With Valentine's Day right around the corner, you're probably thinking you'd like to do something special for your spouse or significant other, and maybe for your kids and your parents, too. But you're also probably lacking the cash to really show them how you feel. Join the club! And these days, it's a pretty big club. But you don't have to let your lack of funds stop you. You can still express your love for them -- and it'll hardly cost you a cent.
The candy and greeting card industries, not to mention the jewelry stores, might not be thrilled with that sentiment, but honestly, these days, spreading a little love on the cheap can really show your family how much you care, since stretching -- or blowing -- the household budget doesn't really help anyone. At least, that's what I plan on telling my wife this year.
So if you want to do something special for your family without breaking the bank, please consider these 14 ideas.
Let your partner sleep in. Who doesn't enjoy sleeping in, especially on a Sunday? On Saturday, you could tell the rest of the family that your spouse isn't to be bothered until 11 a.m., or some other deliciously late time, and then -- especially if you have children or teenagers who are likely to demand breakfast -- make sure you're up early and defending your spouse's right to sleep.
Breakfast in bed. True, breakfast in bed isn't always what it's cracked up to be. If you shift a little too much on the mattress, your breakfast might literally wind up in the bed with you. On the other hand, this is a classic romantic move, and even if your significant other is kind of groggy and uncomfortable during the first meal of the day, as long as you put some thought into what you've prepared, you're going to get major points for being thoughtful. You really can't go wrong here.
Bake some cookies--or somebody's favorite meal or snack. If breakfast in bed isn't your thing, you have plenty of other hours in the day to tempt your loved one's taste buds. Be sure to announce your culinary creation with something along the lines of, "In honor of Valentine's Day, I'm making my special peanut butter cup brownies. Making that announcement isn't just a matter of getting credit for doing something nice on Valentine's Day. You want to signal to your family that this is a special day for them and that you're doing something that shows you care. On the other hand, if you're a lousy cook, maybe you should announce instead, "In honor of Valentine's Day, I won't be stepping into the kitchen today."
Give up an annoying habit. If there's something you do that drives your family crazy, vow to stop doing it on Valentine's Day. There's a slight risk that you'll be highlighting the fact that you're too lazy the other 364 days of the year to give up this habit, but chances are, your family will appreciate the effort. Let's say you have a habit of walking around in your underwear or a bathrobe until 3 p.m. on the weekends, and it drives your significant other crazy. Instead of lazing around, get dressed early. Or let's say you tend to hog the remote control. Instead, for one day, surrender your weapon. Or if you tend to offer too many constructive criticisms ("Honey, why don't you get a job?" "Dear, why don't you shave more than twice a week?"), instead say nothing, even if your commentary is right on target. C'mon, it's just for one day.
Make your family's Monday special. Since Valentine's Day is on a Sunday this year, you could spend an extra hour or so helping Monday get off to a better start than usual. Try filling up your spouse's car with gas on Sunday, so he or she doesn't have to think about it on Monday morning. Or if your spouse is the one who gets the kids ready for school, choose the outfits, pack the lunches, and get the homework together Sunday night. Just be sure to announce what you're doing so you get credit for these thoughtful gestures and not have everyone think their Monday has turned magical for no particular reason.
Write a love letter. If you really want to do this right, try to be intimate and old-fashioned about it and let your special someone know how much you care for them. It doesn't have to be super mushy, just honest and truthful. And don't post it on Facebook or Twitter. Instead, why not plan ahead and actually mail the letter to your loved one, even if they live in the same house? If you're a procrastinator, leaving a letter out for someone to find or slipping it in a box of candy has its charms, too. You could also write something nice for your kids and boost their morale. However you do it, pour out your feelings on paper, and while you won't have spent a cent, except maybe for postage, you'll make your family feel like a million bucks.
Hide some secret love notes where your spouse and kids are sure to find them. While a love letter is a wonderful idea, sometimes the thought of a letter can scare off even the best of us. Instead, think small, and offer up such compliments as "I love it when you take out the trash." Or "You're sweeter than these chocolate chip cookies." Or maybe "You, the couch, the TV: What could be better than some snuggle time?" (Writer's note to the readers: My editor, a wife and mom, added those compliments. So if the testosterone level suddenly seemed to disappear from this piece, well, that's why.) Then place those notes in strategic locations around the house, in the car, in the garage, even in their shoes -- any place your loved ones are sure to find them. Make a game of it, and your kids will spend half the day searching the house for your mushy little notes.
Do some long-ignored chores around the house. It may not sound very romantic, but if something important and undone has been languishing on the to-do list forever, your partner or kids may be thrilled that you're finally fixing the broken garage door or cleaning out that overstuffed hall closet.
Spend some time doing something that a member of your family loves doing -- but that you don't. If your kids love board games but you find yourself bored, well, this is the day to pull out Monopoly, Life, or Chutes and Ladders. If your wife enjoys looking through the family albums and scrapbooks, man up and set aside a few hours to do just that. If your husband enjoys watching his Three Stooges DVD collection, this is the time to pretend you think Moe, Larry and Curly are funny. You can really show you care by having a lousy time, and of course, you may just enjoy these moments more than you think you will.
Offer to watch the kids so your better half can go do whatever the heck he or she wants. If you're a parent of young children, you know how important this could be. We all love our kids, but it's always nice to have some me-time.
Visit your significant other's family. It's easy to say, "Hey, let's go visit my parents," but to say, "Let's go visit your parents" can be tougher for the people who feel their in-laws resemble something out of Arrested Development rather than The Brady Bunch. For one day, it's a sacrifice you can make to please your partner.
Visit a relative you care about but never seem to have time to see. Maybe you have a great-great aunt in a retirement village who you know would have their day made if the whole family trekked out to see her. Think about it. She's probably spending Valentine's Day alone, sad and depressed and thinking nobody cares. But you could change that. Hmmm, I think I've just guilted myself into going to visit my Great Aunt Tootsie.
Track down a lost relative of your spouse's and reunite them. Yeah, this one could blow up in your face, but think about the payoff if it works out. Your wife hasn't talked to her cousin since 1989 when they got in that unfortunate fight over who was the most talented member of New Kids on the Block. So you contact the cousin, bring her on over to the house for a Valentine's Day feast, stand back and enjoy the joyous waterworks, or, yes, the fireworks. And as long as the cousin doesn't live halfway across the country -- and you don't break the bank preparing the meal -- you've done something fairly inexpensive and extremely memorable.
Spread the love. And then there's the obvious. If you have kids, give them a hug and tell them how much you love them, even if that means you're going to get a lot of squirming and eye-rolling. Call your parents or your siblings and let them know how much they mean to you. And if you have a spouse or partner, well, when you catch a little time alone, you can always draw the shades and partake in what is, without a doubt, the oldest and least expensive pastime out there.
Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to WalletPop. He also knows something about stretching your money -- he's the co-author of the new book Living Well with Bad Credit.
14 cheap ways to show your family you love them