Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas: Good for Your Heart and Your Wallet'/

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The patron saint for whom Valentine’s Day is named is remembered for his special notes of encouragement. For those more familiar with the billion-dollar Valentine’s Day industry, this simple and inexpensive gesture may seem a weak substitute. After all, the average person is expected to spend $126.03 on discretionary gifts this year, an 8.5 percent increase over spending last year. A little over a hundred bucks a person might not seem like a lot, but estimates by the National Retail Federation (NRF) put expected spending on the day of love at a total $17.6 billion.

Unsurprising, psychologists identify men in particular as the major contributors to the Valentine’s Day spending spree.

“Valentine’s Day is the ‘put up or shut up’ day for them. They don’t want to make a mistake,” says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow to the USA Today.

And so men spend… twice as much on average as their counterparts. This year, the average man will cough up $168.74 on gifts such as jewelry, clothes and chocolates for his sweetheart while women spend a more moderate $85.76, according to the NRF.

So—for the men out there—the question is: does is take $168.74 to win affection? If you really can afford it, fine. But if you can’t, does risking your financial security mean your partner will love you more? So, from a woman, here’s a love poem to all the men who want to wow their women and pay their bills on time.

L is for Leave

Leave the house. Leave town. Get out and go somewhere new with her. It kind of matters where, but it matters more that you plan this adventure yourself and then take it together. Make this a moment where you strengthen your bond by creating experiences—and memories—together. So, go hiking. Be tourists together in a nearby city or take in the spectacular sites at a national park. Find a new breakfast spot. Laugh along the way.

O is for Open Up

Men often open their wallets instead of opening their mouths. They rely on a Hallmark card to do the work of their heart. Or maybe it’s not men. Maybe it’s a symptom of our modern culture’s instant gratification mentality. Looking through the love poems written over the years, it seems as if at earlier points in time, men were more expressive with how they felt about their beloved.

Do you have to write a poem? No. Although an acrostic (like this one, which if you get to the end will spell love) with her name is a decent place to start. Or take the day and the togetherness you feel to tell her a chapter from your past. Talking about yourself may seem like a strange move, but it can let your significant other know that you trust her, and if you’re an especially quiet or reserved person, it will be a memorable and significant moment for her.

If you’re daring and want to make a grand gesture, nothing beats a love letter. Nothing.

But give yourself time, says Tom Chiarella, a writer for Esquire, who has a great article on how to craft a love letter worthy of your love.

“Letters take time,” he says. “Letters have a rhythm. There are no bullet points. No clipping and pasting. Letters must be written, and writing takes a while.”

He also advises against going the Mr. Big route, from Sex and the City, where the male lead sends his beloved copies of famous love letters. “Say it yourself. You owe that much to the occasion of love,” says Chiarella.

V is for Vacuum

Or wash the dishes. Detail her car. Or, as my boyfriend (now my husband) did for me once—scrub my shower. If your sweetheart is like a lot of women, she’s stressed, overburdened, and finding housework gets put more and more on the back burner. But few things make for better peace of mind (read: sanity) than a clean house. My man went ahead and did that chore for me while I was out doing some grocery shopping.

It was unexpected. It felt over the top (probably because I hate that chore so much). And, just as importantly, he did a really good job. I was wowed. He was my hero. Acts of service are done without showboating or lording your performance over her. It’s a gift, and most likely, she’ll love it.

E is for Engage

No, don’t propose (unless you want to), but do think of opportunities for interaction. Does she love to bake or is she a foodie? Get some fabulous ingredients together and as a couple make gourmet-quality cupcakes or a dinner for two. Or maybe she’s athletic or loves to dance. Sign up for a one-time (or a season’s worth of) dance instruction. If she’s a budding or seasoned photographer, turn the tables on her, go to a park and have a photography session–with her as the subject! Think of her interests, what she’s inspired by or a longing she’s expressed, and create an experience for you both from it. It may not cost much, but love don’t cost a thing, remember?

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Published February 14, 2012 Updated: December 27, 2012
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