After the babysitter canceled and the wait time at our favorite restaurant (where we also happened to have a gift card–score!) was hours long (fail!), our 2015 Valentine’s Day ended with my wife and me and our two boys sitting in our car in the parking lot of Little Caesar’s eating a $5 dollar HOT-N-READY® pizza.
That means that this year there’s really nowhere to go but up. Even so, I’m cutting it dangerously close once again. In case you’re a slacker like us (or dare I admit, like me) and still finalizing the details for this year’s Valentine’s Day, here’s a list of 14 affordable ways you can still make this a romantic Valentine’s Day. As you plan your night, make sure you check out our 5 Tips to Make Date Night Count, Especially as Parents.
1. Attend a Local Concert
Just last weekend my wife and I were able to enjoy a free piano concert put on by a pair of professors at a nearby college. The skill level was exceptional, and we had a great time discovering a few new pieces of music. Check your local community, college, or high school event calendar to see if there are any upcoming concerts.
2. Visit an Art Exhibit
While my wife is somewhat of an artist, I am of absent of any artistic ability. Yet we still both enjoy visiting an art display or exhibit or browsing a local art store, be it anything from world class collections to presentations of local students’ work. Even though I don’t know much about the finer points of art, it’s still fun to talk about which works we do and don’t like, and why. Also, I recommend making note of artists whose work speaks to you, in case one day you’re in a position to acquire a few pieces yourself.
3. Prepare a Nice Dinner at Home
I appreciate a nice meal out as much as the next guy or gal, but with some advanced planning and preparation, a meal at home can also be very enjoyable (and save you some serious money!). Decide on a menu, complete with appetizers, drinks, and dessert. Find the recipes you want and make a trip to the grocery store (before Valentine’s night!) to pick up anything you’ll need. Keep it classy and make sure the house is picked up, a good playlist is setting the mood, and even light some candles. (Need more guidance? See how Matthew McConaughey sets the mood in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. But know of any dietary restrictions beforehand:).
4. Tour a Local Museum
While we lived in New York, we learned to love visiting the world-renowned museums the city offered, from the American Museum of Natural History, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our options are a bit more limited these days, but we still really enjoy exploring our local offerings. And we’ve found that if you look closely, there are probably more options than you realize, ranging from traditional natural history and art museums to unique regional museums, like old print shops or preserved historical buildings or homes.
5. Visit a Bookstore
If you love books like us, there’s something almost magical about visiting a nearby bookstore. Take turns browsing sections that would interest each of you, like architecture, travel, fashion, design, or history. Stop to peruse and share books that catch your attention, then pick a few favorites to take a closer look at in a quiet sitting area or at the store’s cafe.
6. Have a Movie Night
Sometimes a night in with a movie is just what the doctor ordered. But even a movie at home can be made a bit more exciting for Valentine’s Day. Swing by the movie theater to pick up a big tub of movie popcorn beforehand. Or if movie popcorn isn’t your thing, pick up a few theater-type candies you’ll both enjoy. Also, be sure to plan ahead for what movie you’ll be watching. I can’t tell you how many times my wife and I spend half of our movie night just trying to think of something we want to watch. And that’s not a good way to nail Valentine’s. #nailedit
7. Listen to an Old Time Radio Show
An aunt of mine first introduced me to old time radio shows on a road trip, and my wife and I have really enjoyed them. Radio shows offer a nice middle ground between total immersion in a movie and the effort of reading a book. Radio shows are generally short, creative, and often have old time commercials in them, which can be quite comical. Shows are easily accessible online or through your smartphone.
8. Paint Together
I’ve already mentioned that I’m not much of an artist, but picking up a couple of canvases, some paints, and spending the night pretending you’re Rembrandt can be very fun. If you’re not sure where to start, choose prompts for each other. Or give your best shot at mimicking one of your favorite paintings. Be sure to commit beforehand to putting your pieces on display somewhere in your home, at least temporarily.
9. Go Window Shopping
For many of us, Valentine’s is relegated to being a cold day for celebrating love. But a cold evening can set the perfect scene for bundling up and heading out for a stroll, gloved hand in gloved hand. Hit up your favorite city or hometown streets, enjoying the sites and sounds and stepping inside a store now and then to thaw out. Be sure to stop for some hot chocolate along the way–nothing tastes better on a cold evening.
10. Read a Love Story
My wife and I have enjoyed a tradition of spending a little time occasionally reading together at night after the boys are asleep. Together we’ve read things like The Secret Garden and A Christmas Carol, and we just finished Dracula. (Yes, we started in October. Just goes to show how occasional “occasionally” really is.) Reading together is a great alternative to a movie night. But to spare yourself an entire Nicholas Sparks novel (oops, did I just say that out loud?), find a good short story or two, or maybe even a sonnet.
11. Take a Scenic Drive
While driving used to be a pastime of choice, today we generally see it as a way to get somewhere or get something done. However, if BOTH of you, like us, still take pleasure in the drive itself, plan a scenic route that ends with a great view, like a vantage point overlooking the city lights in the valley below.
12. Attend a Local High School Sporting Event or Play
If a getaway to New York to see the Knicks or a show on Broadway isn’t in the cards this year, you can actually often enjoy great athletic feats and performances at a local high school. And save a bundle while you’re at it. Check online to find a calendar for your local school, or call the school ahead of time during school time hours. Word to the wise: best to make it a play unless you’ll both enjoy the sporting event.
13. Serve Together
Nothing can make for meaningful time together and lasting memories like serving side by side. Make note of causes that are important to both of you, then look around for opportunities in those areas. A few ideas of particular relevance for Valentine’s? Visit residents at a local care center, or stop by to see a recent widow or widower who is likely feeling especially lonely this year.
14. Go Ice Skating
If you’re looking for an active date idea, ice skating is a good option. If there is an outdoor rink available to you, a little skating bundled up under the stars can offer a fun romantic atmosphere. But an indoor rink works just fine, too. Check ahead of time to see if the rink is offering any Valentine’s specials or a theme night you can participate in.