Valentine’s Day Gifts that Won’t Put You in the Red

Here, some ideas for giving from the heart without putting you in the red.

The Ghost of Christmas Past meets Cupid’s kiss — or in other words, you can add to the holiday credit card debt a romantic dinner, a dozen red roses, a box of gourmet chocolates and maybe even a trip to the jeweler.

Just as you’re lamenting financial overindulgence from the holidays, along comes Valentine’s Day with its expectations of romantic displays and other heart-felt gestures of love and friendship. Here, some ideas for giving from the heart without putting you in the red.

Fireside or candle-lit picnic. Instead of splurging for dinner at a posh four- or five-star restaurant, prepare an intimate picnic at home. Lounge in front of a roaring fire with a home-cooked gourmet meal or an assortment of your favourite cheeses paired with a bottle of wine or champagne.

A single red rose and home-made truffles. You’ll save on the hefty price of a dozen red roses and a box of gourmet chocolates (both of which are typically inflated for Valentine’s Day) as well as demonstrate a little originality.

Add some colour. If you’re among the one third of people who still plan to spend on flowers, here’s how to stretch your dollar: Skip the roses all together and create your own bouquet of your valentine’s favourite flowers. Another option is to buy a potted plant with a little colourful foil and a big bow (it will last longer too).

Romantic get-away. Forget the far-flung destination and look for l’amour a little closer to home. Turn off the computer and the cell phone and make your home your castle with lots of your favourite foods and uninterrupted time together. Another option might be a getaway at a local hotel or B&B.

Spend quality time together. Look for free or inexpensive activities in your area like festivals, or get out and get some exercise with a day of snowshoeing or hiking at a local park.

Eat out, but eat less. Instead of an expensive dinner, watch for community fundraisers like a brunch or dessert event at your church, a local heritage attraction or community centre, If you plan to eat out, go for desserts and drinks instead of a full meal.

Enjoy some in-house pampering. Skip the expensive side-by-side treatments at the spa and take turns pampering each other at home. Enjoy a scented bath with a few drops of essential oils, take turns giving massages and indulge in a sugar scrub or facial using ingredients right from your pantry. (See European Beauty Secrets and The blissful benefits of a bath for tips and recipes.)

Your personal DJ. Remember the mixed tape? Update this stand-by and create your own personal playlist on your mp3 player. Select your favourite songs — especially ones that are tied to important moments — and add a picture of you and your sweetheart as the “album art”. Then, simply plug your player into your stereo system or speakers and settle in for some romantic music (and maybe even a little dancing).

Think outside the box for jewellery. While diamonds have become the classic expression of love (thanks to the prodigious efforts of the diamond industry), semi-precious stones can make a stunning and less costly alternative.

Shop vintage. Why pay full price for the same gifts everyone else is buying? Second hand or consignment shops have unique items that won’t break the bank. Warren Hales, owner of Toronto’s Around the Block consignment store, offers these suggestions: try a crystal vase for some freshly cut flowers or a one-of-a-kind piece of jewellery to suit his or her personal style.

Clean house. Guys, remember that study that said there’s a correlation between men doing more housework and the frequency of sex? A good house cleaning may just be as effective as other aphrodisiacs like oysters. (See the Zoomer Report for more details.) Keep the goodwill going all year long with a chore coupon book she can redeem anytime.

Get the kids involved. Valentine’s isn’t just for lovers — people plan to spend on their children, grandchildren, friends and other members of the family as well. Get the kids or grandkids involved in some quality craft time to make Valentine’s cookies, chocolates, greeting cards and decorations.

Be imaginative. From re-creating a treasured moment of the past to penning your own sonnet, alternative gifts can be a more meaningful way to express your love — no matter how much money you make.