50 Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Gifts for Less Than $5
Still scrambling for that perfect Valentine’s Day gift?
Wondering how you’re going to get your special someone something truly special -- without spending a lot of money in the process?
Even if you’ve only got $5 in your pocket, you can still make this Valentine’s Day memorable.
50 Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas Under $5
To add to the list of affordable ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day, here are 50 last-minute gifts that all cost less than $5.
The cassette (or CD) mixtape has been a tried-and-true gift for decades. Best Buy and Amazon both sell single cassettes or blank CDs for under $5.
So get yourself 90 minutes of blank tape, and fill it up with the best love songs you know. Make your gift extra special by hand-decorating the cover.
2. Spotify Playlist
Want to bring the mixtape into the 21st century? Make your special someone a Spotify playlist. You don’t even need Spotify Premium; just get the free version of Spotify for your desktop, build the perfect list, and share it with your valentine.
3. Lloyd Dobler Serenade
Take the iconic image of Say Anything’s Lloyd Dobler holding a boombox over his head as you model and get ready to tell your valentine that “In your eyes... I am complete.”
Use an actual boombox if you have one, or pull out your iPhone and crank up the volume. This one works best if your Valentine is a fan of classic ’80s movies.
4. Favorite Jelly Belly Flavor
Nearly everybody has a favorite Jelly Belly flavor. (Mine’s popcorn.) Figure out your bae’s favorite bean, then use the Jelly Belly store locator to find a store near you that sells Jelly Bellys in bulk.
5. Bulk Candy
Maybe your special someone doesn’t like jellybeans but does like chocolate-covered almonds. The bulk candy aisle offers plenty of opportunities to put together a $5 gift that tastes better -- and is much more personalized -- than a cheap box of waxy Valentine’s candy.
Remember, if you’re giving jellybeans or bulk candy, the presentation is also what makes the present: Put it in an attractive bag or box, tie it up with a ribbon and make your gift as special as the recipient.
6. Handmade Card
While we’re on the subject of crafts and presentation, a handmade card can often be one of the best and most treasured Valentine’s Day presents.
Anyone can go to the grocery store and get a 99-cent card with a pre-printed message. Only you can make a one-of-a-kind card with your own heartfelt statement of love.
7. Handmade Jewelry
Believe it or not, there are a lot of quick, easy, low-cost jewelry projects you can put together in a few hours.
Start with this list of recycled jewelry ideas for inspiration, and consider making something like a paint chip petals necklace or a set of popsicle stick pencil earrings. The most expensive part of this project is buying the chains and clasps that hold your jewelry together, so go to a hobby store and look for chains and fixtures under $5.
Do your talents lie more in painting or sketching than they do in jewelry? Make your special someone a piece of original art. It’s hard to go wrong with a flattering portrait or a sketch of the place where the two of you shared your first kiss.
Your cost investment depends on how many art supplies you currently have around, but a hobby store often sells individual sheets of art paper for under $5. Even an ink drawing on a piece of good paper can look beautiful.
9. Art For Two
First, make your own finger paint from one of the many recipes available. Then, buy the biggest sheet of poster board you can get for under $5, and invite your Valentine to make art together.
The tactile, messy finger paint is a lot of fun, and if you choose an edible fingerpaint recipe, you’ll have one more way to remember the evening.
Take your poem one step further by setting it to music. How many people get a song written just for them? Perform it for your special someone on Valentine’s Day, and you’ll learn that the best gifts don’t have to cost a thing.
12. Band Performance
Got a friend who can play bass and a buddy who knows the drums? Teach them the song you just wrote, or ask if they’ll be willing to help you cover a song that has a special meaning for you and your valentine. Then give your valentine a never-to-be-forgotten concert.
13. Request a Song
Sometimes the simplest gifts are the best. If your local radio station takes requests, request your special song. Text your valentine when it’s time for your song to play, or listen to it together.
This is an old classic, but it’s a classic for a reason. If the night is clear and it’s not too cold, take your date out stargazing. You’ll start out looking at the stars and end up looking at each other.
15. Long Walk
The long walk is often part of the stargazing date, but it can also stand on its own. Find somewhere beautiful in your neighborhood, like the park or the pier, and take your date out walking.
A long walk filled with meaningful conversation can be a beautiful way to make memories and share an evening together.
If you’ve got a well-stocked pantry, you have a great picnic for under $5. Take some bread, cheese, boiled eggs, fruit and chocolate out to your favorite park, and watch the sun go down.
The good thing about a picnic is that you can make it as extravagant or as simple as you can afford. If you’ve got fancy cheese, great; if not, you can cut up store-brand cheddar into cubes and add your own toothpicks. Either way works perfectly for a lovely picnic date.
17. Fancy Fast Food
Your date probably has at least one fast food restaurant that is a guilty pleasure. This year, get yourselves all dressed up, and go on a fancy fast food date.
Taco Bell is a great choice, both because you’ll be able to eat for under $5 and because you can give your date hot sauce packets stamped with words like “You’re my soulmate.”
18. Old Shirt
Give your special someone an old T-shirt. Chances are, they’ll sleep in it because it smells like you.
As with most of the gifts on this list, presentation is everything; handing your sweetheart an old shirt is gross, but wrapping it up and writing a heartfelt message is lovely.
19. Old Shirt Turned into a Pillow
Take the T-shirt idea to the next level by turning an old T-shirt into a pillow. Use this Instructables guide to get started. You’ll need to get something to stuff the pillow with, which you can generally get at a craft store (or somewhere like Walmart) for under $5.
20. Old Stuffed Animal
Nothing says “I’m in this for the long term” like “This was my old stuffed bear, and I hope you’ll love it as much as I do.”
Giving the gift of an old stuffed animal shows your special someone that you love and trust them enough to share one of your most treasured possessions. Plus, they’ll probably sleep with it because it smells like you.
21. Book From Your Bookshelf
Have a favorite book that you think your valentine will love just as much? Take it off your bookshelf, write an inscription and turn it into a gift. It’s just as intimate as giving a stuffed animal or an old T-shirt, and you can talk about the book together afterwards.
22. Used Book
23. Home-cooked Meal
As with the picnic idea, whether you’ll be able to keep this one under $5 depends on what you already have in the pantry.
Remember that even a simple meal of spaghetti and garlic bread can be memorable and remarkable if you present it correctly. Table settings, candles and mood music all help make the evening.
This is also a great way to bring in that group of friends who have agreed to cover your valentine’s favorite song!
24. Homemade Cookies
While everyone else is getting expensive bouquets delivered to their valentine's workplaces, why not give your date a plate of delicious homemade cookies? You can also take these cookies with you for a picnicking or stargazing adventure.
25. “I Love You” Cake
Even if you don’t think of yourself as much of a cake decorator, you can still bake a cake from a box, add frosting and then use decorator icing to spell out “I Love You.” (You might want to practice a few times on a plate to get the knack of making legible letters.)
Here’s the real question: Can you make this cake for under $5?
Your grocery store prices might vary, but Target is currently selling a box of Pillsbury Funfetti cake mix for $1.12, the matching Funfetti frosting for $1.52 and a tube of Wilton sparkle gel for $1.99 -- which brings you to $4.63 (pre-tax) before you add in additional ingredients like eggs.
So, like many of the food items on this list, keeping your costs under $5 depends on what you already have in your kitchen, and how many Target hacks you use to save on your purchases.
26. Binge-watch a Favorite Show
We’ve talked about watching a movie together, but why limit yourself to a movie? Why not spend Valentine’s Day binge-watching a favorite show?
This year, Valentine’s Day is a Tuesday, which means you can get off work and veg with “The Walking Dead” (so romantic) or “Parenthood.”
If your special someone owns a Kindle, a Nook or another e-reader, there are gobs of books available for under $5. Look for the 99-cent listings so you can give multiple books and make your gift look extra-special.
Here’s a gift that I gave someone in college: I made a card and then, next to the thoughtful message, wrote down an ISBN.
The gift recipient then took the ISBN to the library, looked it up and checked out the book that I had selected for him. It was a fun way for me to “give” him a book that I couldn’t afford to buy.
29. Puzzle Hunt
Here’s another free gift that I have given people: Create a puzzle hunt for your valentine. It can be something as simple as a card with a coded message inside or something as complex as a scavenger hunt where one puzzle leads to another.
If you aren’t familiar with codes and ciphers, you’ll find plenty online, or you can always use the simple A=1, B=2, etc.
30. Dollar Store Gift
Every dollar store has a few surprising treasures, whether it’s a hilarious toy or a collection of silly stickers. If your valentine appreciates a humorous gift, find something fun at the dollar store and make your valentine smile.
31. Thrift Store Gift
Like dollar stores, thrift stores offer a range of humorous items, but they also often have true diamonds hidden among the rough. Look for jewelry boxes, figurines, collectibles and other items that you can find for $5 and make good presents.
32. Love Thoughts in a Jar
All you’ll need for this one is a jar and a few pieces of paper. Tear or cut the paper into strips and write something special on each strip. Then, fold the strips in half and put them into the jar.
When your valentine wants a little extra love, all he or she has to do is take a strip out of the jar and read one of your messages.
33. Book of Memories
Buy an inexpensive sketchbook or notebook. Then, fill each page with a memory -- the place you first met, the first time you held hands, the concert the two of you attended last spring. Draw, write, glue in ticket stubs.
Do whatever you want to make this book a true book of memories. Chances are it will be an unforgettable gift.
34. Coupon Book
The coupon book is another classic gift that has almost become cliché. The secret to making it work is to put together coupons that your valentine actually wants.
Does your valentine like picking the movie you watch together? Does your valentine like not having to do the dishes? Choosing the right coupons is what makes this gift special.
35. Massage Night
Get some massage oil, put some towels over freshly washed sheets and give your special someone the massage he or she has always wanted. Try the Ask Men massage guide if you’ve never given a massage before, or look for more resources online.
36. Private Dance Party
Load up your smartphone with slow dance music, and find the perfect location for a private dance party -- maybe it’s your living room or maybe it’s in the park under a streetlight. Then take your valentine dancing.
37. Kitten or Puppy
If your valentine has been thinking about getting a cat or dog, look in your local newspaper or on Craigslist for people who are giving away kittens or puppies. It’s best if the animals already have their shots and are litter- or house-trained.
Be careful before giving live animals -- make sure your valentine wants a pet and has a living situation that can handle one before you hand over a wriggling bundle of cuteness.
38. Shared Journal
Get an inexpensive notebook, write a journal entry and give it to your Valentine with the instructions to read what’s inside, write a new journal entry, and give the notebook back.
Keep this pattern going until the notebook is full. A shared journal is a lovely way to write about hopes, dreams and plans for the future.
39. Love Letters
Have you read the book “The Wednesday Letters”? It’s the story of a man who writes his wife a new love letter each Wednesday.
Why not make this Valentine’s Day the start of a Wednesday letter tradition of your own? Give the gift of a love letter, and tell your valentine that it is the first of many to come.
40. Local Events
If you are looking for free Valentine’s Day entertainment, check out your local paper. There might be a band playing in the park or another fun, free event.
What’s happening in your city?
41. Fancy Game Night
Get dressed up, open a $5 bottle of wine and play games all night long. You and your valentine can face off on Mario Kart, finally finish a game of Monopoly or challenge each other to an evening of “Magic: The Gathering.”
42. Clean All The Things
Want a gift that your valentine will really love? Try a perfectly cleaned home.
Find an excuse for your special someone to be out of the house or apartment on Valentine’s Day morning and then scrub, wash, sweep and fold. Top it off with a few flowers in a vase or a plate of homemade cookies on the table.
43. The 36 Questions
If you read the New York Times’ Modern Love column, you might have seen the piece about The 36 Questions That Lead to Love.
These questions, which include “What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?” and “When did you last cry in front of another person?” are designed to build intimacy and bring people closer together.
Spend an evening asking your valentine those questions -- and answering them yourself -- and it becomes an evening you’re unlikely to forget.
44. Truth or Dare
Don’t want to do the full list of 36 questions? Try a good old-fashioned game of Truth or Dare instead. You can ask your valentine thoughtful questions, and then dare your valentine to kiss you.
45. Museum Date
Check out the museums in your area to see if any of them are offering free or reduced-price tickets. Then get dressed up and spend an evening appreciating art, textiles, historical documents or whatever your city or hometown has on display.
46. One Rose
If you can’t afford a bouquet of roses, see if your local flower shop is selling single roses. A single red rose often says more than a whole dozen.
47. Grocery Store Flowers
Even the most humble of grocery store bouquets can become beautiful with a little help. Take the flowers out of the plastic, trim them and put them into a vase. Or, if you don’t have a vase on hand, get a glass jar out of the recycling bin, rinse it out and put the flowers in.
Sometimes the gift of conversation is all that is necessary. Find a park bench, sit down with your valentine and just talk. How often do you get hours of time to talk with someone you love? This year, give your valentine the gift of uninterrupted conversation and undivided attention.
A proposal transforms Valentine’s Day into a truly special event. You can even do the proposal for under $5 -- Neil Gaiman drew a Sharpie ring on Amanda Palmer’s hand in lieu of an engagement ring, and if it’s good enough for Neil Gaiman, it’s good enough for anyone.
50. Ask Your Date
Want a low-cost Valentine’s Day but are still stumped for ideas even after reading this list of 50 suggestions? Ask your date what he or she would like to do. Two heads are better than one, after all, and you’ll probably come up with something amazing that even I didn’t think of.
Your Turn: What is the best low-cost Valentine’s Day gift you ever received? What made that gift special?
Nicole Dieker is a freelance copywriter and essayist. She writes regularly for The Billfold on the intersection of freelance writing and personal finance, and her work has also appeared in The Toast, Yearbook Office, and Boing Boing.