This year, my husband and I will celebrate our 16th Valentine's Day together. Fourteen of those were spent in wedded bliss (mostly, anyway). Over the years, there were several times I felt as if that tiny Cupid guy really did shoot his arrow directly into my heart. But to be honest, the Valentine's Days I remember most are the ones that weren't charged to a credit card and didn't involve elaborate meals and a $100 bouquet of roses.
One year, Josh excitedly presented me with a shiny DVD in a blank case (every girl's dream, right?). When I popped the disc in the player, I got a bit mushy. He had compiled several of my favorite photos—from our dating years, the wedding, the births of our two children—and set the whole thing to music that brought back just as many memories.
Another year, he gave me a sketching he had done of my favorite wedding picture of the two of us—just after we had walked outside onto the large front porch of the building, and I was whispering something to him. My husband can be a real romantic when he wants to be. But the point I am trying to make is that he did this all for a few bucks, at most.
Americans spent more than $18 billion to celebrate Cupid's big day in 2017, according to the National Retail Federation. Yikes. That breaks down to more than $136 per person, and those numbers were even higher in 2016. Not that there is anything wrong with spending money on your Valentine. If you can and want to shower your love with dozens of roses and a diamond bracelet, go right on ahead. Me? I'm more of a simple and sincere kind of girl—I don't want anything over the top, I just want to know you mean it.
But for some, these numbers can be downright depressing. There were plenty of Valentine's Days where Josh and I had no extra funds to spend on each other. Money was tight, and dinners out were an extravagance. Our celebrations included dinner at home after babies were put to bed and the rare rented movie that wasn't animated. But we were okay with that.
Whether your funds are extensive or still recovering from the holidays, there's no need to break the bank to show your forever Valentine they're still the one that makes your heart melt. Sometimes, a little creativity, maybe a few dollars, and a little foresight are all that's needed to make an unforgettable and budget-friendly way to say “Be mine, Valentine.”
Here are 10 ideas to get those romantic wheels turning.
1. Skip the restaurants. My husband and I have a general rule to never eat out on Valentine's Day. Even before we had kids, the three-hour wait was nothing we enjoyed. One year, we made reservations and still waited nearly an hour before actually eating. Do both of you a favor and stay home. Cook your spouse's favorite meal instead, or tuck the kids in bed a little early and whip up something special together in the kitchen. Seriously, I am just talking about food here. But then again …
2. Pen your love a letter. Go ahead and tell her your heart rate still goes up a notch when she enters the room. Tell your husband how secure his strength makes you feel. Whatever it is you love about your spouse, let them know. You don't have to be Shakespeare and write a beautiful sonnet … Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Plain and to the point works well too … I love you like crazy. I am thankful for you. I couldn't live without you.
3. Give them a vacation from chores. For one week, take over some of your spouse's responsibilities at home—do the dishes and laundry, mow the lawn and weed those flowerbeds, bathe the kids and put them to bed. Not only will you be giving your spouse a break from many of the pressures of home life, but you are recognizing the things they do that seem to go unnoticed. That is a gift itself.
4. Use your natural gifts. Musically inclined? I'm slightly jealous. Write them an original song or sing/play one of their favorites. Good with tools? Build your love something inexpensive to make, like a jewelry box or a small trunk to hold a treasured possession. Whatever you do well, find a way to turn that into something that tells your spouse you care.
5. Choose something sentimental, but not pricey. Maybe attempting to make a homemade gifts sounds almost painful. You can still come up with a creatively sentimental present. I spent $10 recently on a shirt my husband sports proudly. It bears a slogan from a favorite TV show we binge-watched together. It means little to anyone else, but is an inside joke we share. Maybe buy her a copy of the first movie you two watched together on a date, or a CD with the first song you danced to. Write a little note to go with it saying you're happy to spend the rest of your life dating them again and again.
6. Pamper them at home. For less than $5, you can pick up some bubble bath, a candle, and some hot tea at most dollar stores. When your wife gets home, let her relax while you take care of the dinner details. Wives, you can similarly pamper your husbands. Wash and vacuum his car, or rub his feet after a long day of work. Backrubs are always a good idea for men or women. And one size fits all!
7. Plan a date at your local park. Weather permitting, that is. One year my husband surprised me with my mother coming over to watch the kids and a note on where to meet him. He was at our local park, where he had rented a pavilion (which are often free or super cheap). A fire in the fireplace, music, and a light meal were waiting on me. It was like something from a movie. But the possibilities don't end there. Enjoy a walk or bike ride with your love, and hide a small treat somewhere along the way for them to find.
8. Send the kids packing. Call Grandma, make a deal with another couple with young kids, whatever. If possible, send the kids away for a night so you can have the entire house to yourselves. Set the phone on do not disturb and enjoy one uninterrupted evening of laughing, loving, and just being husband and wife.
9. Relive a first date. On our first date, we ate Italian food and headed to a movie. We saw Red Dragon (which terrified me) because we hadn't really planned on movie times, and it was the only one starting within 30 minutes. To recreate our first date on a budget, I'd lay out a white tablecloth, set out a basket of breadsticks, and serve my handsome hubby homemade lasagna (what he ordered on October 12, 2002). I'd probably skip the movie this round because I am a big wimp.
If your first date was a concert, make a playlist on your phone that relives the moments that started a lifetime of love. Whatever it was, find a way to recreate the moment and moods that made her say yes to a second date.
10. Create a Valentine's tradition. My parents have a super romantic anniversary tradition that started years ago. They eat chili dogs. I know this sends your heart into palpitations. The messy hot dog celebration started when they still had kids in the house, no relatives nearby to watch me and my brothers, and money was tight. It was an easy, inexpensive meal, but it became a tradition. Even when they celebrated their 25th anniversary in Mexico, they managed to find a place serving chili dogs.
Why not make this year the year of new traditions? Traditions not only bond our families but our marriages as well. Maybe you want to be a bit fancier than hot dogs and canned chili. (Or maybe not, that's okay too!) You could start a tradition of spending the holiday wrapped up in blankets, steaming cups of hot cocoa, and your favorite romance movie. Or channel your inner Iron Chefs and download an adventurous cooking video to follow along with. Whatever you do, make it your thing.
In the end, the day isn't about reservations at the hottest new restaurant, or yet another piece of jewelry just after Christmas. It's about showing your spouse you'd still choose them, no matter how many Valentine's Days you celebrate together. And I know, I know. It's more important to let them know this every day. But a sweet reminder on a cold February day won't hurt either.
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