5 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day without Bling or Booty

Recession friendly ideas for love without money

5ways-insideMy boyfriend’s birthday is on February 14, so for the last few years Valentine’s Day has been much more about celebrating his birthday than anything else. Whether single or dating, I always thought Valentine’s Day was an expensive Hallmark-brand hassle, so I thought this was a wonderful solution to my problem.

So when we were discussing what to do for this Valentine’s, and he suggested that we go to a show he’d wanted to see, I was happy. That is, I was happy until he said, “Great, since you already got me a gift, I’ll buy the tickets and that can be your gift,” to which I suddenly snapped “Are you seriously going to cheap out and get me something you want for my Valentine’s Day gift?!”

This reaction upset him, but more than that, it shocked me. Since when did I: 1) care about Valentine’s Day at all, and 2) become so materialistic that I insist on gifts to prove someone’s feelings? This little episode helped me realize that, especially in today’s tough economic times, all of us might want to reevaluate Valentine’s Day preconceptions and focus more on what this “holiday” is supposed to be about: Love.

Now, you could argue that because the theological basis is weak, and Valentine’s Day love celebrations really only began in the context of medieval courtly love, Valentine’s Day should be about consumerism — bribing our loved ones by spending way too much money on bad prix fixe dinners and trashy lingerie.

But just because Valentine’s Day is traditionally one of the more tawdry holidays, that doesn’t meant that we can’t redefine it and genuinely celebrate the relationships and love we share, whether or not we have a significant other. So, I asked some of my friends for suggestions of ways to celebrate the relationships in our lives — without spending too much money, or turning to the trashy — and they came up with five great ideas that will make any Valentine’s Day wonderful.

  1. Make some memories. Whether you’re an artist, singer, writer, photographer or none of the above, you can still make a memorable gift that’s better than a mass-produced heart-shaped box of chocolates. Try to think of something that reminds you of your loved one, or that you know they care about, and find a way to create something based on that — be it a song, cheesy love poem, picture, or anything else you can imagine. My friend Erin (22) explains, “The best gift I was ever given was a picture collage my boyfriend made of the two of us. It was funny, and kind of looked like a 6th grade art project, but it brought back all sorts of wonderful memories.” If you think you don’t have the artistic prowess to make something, turn craftiness into a Valentine’s Day activity and enlist the help of your loved one. Plan a photo shoot, then print out the photos and scrapbook your Valentine’s Day memories together.
  2. Enjoy the great outdoors. No matter where you live, if it’s cold or warm, going out in nature is a great way to get closer to those you love ( especially if it’s cold.) Going for a long walk or just relaxing or playing outdoors is something we don’t have time to do most days, with our busy work schedules. So set Valentine’s Day aside as a day to enjoy both love and nature. My friend Matt (25) suggests, “One of my best dates was going out late-night sledding on Valentine’s Day. It was romantic and cheap, and it was fun to act like we were ten.”
  3. Get cookin’. Amanda (24) said one of her favorite Valentine’s Days was when her boyfriend decided to cook dinner for the two of them: “It was way more special that he took the time to buy ingredients and make my favorite meal, rather than going out to a noisy restaurant and sitting cramped next to everyone else who was trying to make their Valentine’s Day ‘special.'” If you don’t have much faith in your cooking abilities, pick out a recipe online, buy the ingredients and cook together. That way you have two sets of eyes making sure the spaghetti doesn’t burn.
  4. Go back to you roots. Tim (23) thinks “the best thing to do on a stupid Hallmark holiday is to be stupid back.” He suggests watching cartoons from when you were young, or playing board games, or doing other childhood activities: “Use this manufactured holiday as an excuse to be silly and have fun; we don’t get to do that enough now that we’re all grown up.” My personal suggestion for fun-childhood Valentine’s Day viewing is old episodes of Fraggle Rock which you can find (at least in segments) on YouTube, but no matter what your cartoon or board game of choice, taking time to have fun with those you care about is a great way to show someone you love them.
  5. Take time to talk. Sometimes we spend so much time doing stuff that we don’t ever actually talk to people. One of the greatest things about any relationship is that there is always something new you can find out about someone — if you ask the right questions. So turn off the TV and computer, sit down with a cup of hot chocolate (or coffee or tea) and take time to get reacquainted. If you’re afraid of too much awkward silence, my friend Sakura suggests pretending that you’re prepping for the dating game: “Make sure you know the answers to all of the ridiculous questions that they ask on those relationship games, like ‘What’s your significant other’s favorite animal,” or other stupid stuff like that.” Talking is one of the frequently overlooked things that is key to making any relationship — romantic or not — last.

So resist the easy way out of big spending and cheap sexy solutions, and instead make Valentine’s Day about enjoying the company of your loved ones. It will make your relationships stronger, and your Valentine’s days memorable.

Originally published on February 10, 2009.