For Valentine's Day, you could do the traditional romantic dinner and a fancy box of chocolates. But why rush through a restaurant, elbow-to-elbow with lovesick newbies, when you could do something more original that won't take a chunk out of your wallet? (Besides, no one eats the "mystery" chocolates in that heart-shaped box anyway.)
Here are 20 thoughtful ways you can show your sweetheart you care without celebrating the Hallmark side of the holiday.
You don't have to be Julia Child to whip up something heart-shaped, red or romantic in the kitchen. Make sugar cookies and decorate them together with red frosting (made with natural dye) and all kinds of sprinkles. Or try your hand at a much more creative delectable dessert. If you don't do sweets, make a healthy, red salad full of fruits and veggies.
Jar of hearts
You remember how to make a paper heart, right? Well, make a whole slew of them. On each one, write down a reason why you love your special someone. Then put all those hearts into a jar or bowl. Watch your sweetheart blush as he reads them all out loud.
You hate washing the dog; he hates taking out the trash. He can't stand doing the laundry; you hate grocery shopping. So offer to swap chores. You do the ones your better half can't stand and your better half does the ones that drive you batty. The deal is, there's absolutely no complaining allowed.
Re-create your first date
Unless you met atop the Eiffel Tower or fate first intervened in some other elaborate fashion, see if you can re-create the way your paths initially crossed. It's a way you can be romantic and nostalgic at the same time, says Pop Sugar.
Go on a picnic
Granted, it depends on where you live if an outdoor picnic is an option in February. If it is, stock a basket full of all of your favorite things and don't forget a tablecloth for spreading on the grass (or at least on a picnic table). If the weather won't cooperate, spread a blanket on your living room floor and picnic in the house.
The movie theaters will be packed with couples looking for a rom-com to inspire their affection. Why head to the multiplex when you have Netflix (or Amazon Prime)? Not sure you can agree on a movie? Make a pact that you each get to pick one show and you'll happily sit through it without grumbling.
Fill some balloons
Take some slivers of paper, suggest Cosmopolitan, and write romantic or suggestive notes on them. Maybe the things you love about your sweetheart or sweet memories you've shared (or things you'd like to share). Slip the notes into red or pink balloons and fill a room. You'll have fun watching your Valentine pop each balloon and read your hidden love notes.
Write a poem or a love letter
Putting XXXs and OOOs in a text doesn't quite cut it in the romance department, at least not on Feb. 14. Show some true creativity by penning a poem or a love letter. C'mon, you can do it. You had to write poetry in your high school English class and that was way before you ever experienced true love.
Eat at home
Who said only a fancy restaurant can be romantic? Make your significant other's favorite meal, even if it's something that you can't stand. If you don't think you can pull it off, order takeout and put it on some fancy china. If you're the casual type, buy some ready-made dough and create a heart-shaped pizza. Whatever you make, be sure to set the scene with a real tablecloth, candles and some fresh flowers.
Apps like Google Sky Map can help you figure out what you're looking at, but as Ask Men points out, the experience is less about astronomy and more about spending a peaceful night together under the stars.
Skip the glitter-covered, cherub-bedecked greetings in the store and find some crayons, Sharpies or colored pencils. Get to work drawing hearts and flowers and anything else that shows you truly care enough to send the very best. Remember: You get more points for effort than presentation.
Go to a park
Even if you have to bundle up, head to the great outdoors for some quality time in Mother Nature. Hold hands while taking a hike. Find a playground and take turns pushing each other on the swings. Or just sit on a bench and people watch.
Create a video
You have all those fancy features on your phone's camera. Use them to make a photo collage or shoot a video professing your true love. Be silly or be sappy. "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..."
Make a scavenger hunt
Write clues and make your own treasure hunt for your sweetheart to follow. Need inspiration? Here's an example from Stacey Westbrook, but obviously don't steal her ideas. The clues need to be personal and mean something to you two.
Hide love notes
Write some racy or romantic notes and hide them in out-of-the-way places that your partner will find throughout the day: in a pocket, behind the car visor, in a backpack or briefcase.
Schedule a game night
Look in your game closet and see what you find. Whether it's checkers, Monopoly (or even the kids' Chutes and Ladders) you'll have fun with some friendly competition, fueled by a little romance and maybe some adult beverages.
Who doesn't like gift certificates? Personalize a bunch of romantic I-owe-yous for your special someone offering anything from back rubs to romantic strolls, chore swaps to "fill in the blank." Get out the glue and glitter and create your own, or use this template from The Dating Divas.
Print some photos
In our digital world, we take tons of photos but they tend to sit on our phones or computers. Instead of relegating them to social media or the cloud, actually print one out — preferable one of the two of you looking adorable — frame it, and present it as a gift. So retro!
Create a home spa
Fill the tub with bubble bath, light some candles and put on some soft music. No need for a pricey spa when you have each other. Soak together and then exchange massages.
Give a paper flower bouquet
The markup is crazy on roses this time of year. So make your own. These tutorials and templates from Tipnut show you how to make daisies and pansies from magazines, recycled paper and more. Some are easy and some are for the more creatively advanced.