When you’re on a tight budget, figuring out what to get your wife or girlfriend for Valentine’s Day can be stressful. All the glittering store window displays and glossy magazine articles send the message that to show your lady how much you love her, you must shell out big bucks for lavish bouquets, fancy jewelry, or big boxes of gourmet chocolates.
With those big, bright “spend” signs everywhere, it’s easy to worry that if you show up with nothing but a warm smile and a handwritten card, you’re sending the message you don’t really care.
However, real women tell a different story. In 2019, when Summer’s Eve surveyed 2,000 women about their V-Day wishes, lavish gifts didn’t even make the list. Instead, the top requests for this special day of love were a romantic dinner, sex, and intimacy — you know, cuddling and sharing feelings with a loved one.
Even if you prefer to give your gal a physical gift, you don’t need to max out your credit card to do it. With a little creativity, you can give her a traditional gift like flowers or candy for much less money — or make a less conventional gesture that’s just as romantic.
Traditional Valentine’s Day Gifts
A 2020 survey by the National Retail Federation found that Americans who celebrate Valentine’s Day expected to spend an average of $196 on romantic gifts and special activities for the occasion. Americans as a group planned to spend a total of $1.3 billion on greeting cards, $2.4 billion on candy, $2.3 billion on flowers, and $5.8 billion on jewelry.
If these figures sound alarmingly high to you, don’t panic. There are ways to give these traditional Valentine’s Day gifts without spending a bundle. You just have to be prepared to expand your horizons a little, looking at different types of gifts within the same general category.
Love notes were the very first Valentine’s Day gifts, dating back to the original Saint Valentine, an early Christian martyr. The History channel website relates the legend of how Valentine fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and left her a letter signed, “Your Valentine,” before going to his death.
Today, the love messages people exchange on Feb. 14 are more likely to be preprinted lines on store-bought cards. You can choose from a wide selection at any gift shop or drugstore for a few dollars each. However, these canned sentiments aren’t very personal or romantic.
If you really want to stand out, a homemade card is the way to go. Women interviewed by Thrillist about their Valentine’s Day desires specifically said they appreciate handmade cards because they’re personal. Making your own card allows you to say how you feel about your sweetheart in your own words — a gesture that the fanciest card at the stationer’s store can’t make for you. And as a bonus, it costs practically nothing.
Flowers are also traditional tokens of love and popular Valentine’s Day gifts. In the Summer’s Eve survey, nearly half of all women said they’d like to receive flowers as part of their Valentine’s Day experience.
By far the most popular flower for Valentine’s Day is the rose. According to SendFlowers.com, red roses have long made up the largest share of Valentine’s Day sales, either on their own or in mixed bouquets. >That could have something to do with the elaborate language of flowers used in Victorian England, in which red roses stood for romantic love.
Unfortunately, roses are a summer-blooming flower, so you can’t just go out and pick a bunch of them in February. Florists receive most roses purchased for Valentine’s Day from South America, and shipping them over this distance while keeping them fresh adds to their cost.
However, there are less expensive ways to “say it with flowers“:
- Different Flowers. Carnations cost much less than roses, and they last longer in a vase. Other inexpensive alternatives include chrysanthemums, daffodils, and tulips. Tulips of any color are a declaration of passion in the language of flowers, so they’re just as appropriate for a romantic gesture.
- A Single Rose. You can send the message of passionate love that red roses convey without buying a whole dozen. A single rose, especially when accompanied by a message such as, “You’re my one and only,” is just as romantic and much more affordable.
- Potted Plants. Unlike a bouquet that withers after a week or so, a live indoor plant can keep growing and blooming long past February. Home and garden centers carry a variety of flowering plants — like orchids, chrysanthemums, and African violets — for less than half the cost of a bunch of roses.
- Paper Roses. Instead of buying cut roses that will fade, you can make paper roses that will last for years. Search online for “paper roses” to find tutorials for a variety of methods that produce different-looking blooms. For instance, Instructables describes a spiral-cutting technique that creates a tightly curled blossom. Making the roses out of old book pages or sheet music adds an extra touch of romance, especially if the text is about love.
Pro tip: If you purchase flowers through ProFlowers, you can save 20% off your first purchase when you sign up for their newsletter.
Chocolates are nearly as popular as flowers for Valentine’s Day. Over 40% of women in the Summer’s Eve survey said they’d like a box of chocolates as a Valentine’s Day gift. However, these candies can also be quite expensive, especially if you buy them from luxury chocolatiers like Godiva.
To send sweets to the sweet on a tighter budget, think outside the chocolate box. A quick online search for “Valentine’s candy” turns up a wide variety of chocolate-free treats, including spicy cinnamon candies, red-and-white candy corn or M&M’s, various flavors of candy hearts, and conversation hearts with love messages on them. Sweets like these can cost as little as a few dollars a bag.
Even if the lady in your life is a die-hard chocolate fan, you don’t have to shell out big bucks for gourmet chocolates. There are all kinds of homemade Valentine’s Day treats that are reasonably easy to make, such as:
- Chocolate-dipped strawberries
- Cherry cordials
- Truffles — sweet fillings coated in chocolate
- Chocolate bark — a layer of chocolate with toppings like fruit, nuts, toffee chips, or peppermint pieces
- Heart-shaped cookies
- Cupcakes decorated with icing hearts
Making your own cheap Valentine’s Day treats is more personal than choosing a heart-shaped box from the store shelf. Like a homemade Valentine’s Day card, a plate of homemade goodies in your valentine’s favorite flavor shows you put some effort and thought into the gift.
The exchange of jewelry, especially rings, as a pledge of love is a centuries-old tradition. Ancient Origins cites examples of rings being used in wedding ceremonies as early as 3000 B.C. And unlike many other Valentine’s Day gifts, gifts of jewelry are treasured at least partly because of their financial worth. The idea is that spending thousands of dollars on a tiny ornament, such as a diamond pendant, shows how committed you are to your lady love since most people wouldn’t throw away that kind of money on a passing fancy.
If you think jewelry would make your lady swoon, you don’t have to spend thousands — or even hundreds — of dollars on it. Some less costly alternatives include:
- Created Stones. Nowadays, it’s possible to synthesize gemstones — such as diamonds, rubies, and sapphires — in a laboratory. These gems aren’t costume jewelry. They’re genuine jewels, but they cost a lot less than the same stones mined out of the ground. You can find many rings and pendants made with lab-created stones at jewelers like Kay and Zales.
- Costume Jewelry. If the woman in your life cares only about how jewelry looks and not about the stones, you can save even more money. Costume jewelry, also known as fashion jewelry, is made with glass, cubic zirconia, semi-precious stones, colorful beads, or plain metal worked into decorative shapes. Costume jewelry can fit just about any budget, and there are lots of choices available, so you can find the right piece for your special someone.
- Vintage Jewelry. Antique stores, secondhand shops, and pawn shops carry unique antique jewelry like lockets, cameos, and intricately designed rings and earrings. Prices vary widely — you can find antique jewelry that costs as much as new jewels or even more. But you can also find very affordable vintage pieces on sites like eBay and Etsy.
- Handmade Jewelry. Speaking of Etsy, it also carries unique jewelry sold directly by the artists who make it. There’s a huge variety here to fit any imaginable style — and any budget.
- DIY Jewelry. Finally, you can truly customize a piece to your significant other’s tastes by making it yourself. Craft stores like Michaels carry beads in every shape, color, and style along with the supplies to fashion them into necklaces, earrings, and brooches.
If your sweetheart is a die-hard traditionalist, then traditional Valentine’s Day gifts like flowers and candy are probably the best choice. But if she’s a bit unconventional, why limit yourself to the usual ideas?
The best gift isn’t the most traditional one, but the one that’s the best fit for your loved one. And original Valentine’s Day gift ideas give free rein to your creativity.
In some ways, a book is the perfect gift for any occasion. There are so many on the market you can find something to suit pretty much anyone’s taste. You also have a wide choice of formats: new or used hardcovers, paperbacks, e-books, and audiobooks.
All these choices mean there’s a book for every budget as well. You can find used paperbacks for literal pennies on Amazon. Even after tacking on a few dollars for shipping, they cost no more than a high-end greeting card, and your sweetie can enjoy them for much longer.
Because Valentine’s Day is all about love, any book with a romantic or sexy theme is apropos. However, you also need to consider your partner’s preferences. If she loves to read gritty detective novels, then a classic by Mickey Spillane or Raymond Chandler is a better choice than the love poems of Lord Byron. If you know your squeeze is a fan of a particular author or series, the latest book by that author is a great gift pick — as long as you know she doesn’t already have it.
If you choose a printed book rather than an e-book, the book itself can double as your Valentine’s Day card. Just add a romantic inscription on the flyleaf expressing how you feel about her.
Like books, music is very much a matter of personal taste, which means the perfect selection shows how well you know your partner. You can buy a CD or download a song by her favorite artist or use Spotify to create a whole playlist of songs you think she’d enjoy. If you both have subscriptions to the service already (either free or premium), it costs nothing at all.
You can also put a romantic twist on a musical gift by creating a playlist of songs that are special to the two of you. Include songs that recall pivotal moments in your relationship, like the song that was playing when you met or the first song you danced to. Alternatively, you can put together a collection of songs that express what’s special about your sweetheart or the two of you as a couple.
For something a bit more ambitious, write a song that expresses your feelings about your better half. It works best if you can play an instrument to accompany yourself. But if you can’t, you can still make up a simple tune to sing by itself. Even if you don’t have a great singing voice, speaking your love in your own words is much more romantic than borrowing someone else’s — and it doesn’t cost a penny.
7. Heart-Themed Gifts
Because the heart shape is a universally recognized symbol of love, anything with a heart on it can be a valentine. At this time of year, stores are full of heart-shaped cards and chocolate boxes, but you don’t have to limit yourself to what’s on the shelves at Walgreens. Anything that has a heart shape is fair game.
There are many inexpensive heart-shaped alternative gifts you can buy or make. For instance:
- Heart-shaped cookie cutters, available at Amazon, let you create a variety of heart-shaped foods, from sandwiches to pancakes. You can also find instructions online to make heart-shaped cookie cutters from soda cans or tuna cans.
- A deck of cards, which you can pick up at most drugstores or dollar stores, contains 13 hearts you can use for all sorts of projects. For instance, you can arrange the 13 cards to form a larger heart on a piece of poster board or inscribe each card with a romantic message and bind them into a book. Or just pull out the queen of hearts and paste it into a blank card with an inscription addressed to the queen of your heart.
- A heart-shaped keepsake box, which you can fill with candy or any other small items. You can find instructions online to construct heart-shaped boxes from paper or cardboard. You can also purchase one from Amazon.
Many of the women interviewed by Thrillist said what they wanted most for Valentine’s Day was the gift of their partner’s attention. They wanted their significant other to notice their habits and the things they talk about so they’d know what sort of gift would please them. One woman mentioned she loved gifts based on “dumb inside jokes” between her and her partner. They showed how much he remembered the little details of their relationship.
In other words, when it comes to Valentine’s Day gifting, it really is the thought that counts. That doesn’t mean that you thought of getting her something, but that you put thought into what you chose. The best gift isn’t the most expensive one. It’s the thoughtful gift that does the best job of showing how you feel about her.
So instead of settling for a greeting card that expresses some general idea about love, take the time to express your specific feelings for one specific woman. Throwing money around is easy. Showing how much you care is priceless.
If you think your girlfriend would prefer an experience rather than a gift — or both — check out our collection of cheap Valentine’s Day date ideas. From dining out on a budget to snuggling on a comfy couch watching Netflix, we’ve got everything you need for a romantic V-Day date night.