Valentine’s Day is less than a month away. As Valentine’s Day is a celebration of romantic love, many couples use that day as an opportunity to exchange some symbol of that love. Of course, many companies jump right on this bandwagon and nudge people who want to show their love toward expensive items like jewelry, flowers, chocolates, expensive dinners and more.
The truth is that, for most couples, what really matters is the meaning, not the sticker attached to it. Often, a really thoughtful small gift or, even better, something you’ve made yourself can perfectly fit the bill without adding to the credit card balance.
Those types of gifts take time and thought. So, here are some suggestions for some inexpensive and thoughtful Valentine’s Day gifts, many of which you can make yourself if you give yourself ample time over the next month.
Write a truly loving note in your own handwriting.
There are few gifts that you can give to your partner on Valentine’s Day that will mean more than a note in your own handwriting, describing how you love your partner. It’s the type of thing that will be cherished and looked back upon for years, and it’s an amazing gift for someone who you’re considering spending your life with (or have already decided to).
The problem is that, for many people without an ability to write with ease, coming up with this kind of note can be tricky. So, here’s a little guide for putting together just such a note.
First, write the note out completely in digital form using Google Docs, so that when you’re writing it by hand, you’re just copying what you’ve already written. This makes it easier to edit and improve your note until you’re happy with it.
The best way to start with a love note like this, in my opinion, is to think of five things that you truly love about your partner and a moment where each of those things shined. You may find that the traits you love help you figure out the moment, or you may find that remembering a moment where you were blown away by your partner helps you figure out the trait.
For example, if I were writing a note to Sarah, I might include:
Her sense of humor and wit, which shines when I hear her laughter
Her care for our family, which I saw when she took care of an ill family member
How she feels when she sits next to me, like when we were on that beach by a fire last October
Just think of things you love about your partner and moments when those things really shined.
Then, rewrite each of them into a simple format. Write how you love that trait, then follow that with another sentence or two where you recall it.
I love how you… then I saw it when…
I love your… then I remember when…
You do not need to use fancy language. Use natural language. Write how you would say it, not how someone else would say it.
Then, add on a simple beginning and an ending. I might write something like this, and you can copy it and adjust it as you wish:
I love you in so many ways. You make my life better just being who you are.
Then I’d list the five things I wrote above, and finish with something like this:
Our years together have been the most wonderful of my life. I love you more now than I ever have, and I can’t wait to see what our future holds.
(Obviously, this isn’t exactly what I’d write, as I’d put my own flourishes on it, but you get the idea.)
Feel free to copy and paste anything here that will help you come up with a good note, but edit it a little to make it sound like your own words. Save your work and keep tinkering with it for the next few weeks.
When you’re reasonably happy with it, go get a few sheets of paper and a pen and copy what you’ve created in Google Docs in your own handwriting. Write slowly and carefully and clearly, and it’s okay if it takes a few sessions to get it all down.
That note will likely become a keepsake for the person you gave it to. It’s one of those things that often winds up slipped into a drawer somewhere and looked at again and again as a reminder of love. Plus, it can serve as a great addition to one of the other ideas in this article.
Make your partner’s favorite meal from scratch.
What is your partner’s absolute favorite meal? What food does your partner absolutely flip for? Make that meal from scratch as your Valentine’s Day gift. Simply tell your partner that you have something “cooked up” for Valentine’s Day, then give yourself plenty of time that day to prepare the meal.
You can start planning now by looking for recipes and ingredients and thinking about how you want to present the meal. Here’s a timeline that might help.
This week, think about the overall meal plan, what you want the table to look like (candles?), and whether you can get a few hours off of work to pull it all together.
Next week, identify recipes that match up with your meal plan and figure out a timeline for preparing everything. If you have three recipes and need them all to finish at the same time, what does your timeline for food preparation look like? What will you be doing two hours before the meal? One hour? Include things like setting the table, too.
The following week, write out your full ingredient list and identify what items you need to buy at the store to pull off the meal and presentation.
During the few days before the meal, do a lot of the meal preparation steps like cutting up vegetables and so on. You can store these in the fridge.
On the day of the meal, just follow your timeline and give yourself a little bit of breathing room, especially at the start.
It’s this kind of advance planning that will help this meal come together and be amazing. If you leave everything for the last minute, it will likely fall apart in some fashion, resulting in you just skipping the whole thing or something going disastrously wrong. Plan now so you can make an amazing meal later.
Make a “jar of love.”
A “jar of love” is simply a little jar that includes a bunch of folded up pieces of paper. On each of those pieces of paper, you write down something you love about your partner.
The color of your eyes
The way you take charge when things are tough
How you hold me in your arms
You get the idea.
All you really need for this is a small jar of some kind, which you can find at a dollar store, and a few sheets of paper cut into small slips. Make it a goal to write, say, five things a day from now until Valentine’s Day and you’ll have more than 100 slips in the jar. Aim for 10 a day and you’ll have almost 300 slips in the jar.
It takes just a few minutes a day if you do it this way, rather than trying to come up with 100 ideas on February 13. If you start now, this is an easy project rather than an overwhelming one.
Make their favorite snack, sweets or baked goods, just for them to enjoy.
During our first year as a couple, I went to one of Sarah’s extended family events where I met a bunch of her relatives and tried out some Norwegian foods, as she has relatives from Norway. I particularly liked the krumkake (a kind of light cookie) and ate several of them. Sarah remembered this and made me a tub of about 150 krumkake as a gift, and I still remember it fondly, more than 20 years later.
The beauty of the gift was that it was something I really liked, entirely for me as I didn’t have to share it unless I wanted to, made by her. It was thoughtful and she put her heart into it and the result was delicious and I could savor it over time.
Here’s another example. I know that Sarah likes chocolate and she also likes fresh fruit, so a few years ago I made her a bunch of chocolate-covered strawberries. I filled up a large container with them and put them in the fridge, exclusively for her to eat when she wanted them and to share if she so chose. She let our kids each have a couple, but she would often have two or three each evening for a good week after Valentine’s Day.
She could have obviously bought herself some chocolate-covered strawberries somewhere, or I could have just purchased them from a store. The difference was that I made them on my own, exclusively for her.
What does that kind of story look like for you and your partner?
Start by asking yourself what kind of food they really like to snack on. Is your partner a “sweets” kind of person, or does your partner prefer savory snacks? More importantly, what are two or three of your partner’s favorite foods to snack on?
Take those two or three ideas and do some investigation. How could you make those very foods at home in a reasonably large quantity so that your partner would have plenty of homemade snacks for a while?
You’d be surprised how many snacks are actually possible to make at home if you get the proper ingredients and give yourself the time to make it. As with the homemade meal above, the key is to just take it slow.
Start now by deciding on what you might make. What snack does your partner love that you could actually make at home?
Over the next week or two, find recipes for that snack. Maybe you decided to make your partner a bunch of homemade tortilla chips and some salsa to go with it. Get some amazing recipes for those snacks by looking at a bunch online and choosing ones that have stellar reviews.
After that, come up with an ingredient list and a timeline for making them so that the snacks are pretty fresh on the big day. When will you buy the ingredients? When will you tackle each step in the recipe? How will you package the gift up?
Make a framed collage of your best moments together.
All you really need for this is a multi-picture photo frame from your preferred store (I actually get my photo frames secondhand, as local secondhand shops seem to always have them around here) as well as a handful of prints, so why do you need to start now?
The reason to start now is that, for most of us, the time needed to dig through a large digital library of pictures to find the 10 or 12 (or however many you need) pictures that really encapsulate your best moments together can take quite a lot of time.
The easiest way to do this is to create an album of photos on your phone. Here’s how to do that on iOS devices and how to do that on Android. In each case, once you have an album for this project, just sift through your photo library, looking for images that really encapsulate key moments and things from your relationship. Since you’re starting early, you have plenty of time to sift through 100 or so pictures a day, if not more.
Once you have a dozen or so pictures, send them off to a local photo lab to get them printed in a size that fits the frame you have. If you’re a bit more artistic, you can turn them into an actual collage for a small poster frame, but you may not want to tackle that unless you have the time and patience.
Find a small thoughtful “deep” gift for their hobby.
If you want to show someone you care, there’s almost nothing you can do that will work better than figuring out what their favorite hobby is and then really doing some deep homework to find gifts within that hobby that they would love and that they don’t already have. That takes time and work, but it can result in a gift that will bring tears to their eyes.
For example, several years ago Sarah made me some handmade pieces for one of my favorite board games. She spent several evenings quietly making them outside of my notice and then surprised me with them, encouraging us to actually play a game together using them.
She thought about what my hobby was, thought about something unique that I wouldn’t have related to that hobby, invested her time and energy into making that happen, and then shared that experience with me. It was a wonderful gift because of its sheer thoughtfulness and the love behind it.
You can start by thinking about what your partner’s main hobbies are. What does your partner like to do? You can identify shared hobbies, of course, but also think carefully about what your partner enjoys doing when you’re doing other things.
Once you’ve identified a hobby, spend the next week or two doing some homework into your partner’s hobby. Look through their collection carefully to see what they specifically have and also what their specific interests are.
For example, let’s say your partner is really into woodworking. You might spend some time poking around their woodworking area, taking some pictures of their tool chests and their equipment and maybe a few of their favorite finished projects.
Or, maybe, your partner is into board games. Look through their collection and identify what a few of their favorite games are, as well as taking note of their collection as a whole.
Take that information and seek out some experts on that hobby. Look for an online forum related to that hobby, sign up for that forum, and ask for some advice. Give them a reasonable price range, an idea of what their favorite things in that hobby are, and just ask for really good gift ideas. The information you gathered can really help here, so that you’re sure not to get them something they already have but rather something that’s really in line with what they love about that hobby.
One good approach is a handmade gift that’s related to that hobby, whether you have the skills to pull it off or not. If you do, try making it yourself. If not, you might want to check out Etsy, as there are nearly infinite items related to almost any hobby on there.
The key is to find something that’s not an obvious gift related to their hobby, something that will really bring them joy but that you might not know if you didn’t do your homework and really care about finding the right thing.
The possibilities here vary so much that I can’t possibly point to specific ideas. All I can say is this: starting now and doing careful homework will almost always lead you to a great idea, one that shows you’re really paying attention to them, and it’s that thoughtfulness that takes a cool gift and turns it into something that’s a real symbol of love.
Remember the reason you’re doing this.
Putting in the effort to create a really meaningful DIY gift or to find a really thoughtful and still inexpensive gift for your partner for Valentine’s Day can feel like a major task, which is part of why I suggest starting now rather than later on. If you start now, putting the pieces together for something romantic and thoughtful becomes much easier than if you wait until February 13.
The thing to remember throughout all of this is the person you’re doing this for. It’s not about the gift itself, whether it’s free, inexpensive or not. It’s about that person that you love, and it’s about an opportunity to show that person that you love them and care about them deeply.
Put in the time to write a thoughtful note or to make a thoughtful gift or do the homework to find a really thoughtful item. If it’s tough, remember that you’re doing this out of love. Tie it all together with a note that they’ll cherish.