Truth be told, I used to be a Valentine’s Day cynic. All of the pink and gold glitter, the signs proclaiming sales on store-bought boxes of chocolates, the onslaught of Nicholas Sparks movies at the theater—what does any of that have to do with love, I wondered? Love can’t be purchased or painted. It’s a choice we make, and one we should make every day, not just on February 14.
Then, I married a Valentine.
My husband loves Valentine’s Day. He’s a man of gestures, the kind that likes to plan surprise dates and to stop for flowers on his way home from work. I’m lucky, I know! But the consumerism and Hallmark-ified nature of the holiday still grates on me a bit. That’s why I prefer gifts of the free variety.
Good news: if your bank account is low but your heart is full, you can still give meaningful gifts to your significant other (or friends and family members!) this Valentine’s Day. Presents don’t have to cost a fortune to mean something. Here are five gifts that cost no money but demonstrate a true love for the other person.
01. A handwritten letter
Every single one of us likes to feel affirmed. Writing out a letter to someone to express just how much they mean to you will matter more to a person in your life than any gift you could buy. Being specific, like mentioning small things you know they do that go without recognition, will make them feel seen and known. Isn’t that really what you’re going for with a gift? Taking the time to sit down and write a letter may not feel natural at first, but it will likely become a treasured keepsake. Expressing your feelings in more than a Tweet-length soundbite is a skill that’s rapidly being lost, and this is a way to bring back the sentimentality of good old fashioned letter writing.
02. A baked good
Sure, you have to buy the ingredients, but most of us have flour or sugar in our pantry. Whip up something sweet for you loved one to enjoy. Bonus points if you creep on their Pinterest page and steal a recipe they’ve shown interest in!
03. A playlist
It’s no longer 1988, and creating mixtapes is a thing of the past. But cultivating a heartfelt playlist for someone is still a meaningful gesture. If you have a music lover in your life, whip up a playlist of some songs you think they’d love, tunes from memories you’ve shared together, or new ones with intentional lyrics that express how you feel about them.
04. A night in together
You don’t have to go to a fancy restaurant to make Valentine’s Day special. Avoid the crowds and overpriced menus by cooking a meal together and streaming a film. You can up the ante by lighting some candles, choosing a movie neither of you have ever seen, and trying some new skills in the kitchen together. This works equally well for a date night or a Galentine’s Day party.
05. That thing they like to borrow
I stole my husband’s comfiest T-shirt to sleep in about 30 times before he finally admitted it had become mine. I would have loved getting that T-shirt as a gift more than any elaborate diamond—honestly! If your significant other, friend, or family member is constantly borrowing one of your books, necklaces, or cooking tools, consider just gifting it to them for Valentine’s Day. It will cost you nothing, they’ll feel incredibly grateful, and you’ll already know how much they love it.