Follow me below the orange squiggle of love...
1. Cook a romantic meal at home
Probably the easiest and cheapest (depending on the food) way of celebrating while keeping it personal. If you're a good cook, then you already know what to do. Plan an inexpensive-but-yummy meal, get a bottle of wine, put new tapers in the candlesticks, a fresh tablecloth. Maybe some romantic music playing softly. And enjoy!
If you aren't a good cook, most grocery stores have prepared food that is quite delicious at their Deli counter or meat department. Or maybe you'd like to try to make it yourself. Here's a website that has lots of "simple but good" recipes. (Full disclosure: I am a Moderator here. Tell 'em Scythe sent ya!) Whichever you choose, try to keep it simple and un-fussy. Lobster probably isn't a good choice but shrimp scampi would be. If you find yourself in need of help, check here. Most of all, relax, have fun and remember that cooking for someone is an expression of love.
2. Turn your home into a spa
Don't spend beaucoup bucks on a day spa trip. Do it yourself at home. Get some scented soap and bubble bath (oh come on guys, it's just one day a year!). Some lotion (maybe the same scent as the soap) for after will be appreciated and makes a sensual way to move on to ♥ahem♥ other activities. Put your towels in the dryer before the bath so they'll be toasty warm when you get out. Be sure to bathe by candlelight, using aromatherapy or other scented candles. You can add to your bathtub comfort with bath pillows (inexpensive and often found new at thrift shops). Buy a couple of roses and sprinkle the petals on the water - very romantic! Soft music would be good here, as well. Take your time and bathe one another. You can continue out of the tub with the lotion or, if you prefer, oils. Cheap and sexy!
3. Have a romantic movie night
Rent some chick flicks (again, guys; once a year), pop some popcorn and cuddle up on the couch together. Some suggested romantic titles are: Sleepless In Seattle, The Notebook, Love Actually, Casablanca, It Happened One Night, The Princess Bride, Notting Hill, Shakespeare In Love, Chocolat... Or, if you start early: Gone With The Wind, Titanic or Dr. Zhivago. A few quirky films might be: WALL-E, Lost In Translation, Ghost or Dracula (I suggest the sexy Christopher Lee/Hammer version). There are more suggestions here.
4. Get out and enjoy nature
Go for a hike. Watch the sunset. Go for a bicycle ride. Hang out on the beach. Take a nighttime stroll to look at the stars. You can do this at the beginning or end of any of the above suggestions. Or take the meal outside and enjoy a romantic picnic. A jug of wine, a loaf of bread... is a good start. Make your favorite sandwiches or make it a rustic affair with cheese, olives and fruit. Remember to bring sunscreen. Even though it's still officially winter, the sun emits those same UV rays. A sunburn later on would put a real damper on things. Afterwards, cuddle on the blanket while you whisper sweet nothings.
5. Make a gift of yourself
Oh, yes, that too. But I'm talking about giving your time or effort some other time. Trim a large jar or tin with decorations. Inside, place coupons for various activities. These can be "ordinary" -- like doing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom --or "special." A massage or foot rub, maybe, or some other special treat. Even sexy ones. Add some love notes or romantic words in there, too. Little messages like, "I love you," "You are my everything," or "Love you forever" (be creative!) can really brighten your loved one's day. If you just can't think of anything to write, try this website. Give him or her this jar or box to keep wherever they think they might want to be reminded of how much you love him/her.
6. Go out on the town
Yes, I said cheap but a walk downtown can be romantic and inexpensive. Start at a favorite bakery and share a treat. Stop at a bistro and have an appetizer and glass of wine. Pretend you're a tourist and gawk at all the sights. Window shopping is free. End the night at a place with live music and dancing. Or do a pub crawl. Make sure you have a way to get home that doesn't involve driving if you choose this. If you have enough in your fund, make it an overnight mini-vacation. It doesn't have to be a 4-star hotel. Many hotels have Valentine's Day packages. Check online for deals in your city.
7. Make a photo collage
If you're good at Photoshop or the like, you can make a lovely collage of your photos. Whether you are a new couple or and old married one (like me), you probably have lots of pictures of the two of you. Put these together into a collage. Or make a slideshow with "your song" as the background music. Kizoa has easy to use collage, slideshow and video creators. You can surprise your loved one after that romantic walk or dinner.
8. Serenade your loved one
If you play a musical instrument and/or sing, learn your lover's favorite song. Or write your own if you are so inclined. I can say from experience that there is nothing more romantic than having a song written for you! You don't have to be perfect. Just sincere. If you don't play or sing, make a mix CD of favorite songs or song that remind you of your beloved. Play it during that dinner or bath.
9. Send sexy text messages
Anticipation enhances enjoyment. Send racy text messages throughout the day to keep your lover looking forward to the evening. Or you can tuck notes in his or her briefcase, purse, backpack or computer bag. By the time you're together, you will both be ready for a romantic night.
10. Make it all about your lover
Center the entire day around your lover's favorite things. Make their favorite breakfast and serve it in bed. Then serve you. Go to his favorite places. Listen to her favorite music. Watch his favorite movies (yes, ladies even if it's testosterone-y). Make her favorite dinner. You get the idea. But don't tell your lover anything about it. Surprise will make it even sweeter.
As promised, these are some romantic ways to celebrate Valentine's Day with your sweetheart without breaking the bank. You can do other little things, too: leave a soap message on the mirror, make a "10 reasons I love you" list, send a sexy picture via cellphone, make chocolate-covered strawberries at home (MUCH cheaper!)... be creative. And remember, the best gift of all is yourself. Have a lovely Valentine's Day!