Three game plans for a DIY Valentine’s day

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. 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?

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sarah
sarah
8 years ago

I don’t do valentines myself, but these are all great suggestions. I had to comment though because I laughed about the 2-day mole with 30 ingredients (which I have also made!) because Bittman actually published a recipe for homemade Worcestercire a few weeks ago that make mole look like marinara. I was tempted to try it except I never heard of any of the ingredients.

Brian @ Progressive Transformation
Brian @ Progressive Transformation
8 years ago

Going to a restaurant is overrated.

How about “Let’s get pregnant night?!!”

Laundry Lady
Laundry Lady
8 years ago

There is a reason why so many babies (intentionally or unintentionally) are born 9 months from Valentine’s Day. Similar patterns apply to wedding anniversaries (especially those that involve special romantic trips) and New Year’s Eve. (Unfortunately senior proms also apply as well).

Jamie
Jamie
8 years ago
Reply to  Laundry Lady

Same thing for blackouts– Nine months after a major blackout, birth rates spike in that city. Isn’t that fun?

BlueCollarWorkman
BlueCollarWorkman
8 years ago

I found the perfect card for my girlfriend and it was $7! Seven bucks to say “Happy Valentin’es Day?” I didn’t get it. I decided to actually make her a card. Yeah, as in, hunt around for a red marker, cut a heart-shaped piece of construction paper, and write how I feel about her in said red marker. Last time I gave her a homemade card she was extremely happy and grateful. I highly suggest that in addition to staying in for V-day, why not make a card yourself? It’s more personal, you save yourself 7 bucks, and you’ll make… Read more »

Val
Val
8 years ago

Awww I love this idea. 🙂 Hope you and your girlfriend have a great Valentine’s Day!!

Jess
Jess
8 years ago

This is a great idea. My favorite Valentine’s Day gift ever was a large homemade card (it was actually a poster) that my husband made. It was so sweet he took the time to do it, even if it did look a bit like a five year old made it.

EXK
EXK
8 years ago

You read my mind! “Italian night in” is my husband’s and my Valentine’s Day tradition. He makes a caprese salad and picks up some handmade ravioli from a local Italian grocery to cook with browned butter and herbs, which is even easier than a Bittman recipe, and I make dessert (chocolate pudding cake again, probably) and choose wine. Slightly nicer ingredients than we usually use so it feels fancy, but no crowds and much cheaper and calmer than an Italian restaurant. Also, when you only have a specific meal once a year it’s exciting.

Sam
Sam
8 years ago

V-day falls on a Tuesday night, Mr. Sam is taking a class on Tuesday and Thursday so he will be at class.

But even if he wasn’t in class, we would be unlikely to do anything as we don’t normally celebrate what we see as a fake holiday. We will be celebrating our 10th anniversary of meeting in April, with a vacation so any monies we would spend on V day will be going to Mr. Sam’s certification class and/or our trip.

SB @ One cent at a time
SB @ One cent at a time
8 years ago

I am going to prepare morning breakfast and tea. When I return home from work (will be an early return) we will go to the beach and eat out. Except that eat out. Bought a purse and a chocolate box for her. Her’s is a surprise.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

We don’t celebrate it.

I am irritated at DC’s school… not only do we have to do the standard valentines (which I was expecting and am ok with), they also want us to help him decorate a box to put the valentines in (back in the day we did this AT school), and these boxes will be judged and the best will win a prize (our kid’s will not since *he* will be making it, not us), and we have to bring a snack for their V-day party.

K-12 makes me into a scrooge.

Maggie
Maggie
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

K-12 makes me a scrooge as well. If I never, ever see/help my child participate in another project/science fair again it will be too soon!

Slccom
Slccom
8 years ago
Reply to  Maggie

I am appalled that you lump in science fairs with “projects.” Science fairs are important in developing future scientists, and if that is your attitude, I strongly suggest that you find a local scientist to help your kid(s); you are turning them off to something that could be a lucrative career someday. Forensics (public speaking and debate) are equally important in developing a child’s skills, and will pay lifelong dividends. There are also history contests that are very valuable. In fact, I suggest that you rethink your whole approach here, and realize the damage you are doing to your children.… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Slccom

Obviously you’ve never participated in a kid’s science fair!

http://femomhist.blogspot.com/2012/02/why-i-hate-kid-science-fiar.html

Slccom
Slccom
8 years ago
Reply to  Slccom

I have judged science fairs, and I do realize that there is unwarranted adult interference. However, those kids who do their own work are clear. And most of us don’t give credit for the things that parents do.

However, if you go into it with the idea that they should “win,” then you are already losing. It is the PROCESS of science that they should be learning, and it is your job as a parent to focus on that.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Slccom

Riiiight, it’s the parent’s job. It’s not like most adults understand the scientific method to begin with. And I teach graduate students.

Laundry Lady
Laundry Lady
8 years ago

We do usually go to dinner sometimes around V-Day, but rarely on the day of. It works out as a great compromise for us because it falls between our two birthdays so we choose not to go out to eat three times in a month and just go out once. We usually exchange small gifts, if any, and mostly focus on the reminder to spend time together and celebrate our relationship. Sometimes days like Valentine’s are just another opportunity to be reminded to say and do the things we should already do every day.

bon
bon
8 years ago

I saw a cute gift idea on pinterest which I am putting together for my husband – 12 sealed envelopes with 12 date night ideas pre-planned for each month. We’ll open one at the beginning of each month and then pick a day to do it. Most of the dates are simple & inexpensive or free – like planning to fly a kite & a picnic or taking a city tour, but this way we have something to look forward to doing together each month, and the envelopes and date ideas will be decorated to make them a little more… Read more »

EXK
EXK
8 years ago
Reply to  bon

That’s an adorable idea, I love it!

Jamie
Jamie
8 years ago
Reply to  bon

I love it too! Hope you don’t mind if I steal the idea!

bon
bon
8 years ago
Reply to  Jamie

steal away! I found it on pinterest so am stealing it myself 🙂 The person who posted it originally did it for a birthday and it included pre-paid tickets, and all sorts of things like that, but I’m just keeping it simple.

MQ
MQ
8 years ago

Lidia Bastianich’s books/shows are also amazing if you want delicious Italian food but you aren’t that skilled in the kitchen. The PBS shows have a lot of good tips.

ivonne
ivonne
8 years ago
Reply to  MQ

I want to cry every time something great on PBS is mentioned because we DON’T get it without cable, even with an antenna…..

PBS deprived in Maize, Kansas

Holly
Holly
8 years ago

All of these are great ideas…just that I always feel like any special time w/DH means we will be excluding the 3 kids! They want to go out to a restaurant, too, they tell us! **Guilt**

And DH and I don’t exchange gifts for any holidays (I am too hard to please so we called quits on that), just cards. So game night on Tues. w/the kids is the most likely scenario!

Cute post!

D
D
8 years ago
Reply to  Holly

I really hope you reconsider. One on one time with your hubby is very important to your marriage ESPECIALLY with three kids. It certainly doesn’t have to be because of V-Day but seriously, take some time just the two of you, guilt-free. You need it and you both deserve it!

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago

hmm. I’m terribly indifferent when it comes to V-day. Really don’t think about it. I thought that was what happened when you’d been married/ with the same person for years and years but judging by the other comments/ article I am wrong. I thought for a second that maybe I should do something terribly romantic for once but then I thought he might die of shock which would make the whole day much less romantic than it usually is- even for me. We may have to ease ourselves into it; a box of chocolates this year, flowers the next…

Laura
Laura
8 years ago

Although DH & I love to eat out, we can’t stand the VD crowds and prices. Fortunately, the anniversary of our first date is on 2/25 so we celebrate that with dinner instead. DH is a romantic and loves to spend $$$, and I know I shouldn’t complain because it beats being with a knuckle-dragger who automatically equates romance with either something XXX-rated or to avoid at all costs. Sometimes he gets me roses (although now he usually buys them on 2/15 to save money – suits me just fine!) and sometimes chocolates. (He has often said he wishes I… Read more »

LauraElle
LauraElle
8 years ago

My husband and I have had the following tradition for the past four years or so: A few days before, my son will get sick. Usually it’s a stomach bug that keeps me up all night giving him small sips of water in-between wiping everything he touches with bleach wipes and washing yet more towels and sheets. [Last year it was a bad cold which necessitated 3AM a visit to the ER for a breathing treatment. He’s asthmatic so colds are serious business.] By this point, I have forgotten all about Valentine’s Day. So my husband will rush in on… Read more »

Anne
Anne
8 years ago
Reply to  LauraElle

Hah!! So long as no one is offended or hurt, it doesn’t matter. Cheesecake soothes all wounds.

LauraElle
LauraElle
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

DH and I were joking about it this morning. He was all, “Will it be the stomach flu or another trip to the ER this year?”

PawPrint
PawPrint
8 years ago
Reply to  LauraElle

Please post after V-Day and let us know!

cc
cc
8 years ago

valentines is my birthday so i am way biased! that said, i love it when everyplace gets all festive and covered with hearts, as if the rite aids across the world were preparing for my bday party ;;;;;;) i do feel terrible for my husband though and give him a pass on doing traditional valentines things. we live in a big big city- we tried to go out to a romantic french restaurant once, and we were squeezed in with 500 other hipsters like a cafeteria- forget about trying to hail a waitress, we went next door to an empty… Read more »

victoria
victoria
8 years ago

We do dates in fairly regularly: a bottle of champagne or Moscato, a dessert made by the Mr., and a movie or documentary.

We never go out on Valentine’s itself, but we are going out to our favorite restaurant on the 16th. We budget for babysitting one evening a month, and that’s the evening :).

Sonja
Sonja
8 years ago

We have Sundaynight, every Sundaynight as ‘us’-time. Hence, no need for the valentines day.

I can understand this doesn’t work for everyone though. But how about picking a different day? Put it in your calender, don’t share it with your partner but invite him/her to one of the above 3 night in ideas. You get the same experience, but it means so much if the recipients doesn’t feel like it’s an obligation to you. (hence the not sharing).

How about the 7th of April? Go for it 😉

Carolyn
Carolyn
8 years ago

I just left a comment the other day asking how to be romantic AND frugal— sometimes it just seems impossible to reconcile! Especially with my husband. I have the same “problem” as Laura above. My solution? On Valentine’s day, I just let him go to town. Whatever he wants to plan/buy/prepare for us, I trust he will keep it within some semblance of reason. And the rest of the year, our dates are more like those above. A movie night in ($10/month), a splurge at our favorite gourmet shop for dinner ingredients ($20 on avg), or the various free offerings… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

Cellphone-wrapped chocolates??

JB
JB
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Yes! I, too, would like to know at what fine establishment these intriguing treats may be found on offer! Better yet if they come in boxes of a dozen! *grins*

Sara
Sara
8 years ago

I plan on making a chocolate fondue – otherwise the fondue pot is just going to be collecting dust. This way we can eat at home and our 5 year old can join in celebrating the “holiday.” Neither of us are big into the romantic-y stuff (other than I like chocolate a LOT).

Jacque
Jacque
8 years ago

Cellphone-wrapped chocolates? If it’s an iPhone, I’d be pretty happy with it! ; )

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

Broke, single people generally don’t have Valentines Day plans. More than likely I will try to see a matinee or a $4 movie at my local “speakeasy”. I may even spring for their $4 glass of wine! 🙂

BD
BD
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Agreed.
I usually spend Valentine’s day the same way I do every other day. Eat, sleep, work (when there is work to do). Nothing different from any other day.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Turns out I have a date tomorrow night after all! At one of my favorite restaurants to boot! 😀

Megan E.
Megan E.
8 years ago

Great ideas everyone! This year, we plan to do a big meal at home (steak, homemade pasta, scallops, baked alaska…) for less than we’d spend out. Presents will be a car wash for us both (a REAL one!) and I got him a little extra something as well. Under $60 for both of us isn’t bad! One of my favorite celebrations was with my best female friend. We went to Godvia and hand selected our favorite truffles (like 6 each), popped popcorn, and had a movie night with romantic things guys hate! It was great fun and easy to do… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

We’re just going to have dinner at home. But dinner will be a couple of high-quality steaks and the wine will be a very fine bottle that was a gift from one of DH’s clients. We also have some special-occasion treats on the way from Roger’s Chocolates of Canada.

p.s. a couple of non-traditional “romantic” movie choices for married couples. “Shall We Dance” with Richard Gere & Susan Sarandon; “Mr & Mrs Smith” with Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie; and “Manhattan Murder Mystery” with Woody Allen & Diane Keaton.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

Haha – it occurs to me that “Shall we dance” is about a man who comes close to cheating on his wife, and “Mr and Mrs Smith” is famous for being the set where Brad left Jennifer for Angelina.

Daring choice of movies for a married couple! Definitely “non-traditional”. :-p

OnTheGrind
OnTheGrind
8 years ago

My wife and I have been doing Valentine’s at home for a few years now. Not only is it nice to save some money, we’ve found that most quality restaurants are over-crowded and often the food and service takes a hit. This year my wife is telling me to skip roses – borderline insisting on it because she feels they are a waste of money. I concur!

Slccom
Slccom
8 years ago
Reply to  OnTheGrind

Plus, the food is overpriced and usually inferior to their usual meals.

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  OnTheGrind

Buy the roses the day after Valentine’s. She still gets flowers and you save a ton of money. Or if not roses, then go for carnations or another type. Or just one rose. It’s true that cut flowers aren’t exactly practical, but they really do bring a smile to the loved one’s lips.

Richard Rinyai
Richard Rinyai
8 years ago

I would love to tell everyone what I am doing for Valentine’s day, but that would give it away, since my wife has access to the internet.

casavvy
casavvy
8 years ago

I save all of my rewards points from my credit card and use them up on Valentines Day and also on my girlfriends birthday. Its nice because her birthday is in August so i have time to rack up some more rewards by then. But I always end up spending a little more than my rewards can cover because I always find something that she will like that costs a little bit more. Though, by using the rewards I can get my girlfriend what she wants with out breaking the bank. I think its a nice feature that everyone should… Read more »

Caleigh
Caleigh
8 years ago

My fiance and I have never been one to celebrate Valentine’s day. For the last 3 years he’s been curling in bonspiels and I saw him for a few minutes between games, if I was lucky.
He does give me flowers though, so that’s nice. We aren’t a fussy romantic couple, so it’s not a big thing. We say ‘I love you’ about 10 times everyday and once in a while we go out for steak. I think if he tried to do a ‘romantic night out’ I’d be nervous since clearly an alien had taken over his body!

Sarah
Sarah
8 years ago

We’ve never been major Valentine’s Day people but we’ve often made a point of going out for dinner sometime around Valentine’s Day.

We both hate lines and crowds so we don’t do it on the 14th. I’ve never felt left out.

Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
8 years ago

Not sure. Someone else is in charge of that night…

frugalportland
frugalportland
8 years ago

my friends are having me over for dinner and heart shaped things!

Krantcents
Krantcents
8 years ago

I always bring in dinner and flowers. A nice candlelight dinner withe fireplace (based on weather) going is very romantic. I love the idea of celebrating at home quietly and just the two of us.

Jamie
Jamie
8 years ago

When I was single, it was much easier to celebrate V-Day– I’d grab all my single pals and we’d get dressed to the nines and go celebrate our independence! Now that I’m in a committed, long-term relationship… I try to do the same thing! We’re plenty sweet with each other the rest of the year(and we get tons of one-on-one time) so Valentine’s Day– along with our Anniversary in December– is a time to party with friends. This year I’m going with Boyfriend and a few friends to an inexpensive figure-drawing class (oh-la-la!, respectfully) and then we’re going to partake… Read more »

Alyssa
Alyssa
8 years ago

I love V-day, too. It’s a fun, cheesy way to celebrate with those you love. And who doesn’t love another excuse to eat chocolate?

Also, for those who whine about the commercialism, what are your thoughts on Christmas? Easter? Halloween? Mother’s Day? Father’s Day? ALL holidays get commercialized. It’s how YOU choose to spend it that makes it important.

PawPrint
PawPrint
8 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

V-Day, not so much. Mother’s Day–love it! Don’t have to cook, get waited on, all the kids call, my day to do whatever I want whenever I want.

Carol in Mpls
Carol in Mpls
8 years ago

No plans, but (romantic) movie ideas:

* Crossing Delancey
* Mr. & Mrs. Smith
* Chocolat
* A Room With a View
* Moonstruck
* Truly, Madly, Deeply
* Notting Hill
* My Brilliant Career
* Like Water for Chocolate
* Out of Africa
* March of the Penguins

I love them all, so something in that list should work a romantic night in 🙂

Savvy Scot
Savvy Scot
8 years ago
Reply to  Carol in Mpls

That’s a handy list for a male to have – may get be brownie points 😉 thanks

Heather
Heather
8 years ago

Valentine’s day is a huge money-maker in our family, my partner is a server in an Italian restaurant. It’s awesome.

stellamarina
stellamarina
8 years ago

I wish!

In our home we celebrate with strawberries….and maybe some chocolates.

Savvy Scot
Savvy Scot
8 years ago

Some good ideas. My wife and I have decided this year that instead of buying each other presents, (we hate buying things for the sake of it) we will each think up an ‘experience day’ on a budget. So for example, you choose a location for a lunch (cafe/picnic/make a meal) and include an activity for the day/night. We have set a budget which we can afford and have agreed to do this on different weekends. That way, we avoid inflated prices on the day itself and the experiences last over a couple of weeks. 🙂

Young and Thrifty
Young and Thrifty
8 years ago

The best gift is intimate and thoughtful. You can’t go wrong doing something romantic at home.

Joe
Joe
8 years ago

A cheap Valentine’s Day may be a lot more expensive than spending $50 to keep your long-term, long-suffering partner happy.

Sleeping Mama
Sleeping Mama
8 years ago

Rather than gifts, we’re going to drop the kiddo off at grandma’s and have an early dinner at a seafood restaurant. The restaurant is a little pricey, but I prefer “experience” gifts!

Susan
Susan
8 years ago

We like to keep it simple too. I picked up ready made dinners at a local Italian market, I got a nice bottle of wine for the holidays that we’ll open, and hopefully I can convince my husband to watch my favorite movie with me “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – if not, we’ll watch something else – it’s all good.

Hope everyone has the day they are hoping for, however they choose to celebrate!

Jackowick
Jackowick
8 years ago

I treat February 14th like every other day when it comes to my relationship. It’s a calendar date that means nothing to us compared to our own important days.

You want to make someone feel special? Send them flowers or a gift “just because” on any other day of the year.

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