- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lavish jewelry and expensive meals may not be on the table this Valentine’s Day as Americans are pinching pennies.

That doesn’t mean we should call the whole thing off.

On the contrary.

“The fact that money may be tight for some couples actually presents an excellent opportunity to forgo the usual material indulgences and focus on what’s most important between the two of you,” says Craig Boreth, author of “How to Iron Your Own Damn Shirt: The Perfect Husband Handbook Featuring Over 50 Foolproof Ways to Win, Woo and Wow Your Wife.”

“Despite what the greeting card companies, chocolatiers and florists tell you, that’s what Valentine’s Day is really about,” Mr. Boreth says.

For example, he suggests, write on a blank card - forget the store-bought ones with cheesy messages - why you enjoy spending time with your loved one and how he or she makes you feel.

“If it’s honest and true, you’re good to go and anything else you do for Valentine’s Day will be a bonus,” he says.

Cost: $0.

Jess McCann, dating coach and author of “You Lost Him at Hello: A Saleswoman’s Secrets to Closing the Deal With Any Guy You Want,” has a similar suggestion.

“Write down on a piece of paper the ‘50 reasons I love you,’ ” Ms. McCann says. “It can be anything, … ‘I love you for making me coffee in the morning.’ ”

As long as it comes from the heart, she says, it will be a success.

“Everyone loves to be appreciated,” Ms. McCann says. “I even know people who have framed the ‘50 reasons I love you.’ ”

If you want to go beyond the love letters but are on a budget, she suggests putting together a goodie bag filled with low-cost items: candy, magazines, favorite beauty care products.

“A goodie bag feeds that need to open something,” she says.

Cost: $10 to $20 per person.

If you have your heart set on eating out, Ms. McCann suggests - if the budget is tight - limiting it to dessert only.

“There’s that great new chocolate place Co Co. Sala downtown,” she says. “They serve everything chocolate. It’s the perfect fit for Valentine’s Day.”

Other places for lovers with a sweet tooth include the aptly named Love Cafe (lovecafe. cakelove.com) on U Street Northwest, which serves layer cakes and brownies. A stop at Georgetown Cupcakes (www.george towncupcake.com) is always appreciated, Ms. McCann says.

“A box of Georgetown Cupcakes, and I am set,” she says. A half-dozen is $15; individually they are $2.75.

Cost: $10 to $20 per person (excluding alcoholic beverages, which are served at Co Co. Sala (www.cocosala.com).

Another idea, albeit a little more costly, is to check Open table.com for low-cost prix-fixe dinner menus.

For example, the recently opened CommonWealth Gastropub (www.cwgastropub .com) in Columbia Heights offers a three-course dinner menu for $25 to $35 per person. (Optional beer pairings are an additional $15 per person.)

Cafe du Park (www.cafe duparc.com), a French bistro a stone’s throw from the White House, is offering a prix-fixe three-course menu for $40 per person. Pesto Ristorante (www.pestodc.com), an Italian restaurant in Woodley Park, offers three-course prix-fixe menus for $39 per person.

The list of low-cost alternatives is surprisingly long.

Cost: Up to $40 per person (excluding alcoholic beverages and tip).

Another romantic activity - away from the hustle and bustle of the city - that can be done on the cheap is a trip to a Virginia winery or two. Many of them are hosting Valentine’s Day events. For a complete calendar, visit www.virginiawine.org.

Cost: About $5 per person in tasting fees.

In the end, however, whether on a budget or not, it’s not the gifts and dinners that show the greatest love and appreciation, Mr. Boreth says.

It’s like the saying goes: It’s the thought that counts. Particularly if the thought is directed toward making a loved one’s life a little less stressful, a little more comfortable.

“Forget about the expensive lingerie (which she knows is more for you than for her). Just promise that you’ll fold the clothes every so often and actually put away your own clothes,” Mr. Boreth says.

“Showing that you care about her enough to do something just for her, however mundane it may seem, will go a long way to guaranteeing a happy Valentine’s Day.”

Cost: $0.

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