Photo by Allyson Stone

On Valentine’s Day, couples traditionally exchange gifts, material or otherwise, to celebrate their romance. For students, this usually means digging into their pockets and coming up with the most thoughtful presents they can afford, and if a student happens to be strapped for cash, making budget-conscious decisions can stretch a dollar very far.

According to a 2004 Gallup Poll, around 70 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day in some special way. When it comes to planning gifts and activities for the occassion, the possibilities are virtually endless.

Flowers, a time-honored and typical choice for many, have been a pretty safe bet since the high middle ages. In a big city like Atlanta, any public location is sure to have a couple street vendors with roses in hand come Valentine’s Day. A single rose could go for as little as a dollar. Going all the way and buying a bouquet probably wouldn’t be a bad investment either.

Regarding another popular buy for couples, according to the U.S. Greeting Card Association, around 145 million greeting cards are purchased on Valentine’s Day. Although Americans spend millions every year on brand name cards, the best cards do not necessarily have to be purchased from a store.

“Cards are usually the first thing that comes to mind for something easy yet genuine. A homemade card would make a good low-budget Valentine’s gift, especially since a Hallmark card is kind of expensive,” said Colleen Lu, a third-year ALIS major.

All that really has to be done for handmade cards is to take a sheet of printer or scrapbook paper, cut it down to five by seven, and fill it with a message. Handwritten cards are also flexible because they work for almost any situation, as long as the message is relevant and personal.

Variants of cards can include playful “coupons” as well, with various IOUs to be redeemed at some point in the future.

Dinner at an expensive restaurant may not be the best option for everyone, so cooking a meal is a good alternative, if not a better one. Depending on the situation, making dinner or baking dessert could be done instead.

Though decent cooking skills could a prerequisite for an attempt at this, there are a plethora of simple recipes online for cooks at any confidence level in the kitchen.

Other food options include baking desserts or buying the box of chocolates.

Chocolate can range a little more on the expensive end of the Valentine’s Day gift spectrum, but a big box of assorted chocolates is like the Rolls Royce of broke-college-student gift items. For those who don’t favor chocolate as much as others, Valentine’s Day candies come in an assortment of flavors to satisfy the sweet tooth.

Another low-cost gift could be a mixtape or CD with personalized music.

“Mixtapes are a little retro, but definitely cute in their own way,” said Lauren Finklea, a third-year NRE major.

Though mixtapes might be considered outdated by some, music as a gift can be a very personal expression that defines the feelings within a relationship in a tangible and emotional way.

If you have any skills or talents that you’ve kept to yourself, Valentine’s would be a great time to put them to use. Drawing, carving, knitting or playing an instrument is a good way to put talents to use and impress a significant other.

Generally speaking, homemade gifts are often better-received than something mass produced to be available in every store in the country.

Simply going out on a romantic stroll is also a good choice if the commercial aspect of Valentine’s Day is unappealing. There are plenty of places around campus and Atlanta to enjoy the day without having to spend any money at all.

Because every couple is different and preferences can vary between individuals, it is important to consider not only the most cost-effective option, but also to understand the preferences of one’s significant other and tailor the gift to their personality. Every person is in a different situation where a certain type of gift might be more appropriate than other.

A guide can point someone in a general direction for creating an exciting Valentine’s Day surprise, but everyone has his or her own expectations. In the end, the best decision could be a creative and original one that exceeds expectations, either through a personal, homemade gift or a simple romantic gesture.