It’s nearly time for Valentine’s Day again! If you haven’t noticed already, you’re probably reading this from under a rock, where you’ve clearly been living. The massive posters, shop window ads, online pop-ups and floral displays are unavoidable. There’s a lot of pressure to spend heaps of money on your spouse, partner or boyfriend/girlfriend. Somehow, jewellery stores manage to frame gold heart lockets and diamond rings as perfectly basic and reasonable gifts.
The truth is that you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to show someone how much you appreciate them. In the lead up to V-Day, we had a bit of a discussion about this around the office. The consensus was generally that a box of roses for $200 is a terrible gift idea, and it doesn’t cost anything to show someone you love them. But for romantics who are stuck for ideas, it’s hard to find stuff that isn’t impersonal (“pre-filled cards? No thanks!”) or silly (“slow dancing in your living room? Sounds a bit mental, frankly”).
The Money101 team decided to take it one step further and crowd-source some less corny and overpriced options from friends, family and significant others. Here are 9 ideas from real people about what they’d actually want on Valentine’s Day
1. Ditch conventional dinner dates – do what makes you happy
A lot of Valentine’s Day imagery we see in the media has to do with expensive dinners at fancy restaurants. Usually French, usually with an impossibly expensive wine list. But if that’s not your thing, you shouldn’t feel bad about it. If a dinner date is on the cards, treat yourself to your favourite food, whether that means fish and chips on the jetty, or a lolly buffet at home.
“Skip dinner, have two desserts.”
“A favourite of mine is cooking dinner together. Instead of one partner cooking for the other, try to make something that requires team work. For example, fresh pasta. Have one person making the pasta while the other is chopping up other ingredients. Spend the whole time drinking wine and dancing to trashy music. Super romantic.”
“Bottle of wine.”
2. Do a scavenger hunt around the house
Set up a treasure hunt at home with clues at each stop leading to the last stop. At each stop, place a mini gift as well, like a small wrapped chocolate. It’s romantic because the clues can be based on memories from your relationship, and at the end, you still have something to keep (or eat!)
3. Take care of chores for them
Sometimes, the best gift of all is coming home and really being able to relax, knowing that there’s no housework or errands to do. By doing those annoying or boring jobs for them, you can take away a lot of their stress, plus free up time and energy to put in to a date. Do as much as you’ve got time for: change the bedsheets and make the bed, clean surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom, vacuum and tidy up, do their laundry, get the grocery shopping done, etc.
“Actually, cleaning the house would be awesome any time of year.”
“(I’d like) a surprise spring cleaning of the house!”
“I asked (my partner) if he could wash my car.”
4. Do a creative activity together
Some psychologists say that creative challenges can bring people closer together, or help them continue to feel romantic even after many years together. An ‘activity date’ can be put together with simple, cheap art and craft supplies. It doesn’t hurt if you take it to a nice location, either!
“I’d like an activity date. Maybe going to the park or beach or somewhere and each paint a picture while chatting, that’d be cute!”
5. Have an intimate no-phones, no-computers date at home
It’s easier to spend quality time with each other when you have no phones or computers to distract you. Spend a night in together with no distractions. Do what you’d do if you were in a remote cabin with no mobile service; watch a movie, read something new, play some board games, etc.
“My ideal date would be cuddling up on the couch watching a movie, with our mobile phones turned off. I’ll even watch ‘Die Hard’ for my man!”
6. Give each other a quick massage
A gentle foot rub or neck massage is a great way to give your partner a little treat and help them unwind. You don’t even necessarily need to buy special supplies, like massage oil, although it doesn’t hurt to set the mood with fresh sheets or towels and a few candles, if you’ve got them lying around. Just make sure you don’t apply too much pressure. Take a minute to research basic massage techniques so you don’t end up hurting them by accident!
7. Old-school handmade cards and vouchers
Did you know that Valentine’s cards have been a big thing since Victorian times? There’s a reason they’ve stuck around. Making a card doesn’t take a lot of time or money, but it can be incredibly heartfelt. The same goes for those voucher books everyone made back in primary school – there’s a lot more coupon options when you’re grown up!
“I made my partner a personalized voucher book, a few of his fave activities, a few personal ones, he loved the 1hr nag free PlayStation time. Which doesn’t happen often as we have children, there’s always something to be done.”
8. Get some exercise!
Walking, hiking, running and cycling are all free. Plan out a scenic route to take in your local area. You could even pack a mini picnic to enjoy at a nice spot along the way. As an added bonus, cardiovascular exercise can make your body release endorphins, which make you extra happy and lovey-dovey.
“(I’d prefer) going hiking and camping out together in the mountains.”
“An itinerary of a day for us to spend time doing things we’ve never done before and things that are nostalgic or special to us. It doesn’t need to be a paid activity. It could be as simple as going on a trek and seeing new landscapes.”
9. Ditch the whole idea
Valentine’s Day isn’t for everyone, even those who are comfortable with gifts and big gestures. Some couples (and singles) prefer to give it a miss altogether, or use it as an occasion to celebrate non-romantic love.
“Send messages to your friends who have been having a rough time and let them know you love them. Valentines shouldn’t just be restricted to romantic relationships.”
“Make donations to a loved one’s chosen charity.”
“Nothing. Maybe a corny passing reference, but no more. Such a ridiculous ‘holiday’!”
“For those of us that find ourselves perpetually single, maybe go on a friend date with your single friend(s).”
“(My husband) is a romantic and I am a practical no fuss – working mum. We have found a middle road and each year now he brings home a beautiful single rose and winks at me and says to our youngest daughter Bonnie “here you go darling, happy Valentine’s Day.” (She) loves the fuss and naively looks at me with great satisfaction at her gift.”
 For a good summary of one approach, see http://suzigodson.com/2014/04/arthur-aron-on-how-to-make-love-last-forever/