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14 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day on a Shoestring Budget
Start early and use this as your guide to celebrate this Valentine’s Day right!


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Celebrating your love doesn't require you to max out your credit card, just some thoughtfulness.


Remember, the amount of money you spend does not equate to how much you love your spouse.”
As February 14th rolls around the corner, hearts quake and hands shake. Lovers around the world hope for the best, yet secretly fear they’ll make a star-crossed move. This day, beyond all others, has been carved out as the day to show your darling the true depth and breadth of your love.

Valentine’s Day has become the proving ground for many relationships. This sweet-filled day offers the opportunity to make up for all the times we didn’t quite get it right—the forgotten anniversary, the birthday celebration that went sideways, or those not-so-perfect holiday gifts. How can one singular day be filled with so much promise and, at the same time, such potential for disaster? Oh, the pressure of it all!

Let’s change that

First things first. Take the pressure off yourself. You don’t need a lot of money to make your sweetheart feel special. Remember, the amount of money you spend does not equate to how much you love your spouse. Love grows and expands within simplicity.

When you get right down to it, it’s not the diamonds in her ears that make you love her. It’s not the Rolex on his wrist that makes you weak in the knees. It’s the curve of her jaw that first drew you to her. It’s the sound of his footsteps coming up the stairs that gives you pause. You see it in a million ways, from how she sweetly remembers your favorite ice cream to him thoughtfully remembering the dry cleaning after a too-long day.

These heartfelt feelings and kindnesses can’t be purchased. It is these simple, important aspects of love that matter most. By noticing these little things, you might begin to realize that you create "mini Valentine’s Days" all year long just by being your most loving self.

Now, don’t think this gets you off the hook. Valentine’s Day is still a "critical event" for many relationships. Yet, realizing that you’re a success at doing simple things wonderfully all year long, you can simply build upon what you already do quite well.

It boils down to "amping up" your efforts to be a kind, caring, and adoring spouse. Arm yourself with your natural talents and bring out the hidden artist, gardener, or cook who wants to create. In labors of true love, it’s the effort that counts.

With an eye to keeping expenditures of money and prep time at a minimum, I’ve compiled 14 lovely, inexpensive, and simple ideas to get the Cupid in you off to a good start. Pick and choose, add your own flair, and—most important of all—have fun delighting your darling!

1. Valentine’s Day in a Box
Whether you’ll be out of town or too overwhelmed with work to give your sweetie extra special attention on Valentine’s Day, this idea is a great "fix." It involves a bit of advance preparation, but—in the long run—it is time and energy well spent. Make a point of picking up a few sweet reminders of your darling—it’s easy to do if you work it in with regular shopping trips.

Ideas: Red votive candles, petite chocolates, a book of poetry, a certificate for candle-lit dinner at home, a pair of movie tickets, a romantic DVD, and heart-covered boxers or lingerie. Pop the gifts in a box filled with pretty tissue.

Tips: Hershey’s Kisses make charming "packing material" amidst the tissue. Tuck in a Valentine’s Day card and mail your box at least five business days in advance. Be sure to mark the top of the box, "Do Not Open ‘til February 14th!"

2. The Night Before
Let your darling know you remembered the "big day" by leaving a small chocolate on the pillow. A "coupon" for a massage or breakfast in bed tucked beneath the chocolate will add an extra layer of delight. Add in a little "turn down service" hotel style, and sweet dreams will be sure to follow.

3. Sticky Notes for Lovers
Prepare this one in advance and you’re left with the easy task of placing the notes the night before or on Valentine’s Day morn. Buy a pack of sticky notes (any color will do, but pink or red ones will pop out). Using a felt-tip marker, write a simple phrase of love on each one. Focus in on the qualities that you love about your darling. Even add a few notes of thanks for all the things he or she does for you throughout the year. Post your loving notes in both prominent and unexpected places—on the milk inside the fridge, inside his briefcase, in her purse, in the car, on the bathroom mirror, and inside the medicine cabinet.

4. The Sweetheart Breakfast
Start with a toasted English muffin or scone with two dollops of raspberry jam on each half. Gently "pull" the dollops of jam toward the center and downward to form a heart. (This same idea works with jam atop a creamy bowl of heart-healthy oatmeal or other hot cereal.) Add a small bowl of fresh raspberries or strawberries. To complete the Valentine’s Day theme, offer a glass of sparkling cranberry juice or pink grapefruit juice. If you and your spouse like coffee or tea, add color to the saucer by tinting sugar cubes with a hint of pink or red food coloring. Place a tiny red rose by each place setting.

Tip: You don’t need to reserve candles just for special evening dinners! Candles at breakfast add a sense of romance and calm that starts the day in an especially lovely way.

5. The Valentine Lunch
Carve out time for that far-too-infrequent lunch together. Whether you share PB&J sandwiches in the park or hamburgers and fries at the local diner, 45 minutes with your darling in the middle of the day can be the sweetest of treats. No time to meet in person? Tuck simple heart-shaped cookies in your sweetheart’s briefcase or purse as a tasty, midday reminder of your love.

Tip: Bananas are a tasty aphrodisiac. Tie a red ribbon around this portable snack, and keep your sweetheart thinking of you through the afternoon!

6. The Valentine CD
You know better than anyone what music your spouse prefers. Create a CD full of the music that makes your sweetheart melt in your arms. Rediscover those sexy tunes that fill the room with passion. Use this as an opportunity to craft a romantic montage of the songs that brought you together and those that have been with you through your relationship. This perfect gift can be prepared well in advance and will become a constant reminder of your thoughtfulness and love. Use a permanent marker to inscribe the CD with a romantic message.

Tip: Be sure to add the date! This might be just the first of many Valentine CDs—each CD will be its own reminder of the journey of your marriage!

7. Say it with a Rock
Tired of the search for the perfect Valentine’s Day card? Look no further than the local creek bed, ocean front, or landscaping supply store. From small round pebbles to hefty rocks, the choice is all yours. With a lovely rock and acrylic paint at your side, allow your creativity to flow.

Ideas: Spell out her name and "I Love You" on an array pebbles, or create a "paperweight of love" for his home office desk.

8. Meet Me for a Walk
Almost nothing fosters romance like a walk for two at sunset. With hands interlaced, take that much-deserved walk for two in the local park, along your neighborhood sidewalks, or on the shore of your closest lake or ocean. With a temporary ban on cell phones and mundane topics of conversation, leave work and family issues behind. Make this walk extra special by focusing on all the things you love about each other, from head to toe and inside to outside. Sparkling water and a bit of fruit (think luscious, crimson apples or ripe red berries) are the perfect after-walk snack.

9. Share the Love
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re in a loving relationship. What a blessing to turn your eyes and your heart toward your darling in special ways on Valentine’s Day. Now stop for a sec and think of your friends and family members who might be solo on this very special day. For them, Valentine’s Day is often the loneliest day of the year. This day creates a perfect opportunity to spread the love that you and your spouse share. It need not take a lot of time or money. With 30 minutes and a few small Valentine treats in a basket, you can work wonders.

Ideas: A simple Valentine’s Day cupcake, a tiny sack of heart-shaped cookies, a small treat bag filled with sweets, or a basket of strawberries tied with a bow. Keep it simple! Stop by with the treat and a hug or two and off you go. Sharing your love with others is one of the most beautiful ways to help the love in your own relationship grow.

10. Play the Games
Use the timeless appeal of fun-filled games to your amorous advantage. Whether Twister, Scrabble, strip poker, or backgammon is your thing, create special Valentine’s Day rules to foster romance and play. For example, your revised Scrabble game rules might call for only words that relate to love, romance, or relationships. Keep the romantic energy flowing by adding candles and a bit of bubbly to the scene.

Tip: Allow your playmate a lot of latitude—the idea is to create romantic fun and games, not competition.

11. Think Outside the Bouquet and Chocolate Box
Don’t get me wrong, most of us adore flowers and chocolates on Valentine’s Day. However, consider choosing a plant gift that supports both the natural beauty in your home and the environment. Not much of a green thumb? A gorgeous succulent may be perfect for your sweetheart. Do you have space for a planter or a tree? The possibilities are endless. Think of the natural beauty of a flat of strawberry plants, a small fruit tree, or a lavender plant. Instead of throwing away a wilted bouquet, your darling will be able to enjoy the delight of your Valentine’s Day gift for years to come.

Tip: Even the simplest of plants looks gorgeous when adorned with a giant pink or red bow.

12. The Dinner Basket
This idea all but creates itself. Purchase a lovely, sturdy basket (or use one you already have at home) and make a trip to your favorite grocery store. Think of all the things you might need to create a simple, yet incredibly romantic dinner for two. Consider an Italian theme for an easy and inexpensive feast. You can purchase the non-perishables in advance, such as gourmet pasta sauce, a unique pasta, wine, and tiny after dinner chocolates. Complete the pre-Valentine’s Day purchases by selecting a pair of crimson taper candles, two lovely wine glasses, and a romantic card. Nestle these in a basket on a base of tissue paper or other pretty filler. On Valentine’s Day, all you need to do is stop by the market to pick up fresh bread, vegetables for a salad and side dish, salad dressing, fresh fruit, and dessert. Depending upon your food selections, items such as bread, fresh fruit, and the dessert can be added until the basket overflows with your creativity. Present your dinner gift basket to your sweetie, then prepare a delectable meal together and enjoy the fruits of your love.

Tip: Asparagus is a wonderful aphrodisiac, and a fresh bunch—wrapped with a simple raffia bow—makes a beautiful addition to any dinner basket.

13. Park the Car
Remember the freedom, joy, and passion of your younger years when your car was your only private sanctuary? Recreate those special times on Valentine’s Day evening. Pack a basket of delightful snacks, such as bread and cheese, nuts, sparkling juice, and chocolate-covered strawberries. Add a warm blanket, napkins, eating utensils, cups, and a CD of your favorite romantic tunes (see #6, above) to complete the package. Take your spouse on a moonlit drive to your local Lover’s Lane or quiet, park-like setting and let the romance flow.

Tip: Almonds are one of the top aphrodisiacs. Pack a handful or two of these special nuts to increase the ardor in the air.

14. Spa Night for Sweethearts
Melt away your stress and enter into bliss with your sweetheart. It’s easy to create an inexpensive spa night to delight your darling. Share a warm bath filled with rose petals or scented lavender. Take a steamy shower with a luscious, sexy body wash. Offer a love-soaked massage from head to toe. Brush her hair. Rub his feet. Cuddle up and spoon. Love just couldn’t be any sweeter and simpler.

Remember, Valentine’s Day does not have to be a minefield of expenses and faux pas. The key to your spouse's heart is your thoughtfulness, kindness, and ever present love. Allow your own brand of heartfelt romance to shine on Valentine’s Day (and every day), and that very special love will continue to grow with each passing year.

Tip: When Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday, you might want to arrange in advance with your sweetheart to do the full celebration on a Friday or Saturday night. Don’t feel pinned down by the date of February 14th. If you can spend more relaxed, carefree time together by switching to another day, you’ll have more of an opportunity to enjoy each other’s loving company. Isn’t that, after all, the point of Valentine’s Day?

Dr. Carla Marie Greco has her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a private practice in Santa Rosa, California. Dr. Greco specializes in the treatment of anxiety, trauma, depression, grief, and life transition issues. Her greatest goal is to offer services to those in need, offering select appointments on a "sliding scale" for those who have serious financial constraints. Pro bono services, including EMDR, are available for our veterans suffering from issues such as combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex PTSD. Dr. Greco is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Redwood Psychological Association. For more, visit www.drcarlagreco.com.

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