Valentine’s Day is typically a time when amorous couples drop a small bundle on indulgent gifts for one another — chocolate, roses, lingerie, and jewelry, just to name a few. I’ll let you in on a little secret, though. My boyfriend and I have never given each other a traditional gift. Not for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, or any other holiday.
From the beginning of our relationship two years ago, we decided we would rather spend our money on fun experiences together or receive nonmaterial gifts instead. And so far, we’ve found that birthdays and holidays aren’t less special without a wrapped present or a bouquet. If anything, they’re better!
An expensive bouquet won’t last more than a week, so instead show your love this Valentine’s Day with these heartfelt ideas.
1. Quality time
It sounds cheesy, but one of the best gifts is spending time with your partner, friend, or family member. Take them on a short hike, invite them over for a homemade meal or drink, or offer to help with something that’s been nagging them, like an overwhelming closet or packing for an upcoming move. If you can’t think of a great activity, give them an open-ended voucher and let the recipient choose what they’d love.
2. Old school mixtape
Mixing tapes might seem like a blast from the past, but hear me out. A fantastic mixtape is an art form. The right mix of songs can tell a story, remind you of good times together, or just make them laugh. Whether you go old school with a CD or make a Spotify playlist, don’t forget to include a note with a list of all of the tracks and a hint or two about why you picked them.
3. Your undivided attention
Showing you care can be as simple as spending an entire meal completely focused on your partner or your loved one. Put away the phone. Make eye contact. Ask questions. You’ll be amazed at the difference this makes.
4. Cook them a romantic dinner at home
Not only do restaurants massively mark up dinner for Valentine’s Day, but it’s often crowded and hard to focus on just the two of you. Skip the hubbub and create a romantic evening at home. Bonus points for lighting candles and making the meal yourself, complete with an aphrodisiac or two.
5. Love letter
There’s a reason that love letters from decades past still make us swoon. Sure, a romantic text is sweet, but it can’t compete with a handwritten letter.
6. Get adventurous
Last year I surprised my boyfriend with a trapeze class for his birthday. I was anxious about the (death-defying) heights for weeks, but his excitement and sheer joy made it all worth it. We both ended up loving it, and it’s one of our favorite memories. Try to think of something that your partner will absolutely love, and be willing to do something outside of your own comfort zone to make them happy.
7. Do the little things
Clean the house, do their chores, stock the fridge with their favorite food, or bring them their favorite hot beverage in the morning. Trust me, the little things won’t go unnoticed.
8. A massage
A free massage with no obligation to return? Yes, please. Don’t skip on time, and be sure to pay extra attention to your partner’s trouble areas like sore feet, tight shoulders, and back. You don’t even need to go to the store — the olive and coconut oil you have in the cabinet make great massage oils.
9. Hide little notes
A message on the steamy mirror, in their lunch or workbag, or on their pillow can say a lot. Get creative with where you put them and what you say. You can hide a bunch to be discovered in one day, or sprinkle them out over weeks to keep the love and excitement going.
10. Take something off their to-do list
Paint the room that’s been at the top of the list. Take the car in to get an oil change. Start the taxes. The more things you check off, the more time they’ll have to spend with you.
11. Plan a trip
You don’t have to go right now to get the benefits of a romantic getaway. Map out where you want to go and what you’ll do there. The anticipation is the best part!
12. Tell the story of how you met
I love hearing what my boyfriend remembers of how we met and our first date. It’s a fun way to relive the (super embarrassing) firsts and show that your shared past matters. Even better, type out the story and include photos in an album for a trip down memory lane.
13. Brown bag it
Pack your partner’s lunch for the day. Don’t forget to sneak in a bit of their favorite food and a sweet note. A piece of chocolate wouldn’t hurt, either.
Bundle up and lose yourselves in the cosmos. Stuck in the city? Pick the highest point and take in a view of the lights at night.
15. Do what THEY like for a change
Nothing says I love you like sweating through an intense power yoga class alongside your S.O. Or really, I should say that nothing says I love you like my boyfriend participating in my favorite intense power yoga class. Play their favorite video game together, learn to knit, or do whatever else your partner wants to do with them, without complaint.
Read more: How couples yoga will strengthen your relationship »
16. Indulge cravings
Make the food they can’t stop talking about, watch the movie they love that you hate, blast their guilty pleasure playlist. Not only does it show you listen, but also that what they want matters to you. Pancakes, please!
17. Give compliments
It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget to compliment your partner. Explicitly tell them why you love them and point out all of their wonderful qualities. If you’re like me and chicken out or get embarrassed easily, write them down on a nice homemade card or letter instead.
18. Snap some footage
My best friend put together an adorable video for her boyfriend with snippets of their first year together. Needless to say, he loved it. If you don’t have a cache of silly snaps or epic drone footage, keep it simple and put together a photo album instead.
19. Keep it simple with some XOXO
A hug and a kiss go a long way. Don’t forget to share them with your partner every day.
A nontraditional gift can show that you truly care and that you put thought into your partner’s enjoyment and happiness. You don’t even have to spend a lot of money. Think of how thrilled they’ll be when you pack them their favorite lunch with a heartfelt note, or make them a Spotify playlist of all the songs that make you think of them. That joy is certainly better than any money you could spend.