Forget the roses. Ditch the overpriced chocolates. Dodge the red-hued aisle of sappy Feb. 14 sentiments. It's time to think out of the (chocolate) box this V-Day.
After all, in this economy, it's probably a good idea to have a range of options. As National Retail Federation president and CEO Tracy Mullin puts it, "This year more than ever, consumers will look for creative and inexpensive ways to show those they love how much they mean to them."
The folks at TLC agree and are here to help you get creative. So read on for our Top 10 Unexpected Valentine's Day Ideas.
Our favorite four-letter word? FREE. Watch for the $0 symbol within this feature to find no-cost (or very low-cost) ideas for this Valentine's Day.
So, you're skipping the clichéd red roses. Hooray for you! You're obviously ready to give something to your partner as your love grows together - something living.
Candace from Atlanta shares her story: "In the past, when I lived in a little house with a garden, [my boyfriend] used to give me actual plants on V-Day in lieu of cut flowers. That way, I could enjoy the flowers or flowering plants longer and beautify my yard a bit. Plus," she adds, "no waste from the cellophane wrappers and other bric-a-brac that comes in bouquets."
Like that idea? How about going a step further and giving your "other half" an herb garden for a season's worth of meals? The price tag for this gift can range from a couple of dollars for a tiny basil plant to a few hundred for an indoor garden with a grow light.
Not edible, but along the same living" lines, is Lynne's story. Harkening back to her past, this now 30-something mother of two recalls when Erik - a decidedly anti-Valentine's Day college boyfriend - showed up to her house with a tiny aquarium containing two little hermit crabs (one female, one male). "Not traditional by any means, which is probably why it's something I've remembered for years," she said.
We know that the word "adventure" means many things to many people, ranging from an adrenaline-spiked, high-priced gift for a significant other to a free event for the whole family. Here are just a few ideas that might fit your bill.
1, 2, 3 ... Jump!
Is jumping out of an airplane romantic? Heck, yes, say many couples. Many skydiving companies across the world offer gift certificates that start at around $200. Remember to check certification requirements, lesson fees and when "jump season" begins in your area. Another adrenaline trend? Wingsuit flying, a sort of cross between hang gliding and skydiving.
Hit the Slopes
Careening down a snowy mountain at breakneck speed might not be everyone's cup of tea, but many couples can agree that a hot chocolate or cider in front of the fire after a chilly day on the slopes tends to be downright romantic. Not up for skiing? Snowshoeing or snowmobiling might do the trick, or consider a bit of flirting on the bunny hill.
Take a Hike $0
We mean this literally. It may be February and a bit chilly, but don your hiking attire and be one with nature. How elaborate or thematic you make this trip is up to you. Romantic: Pack a picnic with wine, cheese and professions of love. Family fun: Have everyone make an "I spy" nature log, and at the end of the hike, compare notes on plants and wildlife, and show off your sketches of cloud formations.
Pet lovers may not be surprised to know that 17.2 percent of Valentine's Day celebrators plan to drop an estimated $367 million on their dogs, cats or other nonhuman family members this Valentine's Day. Our suggestion for 2009? Spend somewhere between $0 and the price of a new dog bone.
Dog parks and other green spots are a fur-friend's paradise and a great way for an owner to meet a brand new Valentine! Hot spots like San Francisco, which boasts a higher population of dogs than children, has green areas from Golden Gate Park to Buena Vista Park. Plenty of other major cities and suburbs have pet-friendly spots to spend the day, with or without a Valentine. Here are just a few:
- Atlanta's Piedmont Park is a great place for off- and on-leash owners; two off-leash parks cater to both big dogs and small.
- Los Angeles' Venice Beach Boardwalk couldn't be a better place to mingle single with a pet.
- Nashville's city parks department has three top spots: Centennial, Edwin and Shelby dog parks.
- In Philadelphia, Schuylkill River Dog Park is the place to chat with other pet lovers - and it's right across from the historic 30th Street Station.
- Seattle's Pike Place Market, Puget Sound and even the Washington State Ferry are pet-friendly.
- In Washington, D.C., lounge with your leashed pooch on the National Mall or head to Rock Creek Park for the day.
Maybe you and your lover have been together for a while and need to bring some fun and games back into the mix. Be a kid again or ramp up a little loving competition with one of the ideas listed below.
The Need for Speed
How about booking racing lessons for you and your heart's desire at a race-car driving school? Places like the Skip Barber Racing School have gift certificates starting at under $600 (going up to around $4,000). Or get your honey a gift certificate for time on the tracks at a place like Jeff Gordon Racing School and Mario Andretti Racing School. Valentine's Day 2009 deals start at $99 to be a passenger in a car with a pro racer. More speedy ideas include go-karting, motorcycle racing or bumper car driving.
Bring Your A-Game
Sure, you could hit the local casino with a pocket full of cash, but for those who aren't up to a bit of gambling in this economy, we've got other ideas. "Eat. Drink. Play" is the motto for Dave and Busters, a nationwide chain with everything from video games and Skee Ball to billiards and shuffleboard. A full bar and menu makes this fun for couples or families. (Think of it as Chuck E. Cheese for the "over 8 set.") ESPN Zone has a similar draw, with extra emphasis on sports-watching, too. It's also got simulation golf, boxing and bowling.
Old-School Freebie Competition $0
Step away from the television. Put down the video game controller. Grab your favorite board game - Scrabble, '80s or '90s Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, or Boggle - and make it a stay-at-home game day.
What could be more loving than giving or sharing the gift of creativity - what could be more loving? Whether you and your significant other are looking to try a new activity together or you want to give them an experience all their own, booking classes or events can be a really thoughtful Valentine's Day gift. Below are just a few ideas, but check your local alternative newspaper, town newsletter or community center for more!
Momma needs a new pair of sexy shoes to go with those salsa lessons you're giving her, right?
The gift looks tiny. It's a paintbrush. But once your significant other has made it through a few classes, be prepared to go searching for deals on canvases, charcoals and other artistic goodies.
Maybe you two want to learn how to have a Mediterranean tapas party, master the art of cupcake baking or know all you can about Southeast Asian cooking. Classes like these are popping up all over these days, from grocery stores and cooking supply shops to local restaurants and universities.
Mind and Body
Trends come and go, but physical fitness is always a healthy gift. Most Pilates and yoga studios have gift certificates for sale or will allow you to buy a card of classes. Not up for crazy sweating? How about signing you and your sweetie up for partners' lessons in Tai Chi, meditation or massage?
Dig out that list of things you'd love to have to have done around your abode and pick the one that sounds like the most fun and rewarding. (And, of course, the one with the most opportunity for a little flirtation with your significant other along the way.)
Start in the Bedroom
C'mon - we're talking about Valentine's Day after all! Get up early, hit the paint store, and have a whole new vision of a romantic bedroom by midday. Too ambitious? Go get those new window treatments you've been wanting.
With so many regions still shoveling snow, you and your loved one might not be heading out for some gardening. But as Americans are finding themselves indoors more than ever - about 90 percent of the time, according to Fitness Magazine - consider adding container gardening projects to your weekend.
Green Your Home
By following the three Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle - you can do your part for the environment, right in your home. Start by changing old light bulbs to the more energy efficient ones. Designate a place for recyclables. Make a pledge to make your coffee at home during weekday mornings instead of getting a paper cup from the coffee shop. Read up on composting to see how those old banana peels can help beautify your yard. Need more ideas? Read HowStuffWorks' 10 Ways to Green Your Home.
A day at the spa or a one-hour massage is a wonderful gift but not exactly original. And this year, these ideas might not be the most economical, either. Give one of the below instead, which allow for less stress or more free time.
Maid for a Day
Not everyone can afford a house cleaner on a regular basis, but most of us don't like spending evenings or weekends cleaning, either. A one-time deep-clean from a local maid service not only gets your home feeling like new, but also gives you time to go out and enjoy your Saturday afternoon or evening with your Valentine.
"Shhhh. Hear that?" asks Tracey, a new mom from Hamden, Conn. "It's the sound of silence. It's bliss." The usual sound of baby cries and a barking dog are missing from her Saturday this week - the ultimate Valentine from her father and husband.
Free Time Weekend $0
You haven't been able to read the last three issues of The New Yorker. He hasn't played golf in weeks (on the course or his Tiger Woods video game). Your Netflix queue hasn't changed in three months, and you've both spent the last three weekends running errands, cleaning the house and doing yard work. It's time to let it all slide off the calendar for the weekend.
Give a Valentine to those in need this year and focus on community service rather than personal consumption. Here are a few options for making someone else's Valentine's Day just a little brighter.
Giving to Kids, Families and the Community $0
Be a Big Brother or Big Sister to a child in need of a friend and support system. Be one of the YMCA's approximately 600,000 volunteers who help children and families through community service work. Be a part of a community organization that sends letters or packages to those serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Help promote health and education as a volunteer for the United Way. The options to help are endless - it's just a matter of dedicating the time.
Volunteer at a Pet Shelter $0
Instead of buying a new pet for a loved one, donate your time to the many homeless pets in your area.
Deliver a Meal $0
Donate Blood $0
Definitely an unexpected date and well worth it. You might be helping save a life. Check givelife.org for regional blood drives in your area or take your date to the hospital.
Volunteer Your Skills
Volunteermatch.org is a great place to start if you aren't sure where to lend a hand. This organization matches your skill sets with volunteer and nonprofit opportunities across the nation.
Have you taken a look at your bedroom lately? How romantic is it? Is it the intimate space you want it to be? Is it really "where the magic happens"? With just a few touches, you could surprise your Valentine this year with one (or all) of the below:
Tidy = Sexy?
Yes! A room with piles of laundry or kids' toys ... Not sexy. Not romantic. And definitely doesn't scream "Happy Valentine's Day". So take an hour this week - organize, clean, sweep and go on to Step 2 ...
Set the Stage
Candles and a little mood lighting can go a long way to making your bedroom a sexy, intimate place. You don't have to go crazy - a few votives or some new lamps with soft, dim lights make for a great start.
Hit the Right Note
A night of romance isn't complete without the right soundtrack. Download a few classic love songs and create an iPod playlist that will have your significant other swooning. (Pssst: You can't go wrong with Marvin Gaye.)
More Than PG-13?
So perhaps you're thinking of something a little sexier to add to the bedside table. Blindfolds are always a fun and inexpensive gift. How about something FREE: handmade "love coupons" to be redeemed by your lover later. Makes you want to keep those candles scattered around full time, now doesn't it?
Whether it's surprising your husband with a candlelit dinner he didn't expect or your girlfriend with an engagement ring, there's something quite enchanting about the element of surprise on Valentine's Day. There are so many ways to do it - we'll leave the creativity to you, but here are a few stories to get your wheels turning:
"My uncle is a pro poker player; his wife, a pro card dealer," recalls Betty from Washington, D.C. "They were in Vegas, for, um, 'work.' One evening, he told her to put on a nice dress - he had a surprise for her. He took her to a drive-thru chapel window and they got hitched! "The best part? She's from Thailand and didn't speak much English ... and he didn't speak Thai. Fifteen years and three kids later, they're still going strong."
Little Lies We Love
"I refuse to give any credit to my ex," says "Katie," "but he told me we were going to couple's karaoke bowling in matching jumpsuits. Really, we went to the ballet to see 'Romeo and Juliet,' and then he surprised me with a horseback ride on the beach."
A Magical Valentine
"My wife and I have been together for 12 years," explains "Jim," a father of three from the Midwest. "I don't remember the last Valentine's Day gift I gave her, so I doubt it was very memorable. But this year, I'm surprising the whole family with a trip to [Walt] Disney [World]. "Valentine's Day isn't just about me and my wife," he says. "It's about our family, so I'm glad I saved up for something for everyone."
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