This post is from staff writer April Dykman.

I love Valentine’s Day. I know many people don’t — they think it’s a commercial holiday that makes people feel obligated to drag themselves to the pink and red grocery aisle and sort through an explosion of cellophane-wrapped chocolates, candy hearts, hideous stuffed animals, and $4 cards. Love is expensive! And all this trouble just to say, “I love you.” And, they argue, why only show your love on one day? Shouldn’t that be year-round?

Of course it should. But how many people actually do it? People have careers and kids and crazy schedules and obligations, so my thought is, why pass on celebrating a day that’s all about showing love? (I wrote about this last year, too.)

But, as I’ve mentioned before, my husband and I don’t exchange gifts. We don’t brave the crowds and eat at a fancy restaurant. We had a miserable time several years ago when we made reservations and wound up cold, tired, and starving before we finally got to our table. We don’t do any of the things that DeBeers tell us we should do, even if Cat Power is singing in their commercials. We plan a nice night at home, and while it does save money, that’s not why our tradition began. We just prefer it this way — saving money is a bonus.

If you like the idea of a date night at home, here are a few game plans that require little time and money to pull off.

Plan #1: A night for amore
It’s no secret that I’m an Italiophile. Give me a glass of chianti and a plate of basil pasta and I’m in heaven. So naturally I’m going to suggest replicating an Italian trattoria in your dining room. (A trattoria is a casual, often family-owned restaurant — it’s like a neighborhood café.) Starting with the vino (of course!), pick up a bottle of reasonably priced wine — a pinot grigio or chianti would work well.

For food, if you’re a novice in the kitchen, I highly recommend Mark Bittman’s recipes. Known as “The Minimalist,” Bittman, a columnist for The New York Times, is not a chef. He’s a self-taught cook who knows that most people don’t want to make a 2-day mole sauce that requires 30 ingredients. (I’ve done that once, by the way, and although I love being in the kitchen, I haven’t done it again.) In other words, Bittman keeps it simple. Start with his fennel and celery salad, then serve spaghetti with butter and Parmesan, and check out his optional additions to make the dish your own. For dessert, make one of my quick and easy favorites: top two scoops of vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso or coffee, and put biscotti on the side (you can find these in the cookie section of most grocery stores).

But you’re not done yet. If you really want to bring the trattoria idea home, you have to set the stage. This requires a red-checkered tablecloth (try the dollar stores) and candles (a few tea light candles in mason jars will do the job). Finally, choose some music appropriate for a night of la dolce vita — you could make your own mix or check out the Caffe Bella Italia compilation.

Plan #2: Let’s go to the movies…at home
You know what I love most about watching movies at home? I don’t have to sneak my favorite foods into the theater in my purse. Like ice cream — that’s a messy one. And couches are so much better for snuggling under blankets — movie theaters are always freezing cold! I digress. Okay, so to put this plan together, you have to start with the right movie. I’m not a fan of most romantic comedies, but every now and then I am pleasantly surprised. If you need ideas, check out these titles:

  • Priceless (Hors de prix) — like a modern, French Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Midnight in Paris — Woody Allen at his most charming
  • Chocolat (I swear I didn’t intend for all of these to be set in France.)

Okay, so you have one of these movies, or you’ve got something even better. Make some popcorn (real butter, please!) and have your favorite fizzy beverage and candy on hand. I’m partial to Italian sodas and dark chocolate-covered almonds, but Root Beer floats and M&Ms are classics. Start the movie and quietly congratulate yourself for saving $50 on tickets, drinks, popcorn, and candy.

Plan #3: Cheese tasting and game night
The third game plan I present is for a casual date night with fruit, cheese, and games. (A word of advice? Do not Google “games for couples,” especially when you’re at work. Just be glad I waded through some really weird search results for you, okay?)

First, as usual, I want to start with the food. We’re going to make a cheese plate. Even if you don’t know gouda from feta, it’s easy to put together a combination of cheeses, and hey, no cooking required! In less than five minutes, food blogger Matt Armendariz shows you how to select cheeses, fruit, and condiments like a pro. Add a bottle of wine, and you’ve got a spread.

Next, the games. The following are a few suggestions for couples:

  • LifeStories Game — This storytelling game brings players together with stories. How did your parents meet? What do you think life will be like 100 years from now?
  • Chocolate-opoly — This game is about chocolate. That’s all you really need to know, right?
  • Poker — Everyone has a deck of cards, right? What kind of poker you want to play is your business.

There you have it, my three DIY game plans for February 14. And if you’re single, celebrate with your friends! One Valentine’s Day my dear mother was the only one who sent me flowers, but being single didn’t stop me from having my girlfriends over for margaritas. I celebrated the love of mothers who send their daughters roses. The love of good friends. The sweet and sour love of a margarita on the rocks.

What are your plans this February 14?