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.

Write her a romance: Looking for something a little unusual? How about a personalized romance novel? At, you choose the story line and they’ll add you and your loved one’s names to every page. Choose “wild” or “mild” story versions, in paperback or hardback. Keep in mind that you’ll need to order by Feb. 9 for Valentine’s Day this year.

“Bottle up” your feelings: Adrift in the sea of love? Why not send her a personalized message in a bottle? Check Message in a Bottle for a gift that will show her you know how to pour out your feelings.

Other “woman-approved” sites for Valentine’s gifts include RedEnvelope and UncommonGoods. Check out Red Envelope’s “gifts under $50” for lots of reasonably priced jewelry and other options. At Uncommon Goods, consider the wine-tasting chocolate kit ($30) or the infinite love paperweight, a bargain at just $18.

If you’re able to spend more, here are some higher-priced gifts sure to please your Valentine:

Give her the royal treatment: Gift expert Ingram is partial to spa gifts for Valentine’s Day. “Unless you already know which spa is her favorite, get a gift certificate through a service like Spa Finder or Spa Wish,” she says. “That way, she can choose any of a number of spas in their networks. She can even use the certificate to get a massage or manicure while she’s traveling.” Since spa treatments aren’t cheap, it’s probably a good idea to put at least $50 on the gift certificate.

Be her handyman for a day: Has your gal hinted about wanting something a tad romantic around the house or garden, such as her own porch swing, a rose-covered archway or a soothing garden fountain? If so, create a gift certificate for the “romantic home improvement of her choice.”

Remember, many women are particular about home and garden accessories, so offer to spend an afternoon helping her pick the swing or fountain online (try sites such as Smith & Hawken or Jackson & Perkins) or at your local garden center. Keep in mind that this gift might be a little more costly than others. Your labor might be free, but unless you’re good with tools you may still need to spring for the swing, arbor or fountain.

Give a gift that keeps on giving: “One year, my husband made a donation in my name to the Nature Conservancy because he knows I’m passionate about preserving wild lands in the American West,” says Leslie Petrovski of Denver. By donating to a cause she particularly cared about, Petrovski’s husband followed gift expert Spizman’s top tip: showing that he was paying attention to his wife’s values.

If you’re not sure which nonprofit group to support, Alternative Gifts International offers a wide selection of charitable gifts to global causes you can buy in a loved one’s name.

Show her she’s a class act: Has your Valentine always wanted to learn to paint? Or maybe she gave up yoga classes after she had children? Show her you remember what she’s passionate about (other than you, of course!) by giving her a gift certificate for a series of art, yoga or other classes. If you have kids, offer to watch them on the nights she’s in class.

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.