Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010

Love on a Budget

Sure, we all know that Valentine's Day is a racket. It was cooked up by the ancient Romans, who ordered all of the empire's conquered peoples to buy chalky heart-shaped candies covered with flirty Latin phrases or face the punishment of crucifixion. The tradition continues today thanks to the joint lobbying efforts of the powerful diamond, florist, greeting card, and adorable stuffed bear coalition.

Like it or not, the day is (almost) universally accepted as a moment to show your loved one(s) just how much they mean to you. So ignore Feb. 14 at your own peril.

But since we've always been told that money can't buy love and it's the thought that counts, spending a ton — or any — cash is not necessary. Some of the most generous and romantic gifts cost nothing in terms of dollars and cents. But be forewarned: If there's anything worse than being called a cheapskate by a significant other, it's being called a thoughtless cheapskate. The best gifts demonstrate that you appreciate and accept who your partner is, that you know exactly what makes him or her happy, and that you care enough to give from the heart.

While a nice Valentine's Day can take many forms, there are also some guidelines about what not to do: Don't give a gift that's really for you (stripper pole!), and don't create more work and aggravation for the recipient by, say, leaving the sink and counter loaded with dirty dishes, or even by asking your spouse to take care of duties around the house while you run out to the store four different times in frantic preparations.

In other words, be truly kind, and truly thoughtful. Here are several ways to go about that: