It can be tough to figure out what to get a guy for Valentine’s Day, especially if you’re on a budget. Sure, you can walk into any store and see lots of carefully arranged displays of inexpensive gifts for the holiday. But many of them — like heart-shaped costume jewelry and teddy bears — seem like they’d make more appropriate Valentine’s Day gifts for women or kids. What romantic gift can you get him without wrecking your budget?
To find the right gift for a boyfriend or husband, think outside the heart-shaped box. When Cosmopolitan magazine and Reddit asked men to share their Valentine’s Day wishes, most of them named items that definitely aren’t marketed as Valentine’s Day presents. Better still, many of their suggestions cost very little or nothing at all.
As their answers show, it doesn’t take a lot of money to treat the man in your life on Valentine’s Day. All it takes is a little imagination.
To be clear, many men don’t actually care about receiving a physical gift for Valentine’s Day. Of the men who shared their thoughts in Cosmo and on Reddit, less than half named a tangible item as their ideal present for the day of love.
However, if the holiday doesn’t feel complete to you unless you can hand him something tied up with a bow, make sure it’s something he’ll appreciate. It doesn’t have to be expensive but rather something chosen with his personality in mind.
Let’s start with the most traditional valentine of all, the card. The tradition of exchanging messages of love for Valentine’s Day supposedly goes back to the original Saint Valentine, an early Christian martyr. As History tells the legend, the very first valentine was a letter the saint sent to his jailer’s daughter before his execution, which he signed, “Your Valentine.”
During February, stores load their racks with Valentine’s Day cards that cost just a few dollars each. However, the language in them is often corny and cliche. If you want to surprise and delight him, your best bet is to make a card yourself — one that’s just for him.
The best homemade valentines make use of your skills, whatever those happen to be. For instance:
- Artists: Draw a picture for or of him.
- Crafters: Assemble a fancy card incorporating the materials you like to work with, such as lace, beads, or pop-up paper designs.
- Writers and Poets: Express your feelings in a poem or romantic love letter.
- Graphic Designers: Design and print a card on your home computer or create an animated love message you can send via email.
Any of these homemade cards is likely to be treasured longer than something you picked off a rack at the store. As long as the message is personal and heartfelt, it qualifies as a romantic gesture, even if it costs only pennies and your time to make.
If the man in your life is an avid reader, a book is always a choice gift. But even if he’s not, the right book can still score a big hit with him. When you give your guy a book that reflects his interests, you show you really get him.
For example, if your boyfriend has read all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works half a dozen times, give him the first book in a new epic fantasy series, such as “The Witcher.” If he’s a golfer, get him a collection of stories about his favorite game. And if he’s passionate about getting out of debt, get him one of the best personal finance books on the subject.
Books don’t have to be budget-busters. New hardcovers can cost a pretty penny, but there are lots of other formats to choose from, including used books, paperbacks, e-books, and audiobooks. Secondhand books often sell for literally pennies on Amazon, so even with shipping, they’re no more expensive than a high-end greeting card.
In fact, a cheap book can double as a card with a romantic inscription in the front. Just add a line or two inside the cover telling your fella how you feel about him. As long as the book stays on his shelves, he always has your words of love as well.
3. Home-Baked Goodies
In the Reddit thread about men’s Valentine’s Day desires, the single top answer involved baked goods. It started with one man saying a gift of a home-baked apple pie would bring him to tears. Another chimed in to rhapsodize about the white chocolate-raspberry cheesecake a girlfriend had baked for his birthday. A third said he would happily be the “sex slave” of anyone who baked him strawberry-rhubarb pie.
Based on this thread, it appears the old saying is true — the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach. It’s not just the delicious dessert itself that wins him over, but the fact that someone he cares about baked it especially for him.
If you happen to be a talented baker, this is a Valentine’s Day gift you can give very easily. But even if you’re a complete novice in the kitchen, there are plenty of easy Valentine’s treats you can make with no special skills. For ideas, check out the roundup of 90 easy dessert recipes on Taste of Home. It includes goodies like blueberry mini-tarts, rocky road cookie cups, and layered lemon pie — all with no more than five ingredients.
4. Something Useful
In another highly ranked response on Reddit, a poster said his No. 1 criterion for a great gift was “Is it useful?” Another poster in the same thread agreed, saying the best gift is “something he can actually use on a daily basis.” For many men, it appears, practicality ranks higher than sentiment.
Everyday-use gifts include:
- A Multitool. These handy gadgets combine many tools in a single pocket-size device. The best-known example is the Leatherman, which is a bit pricey for a gift. However, there are many more affordable models on the market, such as the tiny GeeKey and Gerber Shard.
- A Quality Razor or Trimmer. If he’s still shaving every day with a disposable plastic razor, treat him to an affordable quality reusable razor from Harry’s or Dollar Shave Club. If he wears a beard, get him a beard trimmer so he can feel sleek and confident every single day. And as a bonus, you might get a better-groomed partner.
- A New Whatever. You know those old worn-out things your husband or boyfriend has never gotten around to replacing? Do it for him. If you save him the trouble of shopping for a mundane item like towels or windshield wipers, he’ll be genuinely pleased. One Reddit poster stresses that if you replace a clothing item, make sure you get exactly what he has now, or he won’t wear it.
However, these are just suggestions. Paying attention to your man is the best way to figure out what gift is beneficial to him. One interviewee in Cosmo said he particularly liked receiving things he’d mentioned he needed in passing, like a tool or appliance. Knowing his partner was listening made it more special.
5. Something Handmade
One commenter in Cosmopolitan said his ideal Valentine’s Day gift would be “anything handmade.” He didn’t even care what it was or how he’d use it. Just the fact that someone he loved put time and thought into creating it would make it special.
If you have any skill at all that involves working with your hands — such as woodworking, knitting, sewing, drawing, or photography — you can use it to make a gift for your guy. And if you can handcraft a present that ticks the “useful” box as well, even better. Possible ideas include:
- A hand-knitted scarf
- A wooden picture frame
- A barbecue apron
- A pottery bowl
- A photo of the two of you
Gifts of Experience
Many of the commenters on Reddit and in Cosmopolitan said their ideal gift wasn’t a physical item but an experience. According to happiness economists, people tend to get more happiness out of their money when they spend it on experiences rather than goods. And spending your money on a shared experience brings pleasure to both of you at the same time — a win-win.
Several men in both Cosmo and Reddit said they’d love to receive tickets to an event of some kind. Some of their specific ideas included a concert by a favorite band or a new band you think he’d like, a game featuring his favorite sports team, a wine tasting, a cooking show, or a comedy class.
Of course, depending on your gentleman friend’s particular tastes, it can be expensive. However, there are ways to get tickets on a budget. For instance, you can save with:
- A less in-demand event, such as a midweek performance or a midseason game
- A concert by a lesser-known performer
- Cheaper seats in the arena or theater
- Tickets bought at the last minute through Stubhub.com
- Student rush tickets
If you can’t afford concert tickets for your guy’s favorite band, why not bring the music to him instead? Pick up or download an album by his favorite artist, or make a Spotify playlist of tunes you know he likes. If you’re both already subscribers, it costs nothing at all. And if you’re not, you can get a subscription for free as long as you’re willing to have your playlist interrupted by some ads.
For an extra-romantic version of this gift, make a playlist of songs that have special meaning for you as a couple. You can include tunes like your favorite song, his favorite song, the first song you danced to, or the song that was always on the radio during the month you met.
8. An Evening In
A few men in both Cosmo and Reddit, when asked about their Valentine’s Day wishes, confessed they don’t like the holiday. It’s not that they don’t love their partners or appreciate the idea of romance. What they hate are the pressure and expectations surrounding the holiday. Having to bring flowers, get dressed up, and eat a fancy dinner at a crowded, expensive restaurant just stresses them out.
According to these guys, the best gift anyone could give them for Valentine’s Day is to take away all that pressure. It would thrill them to know their partners don’t expect a lavish dinner out or an extravagant gift. They’re happy just spending a relaxed evening together.
To make this Valentine’s Day dream come true, let him know — well before Feb. 14 rolls around — that he doesn’t have to get you a gift or plan a date. Instead, tell him you want to spend a quiet evening at home. It could include a home-cooked dinner, dinner in from their favorite restaurant using DoorDash, conversation, cuddling, a movie on Netflix — and possibly some more figurative “Netflix and chill.”
9. Netflix & Chill
In a 2019 survey covered in the Sun-Sentinel, 90% of men said what they wanted most for Valentine’s Day was sex. It was one of the top answers on Reddit and in Cosmo too. So if the man in your life is like most men, the best thing to give him for Valentine’s Day is you.
Several men in Cosmo and on Reddit got a little more specific about the particular activities they’d like best. Some were a bit graphic, but a few milder ones were backrubs and having their partner cook dinner dressed only in an apron. Others mentioned a general wish for something “kinky.”
Since you know your man best, you’re the best person to decide what would make a Valentine’s Day encounter extra special for him. Would he like you to dress up in your sexiest underwear? Bring chocolate sauce into the bedroom? Use your imagination and your knowledge of him to decide.
A final wish that many of the men in Reddit expressed was neither a physical gift nor a specific experience. What they wanted most was to have their partners show some appreciation for them and their relationship. They said feeling truly loved, wanted, and needed was better than anything their partner can wrap in a box.
So no matter what else you give your guy for Valentine’s Day, make sure it comes with a generous dose of appreciation. Take the time to tell him — or show him — how much he means to you. That’s a gift that means more than anything money can buy. And it’s something you can always afford, no matter how tight your budget is.
What was the best Valentine’s Day gift you’ve ever given to a husband or boyfriend? Guys, what was the best one you ever received?