint it, let it dry and display it prominently, says Stromer.
12. Start the day with love: Celebrate with a Valentine’s Day breakfast, says Bellows. For a lot of families, the morning routine is hectic. So take some time on Saturday for a leisurely breakfast. Go for something traditional with a twist, like their favorite pancakes in heart shapes. Keep with the Valentine’s theme by using lots of strawberry or cherry syrup and whipped cream. And focus on the foods they really love.
13. Work together: Take a few hours on Saturday to work together as a family on a project geared to the abilities of the kids. Build — or even just hang — a bird house. You can find kits in craft stores or if you’re not handy, take the children to pick out a seed ball. Then, together, select a spot where it can be seen from indoors and hang it. Not only do you help foster local wildlife (and help creatures during the cold winter months), you and your family get to enjoy a little bit of nature in your own backyard. Another thought: Make your own kite. A little newspaper (or other heavy paper or light cloth), some balsa wood (available at craft stores), string and poster paints can add up to a pretty fantastic kite. (Check Internet sites or children’s craft books at the library if you need examples or instructions.) See who can design the prettiest, fastest, most colorful or most unusual kite. You can display them in the kids’ rooms or around the house. Then on the first sunny, windy day, try them out.
For any situation:
14. Be a friend: Know someone who’s alone? Set aside some time to share a meal, go on an outing, or swap recipes or gossip. It can cost virtually nothing, and you’ll likely gain a lot more than you give.