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Valentine’s Day 2021: Gift ideas for limited budgets and mask-wearing times

This is a very different story than when it first appeared a year ago. In 2020, aka the Before Times, Valentine’s Day could be celebrated at restaurants, movie theaters, concerts, escape rooms — all the places we used to take for granted. This year, it goes without saying things will be different.

That’s OK. As we’ve done for the past 11 months, we’ll adapt. We’ll rethink our plans and come up with new ones. Thankfully, a key truth still applies: You can express your affection without spending a fortune. I’m not saying you have to cheap out, merely that thoughtfulness usually beats extravagance: The home-cooked dinner, the handwritten card, the fun activity you planned because you love doing things together.

With that in mind, I’ve rounded up some suggestions for the frugal-minded — some affordable alternatives to traditional Valentine’s Day gifts.

Let’s Roam

Let’s Roam takes you on app-guided scavenger hunts (and bar hunts and ghost tours as well) in over 400 cities worldwide. They’re done on foot and usually last an hour or two; the start day and time are totally up to you.

This isn’t just a tour, either — there are riddles to solve, trivia questions to answer and photo challenges to complete, with rankings to see how you fared against other players. Sounds like a fun outing for the slightly competitive couple.

You can buy a single two-person hunt for $40 or get an annual pass for $70.

Painting to Gogh

An activity for our times, this guided painting class includes a starter kit — paints, canvas, brushes — that’s delivered to you at home, where you can watch the step-by-step tutorial video on your preferred schedule. Check out the Date Night options for paintings that align nicely with the Valentine’s Day theme.

Escape Team

You could be forgiven for feeling it’s unsafe to visit an actual escape room right now. I won’t say Escape Team is the next best thing, but it does afford two players the chance to solve theme-based puzzles while staying safely at home — and it’s absurdly cheap to boot. Relying entirely on printable materials and an Android/iOS app, the first mission is free and additional ones cost just 99 cents each.

Theory11

Box One is an “escape room in a box” designed by Neil Patrick Harris. Yep, that guy. Although it says “a game for one,” I just played it with my spouse, and we loved it; it absolutely works as a two-player game, because you sit side-by-side and work together to solve the puzzles. It’s really clever, too, with some surprising elements you wouldn’t expect from a boxed game. 

Best Buy

Much as I’m in favor of supporting your local restaurant with Valentine’s Day carry-out, nothing shows you care like a home-cooked meal. (Psst: You’re on cleanup duty as well.)

Don’t worry if you can barely boil water; with an Instant Pot or similar pressure-cooker, even kitchen novices can create gourmet meals. First learn how to use a pressure cooker, then check out this roundup of our favorite Instant Pot recipesBake some bread to go with it and presto: romantic dinner done.

If you don’t already own a cooker, this popular Insignia model is on sale for just $30 right now — half off the regular price, and less than half the price of an actual Instant Pot.

The Bouqs

How important are flowers on Valentine’s Day? Probably less than you think. A couple years back I conducted a Twitter poll, and fewer than 10% of respondents said flowers were “fully expected.” The vast majority were split between “not essential, but nice” and “not expected/wanted.” (Important disclaimer: I have no idea as to the gender breakdown of the respondents.)

If you’re still feeling it’s bouquet or bust, use code DLVRCUPID to save 25% when you order from 1800Flowers between now and Feb. 5.

Read more: The best flower delivery services for Valentine’s Day

Tile

It’s hardly the most romantic gift, but it sure is a practical one for anyone who’s constantly misplacing their keys or phone. And it’s all in how you frame it: “I know how frustrating it is when things go missing,” you say, “and a guy I know says these Tile things are awesome.”

You can get a single Tile Mate tracker for $25, but right now Amazon has a 2-pack for just $38.

OK, those are my gift ideas. Now let’s hear yours! If you’ve come up with a fun, affordable, safe way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, share it in the comments.

Valentine's Day 2021: Gift ideas for limited budgets and mask-wearing times


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First published last year. Updated to reflect new information and prices.


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