Skip to main content

Valentine's Day and Broke: 6 Ways to Say "I Love You" With Little or No Money

Larry Rankin enjoys giving his take on healthy relationship practices.

Here is a bit of traditional finery that can be purchased when flush.

Here is a bit of traditional finery that can be purchased when flush.

Valentine's Day on a Budget

Here it comes again, Valentine’s Day—a time to show that very special person in your life how much you care. Out in the mailbox are fliers piled high for various jewelry stores: a gold and diamond necklace for $300, a set of gold and pearl cufflinks for $199, a heart-shaped pendant of silver for $29, all beautiful, all reasonably priced, really, but you still can’t afford any of them.

And it’s no wonder. Wasn’t Christmas but a few blinks of the eye ago? Not to mention property taxes and hospital visits through the cold and flu season, and you’re still holding out for that dream vacation by the beach come spring.

Your tax return isn’t going to be here by the 14th, and wasn’t that supposed to be earmarked for a new roof, anyway? You’re tapped out, and honestly, who has money on February 14th, anyhow? It’s just such a sucky time to have a holiday.

But then there’s tradition. There’s the remembrance of that glowing smile on your lover’s face the time you were able to buy the perfect gift way back before life went and got overcomplicated.

And that’s not all you remember. There is also that smile behind gritted teeth last year that your counterpart gave you. SOCIAL CUE!!! “Love and hugs and kisses will pass one year, but will not the next!”

Yes, love and affection is the most important part of a relationship, but everybody likes to get some token now and again, and while a person can spend a fortune on Valentine’s Day, it isn’t required. Probably more so than any holiday, it’s the thought that counts, here—something to stoke the fire and keep it glowing.

Craft and Creativity

And it’s with this line of reasoning that nobody need ever feel defeated by Valentine’s Day. Your options to do something for free or at little cost are infinite, but they all require a bit of craft and creativity.

If you don’t feel particularly crafty or creative, don’t allow that to be a roadblock, either. There should be something here that works to everybody’s strengths.

Beyond craft and creativity, we’re going to look at six concepts that can be utilized:

  1. Trash and Recyclables
  2. Nature
  3. Writing and Art
  4. Music
  5. Free Events
  6. Pampering

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does cover many low-to-no-budget concepts. While we’ll be giving some specific examples in each category, and you may be able to derive your plan from a given example, the spirit of this article is geared more towards giving you the skill set to plan a Valentine’s with little to no money, not giving you a step-by-step project.

Keep in mind, whatever you choose to do, make sure to customize it to the wants and sentimentalities of your partner. That will always be a key to success.

It should also be noted that some of these concepts can overlap at times, and being that they are free or cost little to do, one should consider really wowing that special him or her by employing several of the categories rather than one. Make a day of celebrating your loved one, and you’re bound to win/recapture/keep the heart of your amour, regardless of how little you spend.

One last thing before we get started looking at these concepts: If you need to be tight with your cash, don’t defeat the purpose of that necessity by making these following methods expensive. For example, don’t spend $150 on designer crafts at a hobby store when the goal is to spend less than $20. This is actually a common mistake. If you’re going to spend that much on materials, you might as well get jewelry.

Take full advantage of your resources, whatever they may be!

A rustic mirror pieced together with scrap wood

A rustic mirror pieced together with scrap wood

1. Trash and Recyclables

What does it say about a person if they use things slated for disposal to gift their lover? It says something very special if done correctly. Honestly, this is probably the broadest of any of our categories. There is so much to work with. Everything from old cardboard and paper to wrought iron to PVC pipe, the possibilities are endless and entirely customizable.

Below is a wide-ranging list of things that could be done by people from many walks of life. As for you personally, it all depends on what sort of trash you have laying around.


With tin snips, a person could fashion a heart or some other romantic symbol with old soda cans.

Do you both enjoy going to Chinese Restaurants? How about a cupid glued to a piece of cardboard, fashioned entirely from old fortunes you’ve collected?

You’re a farmer? You could paint a heart on a round bale of hay and have it positioned to greet your special someone as they turn down the driveway.

For someone gifted in woodcraft, discarded bits of wood can be carefully designed into a puzzle that declares your love.

A mechanic who keeps junk on hand just in case it might be useful could position it in such a way that it relays a romantic message when viewed from the correct angle.

The winter months have their own special beauty.

The winter months have their own special beauty.

2. Nature

Even though Valentine’s Day is in the darkness of winter, there is still so much it can provide in the name of beauty and romance. While the backdrop is stark at this time of year, it also exposes some beauties that otherwise go unnoticed.

It’s an excellent time for collecting rocks and stones, as well as finding that perfect walking stick. If you’re lucky enough to have snow, it, too, represents a never-ending canvas for those gifted enough to create with it.

A small fire and a large, comfy chair in this backdrop all but ensure a wonderful evening of snuggling, and the way light casts at night during this time of year has a beauty and crispness that just doesn’t exist at any other.


Write ”I love you” and draw a heart in the snow on the side of a hill.

Collect several beautiful stones and rocks to give your loved one.

With a strip of leather, a drill, and some chisels; make and customize a walking stick for that special someone.

A carefully collected assortment of shells, horns, feathers, and even animal bones and teeth, can be interesting to the right sort of nature lover.

Draw up a treasure map that focuses on landscape clues to follow. Let it culminate on a hillside overlooking the sunset. Have a nice fire going, perhaps some food, and an inviting place to relax and get close.

Carved rendition of eagle feathers, a Native American symbol of unity

Carved rendition of eagle feathers, a Native American symbol of unity

3. Writing and Art

One of the biggest misconceptions about writing and art as a Valentine’s gift is that one needs to be gifted in these skills in order to make a lasting positive impression. Remember, you’re giving this present to the person who loves you for you.

A bit of writing that represents your talking style or your specific command of the language, a piece of artwork that depicts the way the world is seen through your hand, this is likely exactly what will bring your counterpart the greatest joy—just the fact that you would put yourself out there like that.

That said, art and writing are things that some people enjoy, but just won’t do themselves. If this is you, there is still a way. The finding and sharing of a loved poem written by someone else, the outlining or copying of an image you enjoy, perhaps you have card creating software to frame the whole thing; these are ways you can convey love, as well.


A poem you’ve written specifically for your loved one accompanied with a meaningful copied image can serve to please.

If your abilities skew the other way, perhaps a portrait you’ve drawn of your loved one accompanied by a copied poem that personifies your relationship is more your speed.

A handmade card with some meaningful words and personal photography would probably also be a welcome gift.

And don’t forget about humor. A comical short story about a shared experience might add the perfect touch to Valentine’s Day.

Or you can even do something like a carved sign saying “Love”.

The correct musical score can really add ambience.

The correct musical score can really add ambience.

4. Music

The power of melody often is a meaningful way to set the mood for a romantic evening. Whether it be a poorly sung love ballad, a beautifully played guitar solo, a thoughtfully compiled music list, etc., there is a right way to use music, even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

Not to sound like a broken record, but like with writing and art, in music, skill just doesn’t matter as long as it is thoughtful and a representation of yourself that your loved one can appreciate. Don’t forget it is for them, not the rest of the world.


Stand outside your loved one’s window and make a fool of yourself singing your heart’s song.

Put together a personalized list of music that speaks to both you and your counterpart.

If you’re short on time, find a premade list of music on the internet that will be fun to explore together.

Perhaps you have an instrumental talent, like jazz flute, and assemble a musical medley you think will impress.

Or maybe you’re gifted with a very special voice and just blow your lover away with a rendition of a Righteous Brothers song.

A public concert and a cozy spot to hold one another can be a wonderful outing.

A public concert and a cozy spot to hold one another can be a wonderful outing.

5. Free Events

The free event is actually a route fraught with problems. To the untrained eye, it might seem foolproof, but there are many pitfalls to beware of. It’s a real skill to be able to point out the free events that are both actually free and worthwhile. While some never seem to strike out in this category, others seem to never win.

Here are some things to beware of. If a timeshare is involved, no matter how sweet the deal might seem, be prepared to endure a passive-aggressive hell the likes of which cannot be imagined.

Other things to keep in mind: sometimes they say free, and the cost of parking ends up being more than your budget can bear, or the experience has no value because you’re bombarded by vendors angling for your money the whole time, or you can’t even sit down and relax without being forced to pay for the privilege.

So, if you don’t have the inherent ability to sniff out the actual free events from the phony ones, how do you win? Knowledge is power. Perhaps it’s something you’ve been to before, or you’ve gathered information from a friend, or you’ve found helpful knowledge about the event on the internet.

One other helpful tip—events held at public venues are usually a good bet.


A free concert at a public park makes for an enjoyable night out. One can really make an evening of it by bringing dinner for two from home and, if the law allows, a bit of wine to enhance the mood.

For those of us that live near a metropolitan area, especially with a large artistic community, an evening’s entertainment can usually be found by just walking a popular street and taking in the sights.

It is also common to have free outdoor movies and things of this nature on Valentine's Day.

Many museums can be visited free of charge, and that can make for a fun day.

Most zoos are very inexpensive or even free and can provide endless entertainment.

Who'd a thunk it?  Sometimes the best way to be romantic is romance.

Who'd a thunk it? Sometimes the best way to be romantic is romance.

6. Pampering

Perhaps the most obvious, and even easiest, low-budget Valentine’s Day method is simply pampering. It is also very effective. That said, the biggest drawback to it is that it is so expected, but whether you are a millionaire or a pauper, no Valentine’s Day is complete without at least doing some physical activity to make your loved one feel special.

Here is just a brief list of examples of things that fall under pampering.


Starting the day with a nice breakfast in bed is always a good beginning to Valentine’s Day.

Who wouldn’t want a nice massage from his or her partner?

Maybe divulge that you’ve completed a much-requested item on your honey-do list.

Just randomly stop for a moment and blurt out how ridiculously happy you are to share your life with this person.

This is also the time to bring your “A” game in the bedroom. If you’re lactose intolerant, maybe don’t have that banana split at the meal before. Put on the sexy undergarment that isn’t really all that practical or comfortable. Do that thing that you just don’t usually have the energy for anymore. Take the whole blue pill instead of half. Don’t try to finish up quickly to watch the end of the ball game. Do whatever it takes to make it memorable and special.

Parting Wisdom

It is a wonderful thing to shower our loved ones with luxury, but it is the fool who believes it to be a necessity. Valentine’s Day is to be a day of love. Show your love. Extend. Put it out there. Don’t be afraid. We all have it within us to surprise and dazzle without spending so much as a penny.

There is something you can do to impress your loved one, even if you are dead broke, and if you don’t believe that, if you say, "No, I just don’t have it in me to be creative," you’re not giving yourself credit for being intelligent, dynamic, or even human.

Don’t live life staring at a wall and pretending it’s everything when there’s a whole universe of possibilities out there to explore.

© 2018 Larry Rankin


Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on April 27, 2018:

Mary: but it's my feeling that at its heart it can be a very sweet and carefree holiday.

Valentine's Day was invented as a soully commercial venture, but if we want a day to celebrate our love of one another, it really doesn't have to be.

Thanks so much for dropping by.

Mary from Chicago area on April 27, 2018:

It's such a commercialized holiday with (at times) such pressure on folks to come up with a big gesture. Your ideas prove low-budget expressions of love can be the best :)

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on April 26, 2018:

Catherine: I agree. Expensive stuff can be nice, but especially on something like Valentine's Day it just really isn't necessary to do anything but be thoughtful.

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on April 21, 2018:

Very good ideas. The most important thing about a gift is that it show that you put thought into it and that it is something that is made to please the giftee.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on February 12, 2018:

Linda: thanks so much for the kind sentiments. I hope you have a lovely Valentine's Day as well.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on February 12, 2018:

Jill: so glad you enjoyed it.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on February 12, 2018:

Nikki: sorry the holiday carries a sad connotation for you.

I do appreciate hearing from you and maybe some of the methods for romance cheap can translate to another romantic holiday for you.

Thanks again.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on February 12, 2018:

Lana: don't always agree with the writers' politics, but there's a funny Southpark that parodies the timeshare process:-)

Valentine's and Christmas are bad ones to have a birthday on because you have to share the spotlight.

I always enjoy hearing from you. Thanks for stopping by.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on February 12, 2018:

Shyron: a personalized writing is one of the most special things you can do, and you're right, sometimes a surprise love day can be even more special than the scheduled ones:-)

Always appreciate your feedback.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on February 12, 2018:

Bill: my parents never celebrated it, either, and they were together until their deaths, so one can survive without it:-)

It's a completely fabricated holiday, but honestly, I enjoy it for what it is. From that point one can try to make everyday Valentine's Day, especially if it can be done for free.

Thanks so much for chiming in.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on February 12, 2018:

FlourishAnyway: thanks so much for the thoughtful response.

Your music lists came to mind when I wrote this article.

From your examples, seems like in addition to music you also really appreciate food.

Me, too. Too much really:-) There's something so pleasant about a specially prepared meal.

On the humor front, I almost never fail to include a humor element regardless of subject matter.

It's definitely a signature of my writing style.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on February 12, 2018:

Sally: thanks so much for dropping by.

The most efficient form of recycling is usually repurposing. Requires very little processing.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 11, 2018:

You've shared some good ideas for expressing love meaningfully and without expense. I hope you have a happy Valentine's Day, Larry.

Jill Spencer from United States on February 11, 2018:

Good suggestions all, Larry.

Nikki Khan from London on February 11, 2018:

Amazing ideas for Valentine Day,,thanks for sharing dear.

Though We don’t celebrate as my husband’s father died on 14th fab.

Very uselful for those who do valentines Day.

Lana Adler from California on February 11, 2018:

My husband was born on February 14. So my gift to him every year is that we don't celebrate Valentine's Day :))) His birthday takes precedence, and that's fine with me.

But if we were, I'd use your tips! And I do agree about timeshares. I learned a long time ago: no timeshares! A pushy salesman can be a real pain in the ass, especially when you're on vacation.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on February 11, 2018:

Write your love a poem

Even if it doesn't rhyme

At least your love will know

They are always on your mind

Not just Valentine's day, but all the time



Blessings always

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 11, 2018:

My wife and I solved this problem: we don't do Valentine's Day. LOL Great ideas, of course, for those who do celebrate this day, and it's always good to see an article from you.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 10, 2018:

One of the most romantic gifts I ever received included a customized playlist of songs, each of which meant something special and specific. I’ll always remember it and still have it actually on cassette tape. I received it from a boyfriend back in high school before playlists were even a thing.

My husband always goes over the top making Valentines Day special, not only with gifts but also homemade breakfast and being extra kind. He’s a gem. He’s even made me cakes before to celebrate the day. I laughed at your examples in the pampering for their reality. Even when you’re writing about serious stuff you sneak humor in there.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on February 10, 2018:

Great Minds think alike! Romance need not cost a fortune especially if you are able to put your hand to a craft. As for repurposing or recycling, those of two of my favorite words. Have a wonderful Valentine's day.