When you’re going out with a great person, it’s tempting to max out your credit cards on the biggest, shiniest, most see-how-much-I’m-into-you gift possible. But as most of us have learned from Valentine’s Day experiences, birthdays, and holidays past, the best gifts are rarely the priciest. Usually, they’re the most thoughtful. To that end, we’ve come up with six of the cutest, coolest, most thoughtful things that you can do for any special day to truly show how much you care.

1. Frame a mutual memento
Start with a simple picture frame and get ready to create some low-cost art that’s rich in sentimental value. No, you’re not giving your partner a picture of you, silly. What you need is a memento (just one — no collage skills necessary) from your first date or the time you met, like a matchbook from the restaurant, the receipt where she scrawled her number, a ticket stub from a movie, a brochure for a museum, or an invitation to the party where you two first locked eyes. Put it all together for a simple, sleek piece of art that’s extra-special for the two of you.

2. Give flowers with finesse
Flowers are a classic gift from an admirer, but they can also set off someone’s cliché alarm. So forget about the overpriced long-stem roses and give your blooms some personality. Start by buying a bunch of loose stems — any that suit your fancy, though choosing two or three different shades of one flower is usually a winner. Or, try different varieties of flowers, all in the same color. Then, wrap something creative around the stems, outside of the florist’s paper — say, a rock-climber’s rope if your date is athletic; a scarf or charm bracelet if your sweetie adores accessorizing; or even a new set of ear buds or cordless mouse if your honey is high-tech.

3. Monogram something surprising
Give your date a taste of the upscale life by giving a monogrammed gift of something you’d never expect to see in a “luxury” version. Start by buying something you already had in mind for your pumpkin, whether that’s a leather case for her iPod, some cute cotton pajamas, or a great new chef’s knife. Then take it to an engraver’s shop or tailor to have it personalized with his or her initials — monograms make even the most practical gift feel priceless. For bonus “Awww…” points, engrave the item with your nickname or pet name for your sweetie instead.

4. Try this card trick
Back in school, you had to bring enough small Valentines for everyone in your class. Now that you’ve got just one special person, you can give him or her the entire box! Hit a grocery or drug store, and buy a package of those silly Valentine’s Day cards from your past. Write cute notes on the back of each, then hide them in things your sweetie uses regularly: tucked inside a jacket pocket, on the driver’s seat of the car, taped to the back of his or her BlackBerry, you name it. Even (or especially!) if it’s several weeks before your cutie finds them all, your clever cards guarantee frequent little surprises — and happy thoughts of you.

5. Nix a chore your sweetie abhors
Sometimes, the best gifts don’t give us something we love, but eliminate something we hate. Your sweetheart will be overjoyed if you take over his or her most-loathed duty, whether it’s laundry, house cleaning, or the monthly Costco run for toilet paper and other staples. You can hand-draw a coupon for doing it yourself, pre-pay for a maid or laundry service, or, if you two are at the level where you’ve exchanged keys, take care of it while your honey is out — the sincere thanks you get will be well worth it.

6. Burn some fond memories into a CD
Mix CDs are a classic gift to give amongst the lovestruck. While the straightforward sentiments in love songs are surely accurate, you can make your CD even more personal by including tunes that refer to different things you’ve done together. Not sure what fits the bill? Check a song-lyric database, like Songlyrics.com, Sing365.com, or Lyricsdownload.com, and search for songs that speak to your relationship — like “Route 66” to commemorate your recent road trip or “One More Cup of Coffee” if you met at Starbucks. And whether you’re dating a Sharona or a Bobby, consider ending your playlist with a tune that contains your sweetie’s name — you’ll be surprised by just how often even some truly unusual names pop up in song lyrics. It’s not an expensive gift to give — but definitely one that showcases your thoughtfulness.




By Laura Gilbert