Five DIY valentine’s day ideas for frugal sweethearts

Valentine's Day is a commercialized holiday, but I say, “So what!”

Sure, you don't need a holiday to show appreciation for your significant other, but why miss out on the extra chance to do it? Besides, you don't have to celebrate the way the commercials tell you to, with boxes of cream-filled chocolate, stuffed animals, jewelry, or an overpriced prix fixe menu.

A Cold and Miserable V-Day

I remember the last Valentine's Day before my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I decided to opt out of the traditional chocolates and dinner reservations celebration. He picked me up and we went to a great little restaurant across town. We had dinner reservations, but we still had to wait an hour-and-a-half past our reservation for a seat. Outside. In the cold. When I say it was a little restaurant, I mean there was an indoor waiting area that seated maybe four people.

By the time we were seated, we were cold, tired, and hungry. Normally, we love that restaurant. But on Valentine's Day, it was a completely different experience. We decided that next year we'd go all-out on a Valentine's Day dinner — at home. And that's what we've done every year since.

DIY Romance

Valentine's Day, like any other day, is what you make of it. It's only commercialized if that's how you choose to celebrate it. It can be hard, however, to come up with creative alternatives, especially since commercials for chocolate, flowers, and such are blaring over the TV and radio waves. If unique and low-key is more your style, here are five Valentine's Day ideas for your loved ones:

  • Instead of dinner reservations, make a simple dinner for two. If you like the idea of cooking a meal at home, but want someone else to do the planning, magazine Bon Appétit is happy to oblige with its Seductively Simple Valentine's Day Menu for Two. Recipes include Radicchio and Arugula Salad with Roasted Pepper Dressing and Burrata Crostini, Pan-Seared Strip Steak with Red-Wine Pan Sauce and Pink-Peppercorn Butter, and Lemon Shortbread Heart Cookies. (I might be using this menu myself!) Bonus points: Create a play list of love songs to provide the soundtrack for your evening.
  • Instead of a Hallmark card, make handmade Valentines. Handmade cards are charming, but it can be hard to get started. You probably don't want the end result to look like something you made in elementary school. Avie Designs offers a good tutorial on Papel Picado Valentines that uses paper-cut tissue paper to create card designs.
  • Instead of a heart-shaped box of chocolates, make homemade fudge with an even sweeter surprise. Sometimes I can't stand how crafty Martha Stewart is, but I can't help but to like her. For Valentine's Day, make her Creamy Fudge Hearts and package each one in a cupcake paper with a message underneath.
  • Instead of a dozen roses from the flower shop, turn supermarket flowers into a beautiful bouquet. Think it's not possible to make carnations or baby's breath into something stunning? Think again! Real Simple offers up an easy tutorial on how to use less expensive flowers to make elegant bouquets. I've officially changed my anti-carnation stance (announcing it on GRS makes it official).
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  • Instead of a stuffed teddy bear, make embroidered portraits, featured in the latest issue of Country Living. Each portrait can be hand-sewn in less than an hour. Make a copy of a photo, affix the copy to watercolor paper, and outline the image by using a pin to punch holes. Next, remove the photo and use embroidery thread to sew a running stitch along the holes to create the portrait.

My favorite DIY projects save money and don't take too much time to complete, and each of these relatively simple projects fit the bill. I say instead of boycotting Valentine's Day, reclaim it. Here's to a heartfelt celebration of love this February 14th!

What are your plans for Valentine's Day? Do you take a DIY approach, and if so, what are some of your favorite project ideas?

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Derek
Derek
9 years ago

I actually proposed to my now-wife on Valentines day 2 years ago! It was a perfectly romantic setting – snow on the lake with swans swimming nearby and my melodious proposal song. My wife loved it, but I don’t think I can beat that this year! Thanks for the suggestions!

Chris P.
Chris P.
9 years ago

My fiance and I were just talking about this the other day. One year, we ordered take out from the restaurant that we wanted to eat at, brought it home, and had a nice candle lit dinner there. The best part was definitely wading through the throngs of angry couples who were in the waiting area. This gave us something to laugh about all night! This year, we decided that we’ll just do a dinner at home, maybe a movie too.

Tazz
Tazz
9 years ago

April, My Valentine gifts this year was all handmade! My bf has a sweet tooth so I made him sugar cookies w frosting and cut them out in cute animal cutouts (coz hearts would be too predictable) and put them in a jar and decorated the jar with labels I made on my computer and colourful ribbons. There was a label on it and all, it looked like sthg I bought at a store it was so pretty when I was done w it 😀 I also made him a handmade card which has a secret message on it, which… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Or you could spend Valentine’s day taking out a job market candidate (who is not your husband) out to dinner on the company’s dime. *Sigh*

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

My husband’s favorite Valentine’s gift was when I cut out 50 construction paper hearts of different sizes. On each one, I wrote something I loved about him. I then hid them all over the house.

The fun part was that some of the hearts were hidden in places he wouldn’t find for months–like taped to his bench saw. Others he found immediately, like the one I put in his sandwich for lunch. Valentine’s lasted a long time that year and he still has all the hearts in his sock drawer.

Carl Creasman
Carl Creasman
9 years ago

I did like Pamela once, though I just used small sticky notes. I hid them everywhere, and my wife didn’t find them all till months later. As she said, the spirit of Valentine lasted a very long time that year!

Deb
Deb
9 years ago

My most memorable Valentine’s Day involved strategically placed suprises that my husband left for me. It’s 5:30 am, cold and dark, you’re groggy and not looking forward to the workday ahead. When you pull back the shower curtain – there is a big pot of tulips sitting in the bathtub! Talk about a bright spot in the morning! There’s a sweet card at the coffee maker, and a little love letter and box of mini candied hearts sitting on your car seat. When you come home, there’s a little piece of gourment cake. Simple stuff, but it really made my… Read more »

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

If you do decide to buy flowers or chocolates, consider celebrating the holiday on a different date. My wife has always gotten flowers near valentines day, but never on February 14th. As for carnations, congratulations on deciding that they are acceptable. My wife and I decided long ago that they are our flowers of choice. They are the most cost-effective flowers we could find, because: 1) They are always among the cheapest flowers at the store. 2) They last a long long time. We’ve bought roses and been frustrated to see them wilt within days. Carnations, on the other hand,… Read more »

Andy
Andy
9 years ago

I am so impressed and in awe over everyone’s creativity for celebrating Valentine’s Day. These are such great ideas and I would’ve never thought of any of them!! I also love how personal all of them are.

I hope no one minds if I “borrow” one or two of these fabulous ideas 🙂

Hilary
Hilary
9 years ago

We celebrated the past 5 years with take-out from our neighborhood Chinese restaurant. We splurge on dumpings or another appetizer. It’s great to spend a little time together-just the two of us-without the stress of waiting for dinner or buying gifts.

brokeprofessionals
brokeprofessionals
9 years ago

I particulaly agree with the make your own card angle. The only thing that really matters (to most people) is what YOU write in the card, not the prewritten (let’s face it, generally it is) crap written inside the card. If only each of us had the money spent on cards in cold hard cash, from birth to now, instead of the cards themselves. There are few industries I find less necessary than card companies, but that is just my opinion. We have also found that if you go all out, it can be more expensive having a dinner at… Read more »

Golfing Girl
Golfing Girl
9 years ago

My Valentine’s request from my hubby was to clean our garden tub (with jets) and to take a bath in it with me. The best part is it’s free (if elbow grease can be considered free). We made the mistake of the restaurant on Valentine’s our first Valentine’s together about 11 years ago. We saw the wait and decided to stop at the grocery store, get two TV dinners and a bottle of wine and watched a movie at home. Now when we want to celebrate Valentines at a restaurant, we do it the week after Valentine’s so it’s easier… Read more »

HollyP
HollyP
9 years ago

As a variation on the sticky note theme, when we were dating MrP made a sticky note timeline of events (some significant, some silly) in our relationship. It was quite adorable.

Fortune cookies with love notes is good for those inclined to bake.

This year I’m making MrP his favorite dessert. It is very time-intensive and calorie-laden so he usually only has it for his birthday, but this year he’s getting an extra serving.

Tazz
Tazz
9 years ago

I live in SE Asia but my bf lives in the US so I’ve been busy preparing his Valentine’s Day surprises about three weeks ago, since mail takes abt 2 weeks to get there from where I am. We usually don’t celebrate VDay coz both of us think it’s just a hyped up overcommercialized idea to get ppl spending etc (you get the idea) but just sometimes, I like doing nice things for him 🙂 he’s getting me a return ticket to come see him in March so we’ll have a real celebration then 😀 Anyways, I got most of… Read more »

Anne
Anne
9 years ago

Tulips in the shower?? Love it!

Great ideas. I have been turned off by the commercialism of V-Day in recent years to the point that my bf and I don’t do anything really. But these are neat ideas I can do and feel happy with. Thanks!! You GRS folks are such sweet people.

Crystal@BFS
9 years ago

My husband favorite Valentine’s Day gift from me was an autographed Craig Biggio baseball, lol. My favorite gift from him was last year when he took me out to Italian a week earlier than Valentine’s Day (I adore Italian food and he’s just okay with it) and then we fed a few breadsticks to the ducks at the pond near our house…it was fun!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

“Radicchio and Arugula Salad with Roasted Pepper Dressing and Burrata Crostini, Pan-Seared Strip Steak with Red-Wine Pan Sauce and Pink-Peppercorn Butter, and Lemon Shortbread Heart Cookies.”

Ingredients:
1 lb. “r”
1 lb. “s”
a dash of italian

Preparation:
arrange ingredients with consonance, assonance and alliteration to taste

serve printed

😉

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

We gave up on V-Day dinners out quite some time ago.

Have tried variations on at-home dinners and generally speaking, the best thing is takeout. Because otherwise someone has to cook and clean up, and that ain’t exactly romantic, especially in a year like this when V-Day is a workday. I did filet mignon and crab cakes with bearnaise one year … it was very good, but I was in the kitchen for a loooong time.

There will always, definitely be chocolate and champagne involved!

Jonathan
Jonathan
9 years ago

After several years of Valentine’s Days full of disappointments, my wife and I have made it a tradition to go to the local Mexican restaurant (always nearly empty, and we sometimes get free flan!), and then have a quiet evening at home. We save the big celebration for Pi day a month later.

ponytimeyo
ponytimeyo
9 years ago

My boyfriend and I are into horror movies BIG time, especially zombie movies. So, for one Valentine’s day I made him some homemade sugar cookies. Instead of decorating them like pretty hearts, I decorated them as zombie faces. The frosting was made from scratch, too, since most stores don’t carry zombie skin green frosting. I do have to say they turned out looking pretty cool and I’ve made them a few more times since then.

Adam
Adam
9 years ago

Clutch your pearls frugal-folk.

My valentines date and I are flying to Grand Cayman on Sunday for a week to escape the brutal cold; and going to eat at Blue at the Ritz Carlton on 7 Mile Beach for Valentine’s Day dinner.

One trip advisor reviewer said to “sell your house” so you can eat there, it will be worth it. I’m going for a 6 course tasting menu with wine pairing. It will cost a fortune, probably $450 for the dinner.

Wanna make something of it?!

Gal @ Equally Happy
Gal @ Equally Happy
9 years ago

I have a friend (no really, it’s a friend, no me!) who was short on money one year. So he organized a little home picnic. Basically he made all his girlfriend’s favorite foods, then got a blanket, some forest like background noise playing on his stereo and they had a candle lit picnic right in the middle of his living room. She was floored by the amount of effort and thought that went into this.

Squirrelers
Squirrelers
9 years ago

Personally, I would like to think it’s the thought and effort that counts anyway. Along those lines, the make-your-own card idea is a really good one. Who wouldn’t prefer a homemade card which took creativity and effort, along with a personalize message?

schmei
schmei
9 years ago

When we were just dating and were both poor as dirt, my then-boyfriend/now-husband spent a solid day and probably a month’s salary making one of the best meals of my life: Duck a L’orange, a delicious salad and homemade dark chocolate mousse, served with champagne. We enjoyed it at the tiny table he set in the middle of his wee studio apartment – pure romance. Obviously, it worked. 🙂 Since then we’ve found ourselves exchanging musical gifts, mostly: I like trying to find an album he’ll love but he maybe hasn’t heard about yet. Music is a gift that gives… Read more »

schmei
schmei
9 years ago

Also – I have a heart-shaped cake pan and I usually try to make hubs’ favorite coffee cake for Valentine’s Day breakfast. This is definitely a tradition I want to continue when we have kids – it’s a fun way to start the day.

Donny Gamble
Donny Gamble
9 years ago

Usually for Valentines Day I get gifts that mean a lot, but don’t put a hole in my pocket.

Karen
Karen
9 years ago

My favorite card my husband ever gave me was one he made with his students at an after school program. It actually does look like a kid made it but he’s not that crafty so I know he worked hard on it. I’ve kept it for years. If we do ever go out to eat we never go out on the actual day, too crazy and hyped up. Usually we cook at home – I think last year was pink-themed: salmon and pink mashed potatoes. 🙂

Laura
Laura
9 years ago

The first date my now-husband and I had was February 25, so instead of doing hoopla on 2/14, we celebrate 2/25; it’s a lot more meaningful (#26 this year!). That 1st date consisted of going out for ice cream (because between us we had $4 and 1/2 tank of gas), and that’s what we always do – sometimes with dinner and sometimes not, depending on how much more we have that year than $4 and 1/2 tank of gas. 🙂

Bella
Bella
9 years ago

@27 – That’s awesome, so are the tulips in the shower. I think it must have three years ago now, friends asked us what we were doing for Valentine’s. And we literally had plans to spend the whole night in the garage working on our jeep restoration project. We were getting so close to done, very little outside of work and the jeep registered on our radar. But, we liked the work, and we liked working on it together, so I guess that’s our version of romantic.

Jana
Jana
9 years ago

As an artist, I love giving little crafty artsy homemade things for Valentine’s Day – they’re from the heart, non-commercial and have a lasting value (original ART!). This year I’m into painting tiny 2″x2″ canvases, and it all started with a little 2×4″ canvas I gave to my husband a couple of years ago for Valentine’s day. Super Bowl Sunday I spent a couple hours with another friend making valentine cards with fancy paper, puffy hearts, and then sentences and words cut from magazines scattered inside that have special meaning to my honey. Something anyone can do! My husband and… Read more »

Amy
Amy
9 years ago

I actually recently wrote a post very much like this one, and one idea I came up with was to replace real flowers with paper flowers, which are actually a lot easier and cheaper to make than you’d think. I posted info about making them on my blog for anyone who wants to check it out (just scroll down a bit to the paper flowers heading — I have a link to the instructions I used and a PDF of the pattern): http://which-gift-should-i-give.com/2011/02/03/cheap-and-thoughtful-valentines-day-gift-ideas/ If you already have a glue gun & glue sticks, you can make a really cool and… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
9 years ago

I will never eat out on Valentines Day. The food is overpriced, there’s often a limited menu and way too crowded. And good luck trying to find a babysitter. This year my girls and I made & decorated small felt bags that we’re each going to add little trinkets and candies to for each family member.

Chris
Chris
9 years ago

our first V-day my now-fiance and I were apart (he was away for work) but he left a surprise scavenger hunt around my apt. it was actually one thing a day for 7 days with an extra-sentimental thing on v-day. everything was inexpensive, but meant something to us. each day’s “gift” was accompianed by a note and audio message (he programmed voice notes on an old phone and left it there for me). we had only been together for 3 months, but i already knew he was the one. i am also a huge fan of take-out or dining-in. he… Read more »

Anoel
Anoel
9 years ago

These are all nice…but they still are the easy stereotyped Valentine gifts. Real romance comes from doing something special for your loved one that you know they would LOVE. Look at their interests, their passions and devise an amazing experience (and gifts if possible) that would make them feel special and unique. And if you’re going to cook a dinner, make dishes that relate to those interests.

Artist
Artist
9 years ago

Valentine’s Day is my birthday. It was fun & special when I was a kid, but has had it’s ups & downs as I got older. I also NEVER go out on or near V-day for dinner. Been there – lived through that! But lunch at your favorite cafe or bistro is really nice. Generally the people serving you lunch usually have the night off & they’re in a really good mood. It’s less expensive, but just as delicious. Depending on where you go, it’s not nearly as busy or crowded. Once they find out it’s my birthday, they’re willing… Read more »

Louise M
Louise M
9 years ago

Everyone has such sweet ideas! My boyfriend and my anniversary is on the 25th of February so we tend to just celebrate in one big go. Last year we went to dinner at our favourite restaurant. He had spent weeks picking out the perfect ring (working out back at a jeweler’s certainly helped). This year he’s unemployed and he feels bad that he can’t “wine and dine” me. On our anniversary we’re going to a nice restaurant thanks to a free meal coupon I have! Haha. On Valentine’s Day we’re having coffee at our favourite coffee shop where we used… Read more »

karla
karla
9 years ago

I told my husband I was going to get my own Valentine’s present this year: I was going to take the majority of his paycheck and pay down the credit card (one more and we’re done!)

Like others, we have never made a really big deal of holidays in the 30 years we’ve been together. It’s more fun (and thoughtful) to randomly receive something any day of the year–even just a “thinking of you” text.

Lindsay
Lindsay
9 years ago

We were thinking of going out to dinner (of course), but being a broke college student with a small-business-owner-husband, I suggested we save money by staying at home. So we will rent a rom-com from netflix, I will make us a nice (yet cheap) pasta dinner and dessert, get a $5 bottle of red wine and make it a nice cozy evening at home with **free romantic activities** ;D @Jana- great idea about the 2×2 canvases. I’m an art student and I actually have a ton of those, and they are SO much fun to paint! Maybe I will paint/collage… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

@Adam #21, I’m not clutching my pearls – I’m gnashing my teeth with envy! LOL

Sounds awesome, hope everything goes perfectly and deliciously.

Also, thanks to schmei for reminding me about that heart-shaped cake pan. DH has never yet been disappointed by cake.

Nick
Nick
9 years ago

My wife really enjoys real plants which flower, and last. They do seem to be a better investment than cut flowers which fade and wither fairly quickly.

Cj
Cj
9 years ago

I don’t like to receive or give cut flowers for VDay, because they are usually grown in other countries where far more pesticides are allowed, and they are also inflated in price due to the holiday. Having worked in a flower shop on this holiday before also diminishes the enjoyment of flowers.

A trip to a botanic garden together or a visit to a plant nursery to pick out something is a nice alternative to cut flowers.

Wendy
Wendy
9 years ago

While I think these are excellent ideas for Valentine’s Day (which I could go either way about celebrating), I have to question whether they’re really “frugal.” Believe me, I’ve tried the do-it-at-home type of stuff before and it always ends up costing me more. Buying ingredients to cook at home can be just as expensive as going out (at least in the case of gourmet recipes). Most people don’t keep craft supplies on hand – so going out and buying tissue paper, glue, decals, or whatever they would need would cost at least five times as much as a card.… Read more »

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