Instead of a dozen roses: A pretty plant, with a handwritten note attached. You could deliver it yourself, or delegate the task to a friend. Bonus points if you can get something cutesy going and have a niece or nephew walk it up to the front door for you.
Instead of store-bought chocolates: Bake a simple recipe for brownies, like this one. If you want to get extra fancy, use a heart-shaped cookie cutter (I paid about $1 for mine at Bulk Barn.) PS: Cocoa-based recipes are more wallet-friendly than those based on bar chocolate. PPS: Alice Medrich rules my world.
Instead of dinner at a fancy restaurant: This one is obvious, but make the effort to cook your partner a romantic dinner. Effort is the key word here. No cooking skills whatsoever? How about buying a roast chicken, mixing up some packet gravy, and making a super-simple veggie side, like these cream-braised brussels sprouts (hint: anything with *cream* is pretty much a no-fail). If it's an outing you want, try having dinner at home and then heading out for drinks or dessert afterward.
Instead of a store-bought gift: Think about any other talent you have and parlay it into something personal. I once wrote a short story for my dad and pasted it into one of those little photo flip-books. I noticed that he seems to always have it with him. That's more than I can say for the tortured-urban-guy scarf I bought him.
Some more ideas:
- See if your local symphony, opera or ballet company offers "Under 30" or "Under 35" discounts (Torontonians, check out tsoundcheck for $14 Toronto Symphony tickets!)
- If you have (or can borrow) a car, go see a flick at a drive-in theatre
- See if you can "borrow" a free pass to a museum or art gallery (the Toronto Public Library does this).
- Go skating and grab some hot chocolate
- Check out some community theatre or a university production
- Scan the arts/culture listings in your local alternative mag for things your partner might like to do