Updated on 01.10.17

How to Plan a Great, Low-Cost Valentine’s Day Surprise

Trent Hamm

Some of you are going to see the topic of this article, check the calendar, and be completely confused. Valentine’s Day? That’s more than a month away! Why write about it now?

The reason I’m writing about it now is because, with sentimental holidays like Valentine’s Day, some prep work can help you create a very low-cost gift that’s incredibly meaningful for your partner.

Why? Time is almost always the most valuable ingredient in a great, thoughtful, meaningful gift. When you invest your own time into something, you make something into more than the sum of its parts, and that’s almost always the key to something unforgettable for a day like Valentine’s Day.

Here are seven things you can do to create a wonderful Valentine’s Day surprise for the special person in your life, even if you don’t have a lot of money.

Write a good love letter. This actually isn’t as hard as you might think. Just go to the store, pick out a small pack of good paper, and get a good wide-lined pen – it’s all you need.

Instead of just sitting down and writing, spend some time drafting the letter in a computer program. Start off with your partner’s name, then simply state that your partner means an incredible amount to you, in whatever words feel the most comfortable. Then, simply list several little things that you notice about your partner that you really love. Try to mix it up – mention a physical trait, but also mention a kindness and other character attributes. Mention things you’ve seen that person do that have stuck an arrow in your heart. List six or eight or ten of them – the ones that really stand out – and then close by simply stating that for all of those things, and countless others, you love that person with your whole heart, and sign it.

Write the letter, then let it rest for a few days and edit it again. Then do it again. And again. Give it several drafts until it sounds wonderful. You can even ask a friend who can write well to give you a bit of polishing help, but don’t let them change very much. Keep your voice in it.

Once you have a draft on your computer that you like, pull out that nice paper and transcribe it in your own best handwriting. Take it slowly and make every letter look as nice as you can. If you mess up, start over. Give it time so that it looks good. (I’ve had to redo such letters several times before.)

Then simply fold it and deliver it, perhaps along with a very small additional gift. The letter will mean an incalculable amount.

Plan an amazing meal at home, down to the last detail. What is your partner’s favorite meal in the world? Is there a way that you can possibly prepare that meal at home in a presentable way?

Research recipes and techniques. Figure out how to make that recipe like the back of your hand, then also figure out what foods accompany it. A salad? A particular wine?

Spend some time thinking about details. Where could you sit that would be romantic? Do you have a nice tablecloth? What about a candle and a candle holder? Most of those items are either laying around your house or can be had very inexpensively, but the key is to think about it and come up with lots of little nice details.

Spend the time between then and now continuing to think about details and making sure you have those little details ready. Plan for when you’d prepare the meal, how you’d get the ingredients, and make sure you have all of the little elements ready to go.

One great way to do this is to do it as a surprise, and perhaps have that love letter sitting at your partner’s place before the meal.

Make some personalized soap. It’s actually very easy to make personalized soap with a wide variety of scents and colors. Just visit the soapmaking section of your local hobby store and look for “melt and pour” soap options.

The thing is, with a gift like this, you can personalize like crazy. Look online for soap molds, different colorings, and different scents. You could make a sandalwood soap in the shape of the logo of his favorite baseball team. You could make an evergreen scented soap in the shape of the Millennium Falcon. You could make a raspberry scented soap that’s colored in a reddish-purple with a bit of oatmeal mixed in, cut into simple rectangles. You can basically do anything.

The key is to think of a pairing of shape, color, and additive that would make the soap really feel personalized for your partner. Think deeply about those options and what’s available, and give yourself plenty of lead time to acquire the small number of items you need.

Remember, you can always use the excess as soap or for other gift-giving occasions.

Transcribe a poem or quote and present it well. If you like the idea of a love letter but are scared of your own ability to write creatively, instead look for a meaningful poem or quote for your partner and hand-transcribe it on nice paper.

Take your time and read a lot of poems and quotes. Consider some of your partner’s favorite writers or people and look for quotes or poems by that person.

Also, take your time to transcribe the poem beautifully. Take it slow, use your best penmanship, and don’t be afraid to start over if you’re unhappy with the result.

For an extra touch, consider a fountain pen and a bright ink, but only if they’re available to you. I have a small number of fountain pens, so I’m likely to choose a colorful ink when I do this type of thing, enabling me to make nice crisp lines in an ink color that my wife would love.

Make your partner’s favorite snack, personalized and packaged. If your spouse has a particular snack that they really love that can’t easily be found or bought, take the time to make a large quantity of that snack for your partner.

One year, for example, my wife made me a large bucket of handmade krumkake that she rolled herself with her grandmother’s krumkake iron.

Another time, I made a large quantity of homemade marshmallows with just a hint of a favorite flavor in them and wrapped them beautifully in cellophane.

Prepare a photo collage. Perhaps you have some photos of your partner at their favorite places, or the two of you together at various places. Take those photos to a photo store, have them touched up a bit, and have high quality prints made of them. Then arrange them in a photo collage.

There are a lot of ways to do this. You can either simply buy a multi-paned collage photo frame. Another option is to simply lay them out yourself in a larger frame, say an 11″ by 17″ or even a poster-sized frame. If you use a larger one, integrating a handwritten poem or note in it can be a great personalized touch.

Again, this gift is all about time. It’s about choosing photos, getting prints made, figuring out how to arrange them well, and so on. You need real lead time to pull this one off, but you can turn your shared memories into a very beautiful gift.

Make some personalized bathtub bombs, then set up a nice bath. This one does take some prep work, but it can make for a really nice experience for a partner.

All you have to do is follow this easy bath bomb recipe, substituting your own color choice here. Make a bunch of them – you’ll find the recipe ingredients to be very expensive.

Then, plan for a wonderful bath for your partner. Buy a bottle of tasty table wine and put that wine next to the tub. Draw it nice and warm and then have a couple of the bombs ready to go beside the tub, along with the others wrapped in a bit of cellophane. Put on a bit of quiet music. Hang up a towel and a bathrobe for their convenience.

Then, when your partner arrives, just let them wile away their worries in a warm bath. You can have your partner soak for a bit while you perhaps prepare the finishing touches on that dinner.

The best strategy? Combine them. Have a bath ready with a few bath bombs when your partner gets home, then finish setting up a romantic dinner while they soak, with a romantic letter on their plate when they come to the table. The cost for all of that? A few household supplies, the basic foods needed for a dinner, and a sheet of paper. Your partner, however, will love it.

It just takes some planning and some time, so get on it now. You can create a mind-blowing Valentine’s Day without spending much money, just some time and thought.

Good luck!

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