You don’t have to splurge to make your partner feel extra special. In fact, it’s often the most custom, creative gifts that mean the most. I have no idea what my husband bought me for Christmas 5 years ago, but I do remember that on our anniversary that year he surprised me with my favorite childhood meal (that my mom taught him to make over the phone). It was so special, I still get warm and tingly thinking about that day. That’s how you want your partner to remember your gifts!
Here’s a list of 22 memorable gift ideas that won’t cost you a penny and will leave your partner beaming for years. Some are quick and easy, some a little more time-intensive. Pick which one sounds right for your relationship (and schedule) and get ready to watch your boo feel so loved!
1. “Reasons I Love You” Jar
This is one of my favorite gift ideas. You can customize it however you like, be it “365 Reasons I Love You” or “I Love You Because…”. Basically, you take a jar, tie a cute bow or yarn around it, make a little label from paper and tape it on the jar, and then cut out little scrolls or squares of paper to write out all your reasons.
The way I did it for my hubby years ago was by making a different scroll for each month of the year. I wrote a list of things that made me fall in love with him from each month- like how that January he surprised me with my favorite childhood meal, made my coffee every morning, and let me steal more of the comforter at night when it got cold. I rolled up each month’s list into its own scroll and stuffed all the scrolls into a big jar. I decorated it and watched with joy as he realized there were scrolls upon scrolls of reasons I loved him. I was so special to us both and to date sits on his bedside table.
2. Care Package For A Space They Inhabit A Lot
This one is really special because it lets you take care of your partner no matter where they’re at. If they work at the office a lot, make a little “Office Care Package” that includes packets of their favorite coffee or tea, gum to freshen their breath before important meetings, even a gift card to the cafe across the street from their work (of course this breaks the no penny rule).
Or if they drive and commute a lot, make them a “Cozy Car Package”. Include plush socks, a few dry-g0od snacks (protein bars, pretzels, dried mango), water bottles, tissues, and an extra car charger (in case theirs has a short). My husband is a personal trainer and just built a home gym, he spends about 8 hours a day in there teaching virtually and working out. So I’m making him a little “Home Gym Kit” that includes a water pitcher, electrolyte packets, sweat towels, protein bars, and fresh socks.
Whatever your partner’s most inhabited space is, make their package tailored not only to the needs of their environment, but to your person and what they love. Order that snack that’s always sold out. Drop in that thing that makes them laugh. Feed all 5 senses if you can. This is just another way for you to take care of your boo even when you aren’t together.
3. Throw A Vegas Night At Home!
Pull out the deck of hards, jack & coke, and a cute top hat! Make this a night for your partner to remember. Set up different little stations around the house- have a “Black Jack” table, a “Poker” station, and maybe even a slot machine station if you can set up a phone or iPad with these awesome apps that you can even win money on!
Get as creative as you can! Take a break to go watch Rain, the Beatles show (you can find clips of it on Youtube). Go have a Perfect Margarita (the best drink in vegas) at Margaritaville (make a sign over your kitchen). Have a sexy night at the Cosmopolitan Hotel (your bedroom, just wear some lingerie and they’ll be distracted no sign needed).
Get clever and have fun with it. Extra points if you can get your partner to wear a pair of suspenders.
4. Handwritten Lyrics Or Photo Mat
This is a great, last-minute option! Be it their favorite song, poem, “first dance” song, etc. I love handwriting songs into a shape, I think it gives it a more personal touch. But if you’re not a fan of your handwriting, you can also type it out (into a shape or otherwise).
Another idea is making a framed photo mat. Simply paste a photo of the two of you on a sheet of paper and write out the lyrics around the photo, then frame it! Maybe you went to a concert together- pick your favorite picture of the two of you from that night and write out the lyrics of the best song in that night’s lineup. Or maybe it’s your guys’ “first dance” song, featuring a photo of that moment in the middle. If you want to type up your photo mat, here’s a step-by-step tutorial. Keep it simple and have fun with it!
5. Promise Them 1 Chore You’re Going To Take Over For 1 Year
And do it. Be it the cat litter box, the dog’s morning walk, or unloading the dishwasher at night. Whatever it is, make it the chore THEY would most appreciate you doing, not just the easiest thing you can think of. They’ll be thanking you all year for this one.
6. Make Them A Cookbook
If your partner loves to cook, this is the gift for them. It takes a little time and thought, but it will feed them all year long and make the “what should we eat for dinner?” question easy every night.
The easiest way to do this is on Canva -You can make an account for free and design anything you want. You can create a beautiful cover page (there are hundreds of templates), a dedication/letter page, a table of contents, a cover page for each category (appetizers, breakfast, main courses, sauces, etc.), and finally a page for each recipe. Canva has various gorgeous fonts and photos for all of these.
Include all your partner’s favorite recipes, new ones you think they’ll love, and call their mom if you can to surprise them with some of their childhood favorites! You can download the final version as a PDF , or just print it out old-school and pop it in a binder!
A great way to keep adding to this is by making a Google Doc version that they can keep updated as they want. If they don’t already have it, download the Google Docs app on their phone and make it easily accessible (but don’t go snooping on their phone because we don’t do that). This way they can type recipes in as they cook. A little gesture you can do for them every few months is to copy & paste each google doc recipe into their Canva cookbook and either download them a new PDF or print out the new pages for their cookbook binder as it grows.
You can add a little jar of homemade pesto along with their new cookbook as a nice touch!
7. Print Out & Frame Some Favorite Photos
There’s nothing better than having all your favorite moments with your boo printed out for you. This is another super easy and last-minute gift idea.
There are various ways you can do this. You can make them a “Wheel of Memories” with a little cardstock piece of paper that says, “Happiness is Any Moment With You” with clothespins clipped on in a circle around it with your new prints pinned on. Another way (which I plan to do for my hubby’s birthday) is by just printing and framing each photo and arranging them in the hallway. Blindfold them and surprise them with your new hall of memories!
As per framing, think about their aesthetic. Do they like a super modern feel? Farmhouse? Beach wood? Make it something they go, “Ah! I can’t wait to hang this up!” If they’re a big beer or wine fan, you can get crafty with this part and make a frame from beer caps or wine corks.
A similar idea (that again breaks the no penny rule but is under $10) is making them a custom planner, canvas prints, calendar, or journal at places like Shutterfly, Vistaprint, or Walgreens. My best friend made me a gorgeous calendar last year and every month I get so excited to flip the page and see what’s next.
8. Make A Concert Happen For Them At Home
Similar to the Vegas Night, make an experience at home that they’ll never forget!
Find a concert of their favorite band to stream from Youtube onto your TV, dress up, pour some cheap drinks, request $20/cocktail (they can have it back at the end of the night), and DANCE to the concert all night! Get sweaty, sing-along, throw back a few shots, and dance your heart out together like you would at your most favorite concert (you can say sorry to your downstairs neighbors tomorrow). If you happen to have fairy lights or blacklights you can even change the light bulbs to make a truly striking aesthetic.
Bonus points if you happen to sing and/or play a musical instrument and write them a song. Or you can just play/sing them their favorite song! This is, of course, if you are wildly talented.
9. “Open When…” Letter Box
This option is great because it’s the gift that keeps on giving at your partner’s choosing! Basically, you write them a letter for all kinds of feelings and situations they will likely find themselves in. Some examples are, “Open when you need a laugh”, “Open when you can’t sleep”, “Open when you’re mad at me”, “Open when you’re really proud of yourself”, “Open when the Giants lose”, etc. Here are more ideas to get you started!
The best part about this is it can be perfectly customized to your partner. You could have things like “Open when you’re nervous about your art history final” or “Open when Ryan pissed you off at work again”. Your boo will appreciate the super specific understanding you have on their life.
Once you have all your letters written up, put each one in an envelope with the label written on it, and dress up an old shoe or cigar box to put them all into! Your partner will look forward to opening that box every single time.
10. Make Them Their Favorite Meal, Or Make One Together
For most of us, food is a sure way to our hearts. I swear every time someone makes me a meal I can hear my heart pitter-patter. You can make this a breakfast in bed meal with hot coffee and flowers, or crack open a bottle of wine and adorn them with a candlelit dinner. Make the mood intimate and cozy as you feed their stomach and soul.
Another spin on this idea is deciding on a fun meal to make from scratch together, like handmade pasta or sushi. My husband and I love sushi, so for his birthday last year, I got him an at-home sushi making kit. We spent all night drinking whiskey and making sushi rolls together. It was perfect.
11. Stenciled Watercolor Painting
This is one of my favorites because it’s easy, handmade, super personal, and looks like something you would find on Etsy. This little project will take about 2-3 hours and leave your partner so touched.
It all starts with this free photo drawing site, where you can upload a picture of anything and have it converted into a stenciled drawing in seconds. You can adjust how dark/light and sharp/soft you want the lines, so the details in the photo are also very custom.
For example, in the photo below (which I gave to my dear cousin), I wanted my cousin’s necklace super clear and visible. She adores that necklace, and depending on how sharp/soft the lines were the necklace disappeared. At the same time, I didn’t want her curls to disappear because her hair is gorgeous. I was able to play with the settings so that the lines were dark and clear enough for her hair, but not so dark that it made her necklace blur. I’m no photo editor, but it was so easy to use and in minutes I had the perfect version to download. I know the PicsArt app also makes photos into drawings. It’s not free, but if you already have the app you can use that too!
After I printed out the stenciled drawing, I outlined the lines with a small black drawing pen (if you don’t have any, this is what I use). Then I watercolor painted each section and went over some of the lines with the drawing pen again once the paint dried. I cut out the silhouette of her body, glued it on a piece of paper (in the original photo she was standing against bushes so I wanted a color parallel to that aesthetic), found a cute sticker to embellish a bit, and framed it!
It was so easy and so darling to hear her cry out, “It’s me!! I’m a painting! And a drawing! How did you do that?! Did you do this??” I don’t know who was happier, but I can’t wait to make more of these for loved ones in the future.
12. Romantic Scavenger Hunt That Ends In A Picnic Somewhere Beautiful
This gift idea is so fun and easy to put together last minute. Here’s an easy guide to help you get started.
The fun part is you can draw on how well you know each other, like “When I get really stressed this is what you serve me” or “When you see me in this you get really excited”. These clues can be about each other, your pets, favorite objects around the house, etc. It’s fun that it plays on your life together and how well you know each other.
The best part though is the game leading your partner somewhere beautiful where you can both eat and relax after they find all the clues (like a picnic on the beach or over a mountain). But it can also be a sexy reward, a boozy reward- the options are limitless.
Get creative and have fun with this one!
13. “Date Ideas” Jar
This gift is perfect for the couples who get stuck in the rut of ordering food and watching TV (um, all of us?). While Netflix and chill is perfect for those weekday nights where you just want to decompress after work or school, this gift idea will get you and your partner back to spending some truly quality time together in a way where you’re both totally present and not just zoning out to a screen.
Making this is super easy. You’ll need a small jar, popsicle sticks, paper, tape, and markers or highlighters. Start by making a little color-coded key on a small piece of paper, like “orange = at home”, “green = costs money”, “blue = outdoors”. Tape this key on the side of the jar, then start writing out date ideas on your popsicle sticks. On the far end of each popsicle stick, mark the coordinating colors onto the tips (using markers or highlighters).
Fill your jar with all the fun ideas you’d love to do together- with plans for the first one that night. Keep it simple and fun. Surprise them with the first stick you already pulled, like stargazing and cuddling under a plush blanket. Make a fresh pot of hot cider, fill a thermos, and go behold the wonders of the universe!
14. Give Them Something In Their Language
I’m a writer. If my husband wrote an article about us I would burst. He’s a gamer. If I scheduled an evening for us to do nothing but play on his Play Station together he would flip. Maybe your partner is a chef- give them a break from cooking and make them their favorite fine dining meal! Are they a bartender? Make them a custom cocktail with all their favorite things and play bartender for a night (if you really want to go for it you can dress up and serve them their drink on a little platter). Does your partner work in medicine? Write them a prescription of the fun day you have planned for them, complete with the milligrams and dosage of what they need to eat and drink to fully celebrate.
No matter what your partner does, there’s always an “in”. Don’t know how to cook/write/bartend/draw/etc as well as them? Watch a Youtube tutorial! They will still definitely be better than you at said activity. But that’s thoroughly not the point. The point is you tried, you spoke to them in their language, and you let them be on the receiving end of what they do day in and day out for others.
And if you really don’t know? Let them teach you! Let them show you the karate moves they take so much delight in, or bake with them even if you absolutely hate baking. Give them the gift of sharing in their world together.
15. Picnic & Drinks Somewhere Beautiful
Hike somewhere romantic. Take a picnic, jarred mimosas, and a blanket for a boozy nap in the sun. Or arrange a candlelight dinner in the backyard (or somewhere usually ordinary). Or go have a picnic on the beach- complete with sandwiches, fruits, carrots & hummus, and a couple of chilled La Croix.
The options are limitless. But finding somewhere beautiful to eat and relax with your boo is priceless. In a world of work, school, zoom, remembering to work out and take vitamins and pay bills and take care of your loved ones and get enough sleep, this is a gift that will reset both of you and keep on giving as you find yourselves breathing deeper all week.
16. Give Them One Of Your Oldest & Most Treasured Books
This is the perfect gift if your boo is a bibliophile. Books are such a personal gift because not only do they (likely) hold all your thoughts and reactions in the margins like an old journal, they require some thought on if your partner will actually enjoy that read. Books aren’t like episodes where you can sorta-kinda watch and see if you’ll be interested. Books are an investment of time and energy, and the perfect way to give a gift that holds great meaning.
Make it extra personal with a little note to them on the cover page with your love and the date.
17. Pack Pillows, Blankets, & Go Star Gazing
You don’t need a date jar idea to make this happen! This is the perfect, dreamy way to get cozy with your partner and behold the wonder that is this universe. Bring a thermos of hot chocolate, put on your winter socks, and find the darkest spot you can. If you have a backyard, perfect! If you’re like me and you live in the middle of the city in an apartment, well you might have to do some hunting. But even in LA if you drive up 20 minutes into the Malibu mountains you can see some astonishing constellations crystal clear. Find a spot, get cozy, and behold.
18. Get A Project Done For Them
This is an incredibly generous gift if you have the time and ability to help your partner with a project they’ve been trying to get to. Be it converting the garage into a gym, painting the bookcase to match your partner’s office, cleaning out the tool shed, or simply organizing the linens closet.
Of course, if there are things you don’t know how to do (are all these drills needed? How can I possibly lift this tall bookcase by myself?) then get some help from a neighbor when your partner is out for an errand, put aside the things you don’t know about, and do what you can. And if they clearly know or see you’re up to something, that’s okay. Once I tried to surprise my hubby by staining his wooden shelves and ended up making the whole house smell like paint thinner. We had to put on masks, open all the windows, and I had to very quickly finish up. Needless to say, he found out.
Try to be as sneaky as you can, but at the end of the day, it’s the gesture itself that matters the most. Your partner will so appreciate you taking care of that annoying thing that’s been scratching the back of their mind for months.
19. Wake Up Early, Watch The Sunrise, Get Breakfast, Then Nap
This is such a lovely and easy gift to give. If your partner is sorely not a morning person, skip this idea. But for those who lean toward morning, this is a wonderful way to start your boo’s special day.
Extra points if you can bring a hot thermos of coffee and watch the sunrise from a beautiful area like a park, beach, or hillside. You can make it a little walking tour by then walking to your partner’s favorite cafe, ordering take out, walk home chowing down on breakfast burritos, and then passing out. You’ll wake up feeling like it was maybe a dream? And in fact it was, because what’s dreamier than a sunrise & breakfast burritos?
20. Silhouette Skyline Drawing
If your partner loves where they live, this is the gift for them. You’ll see a lot of gifts like this on Etsy, but it’s so easy to recreate.
Start out by googling an image of the city line where your partner lives. Find the clearest picture you can and pop it into the same site we used above that creates drawings from photos. Print it out. Alternately, draw it out with the photo as your guide if you’re feeling artistic!
Next, write/draw out the city name. You can see any word you want in several different fonts for free at this site. About a third of the way down on the left side it says “Preview”, and right under that “Type Your Text Here”. Type in your city name and press “Submit”. You’ll get several different options. From here, you can screenshot it and print/cut it out, but I think it’s much lovelier to use it as a guide and copy it by handwriting it under the skyline print out.
And that’s it! Find a cute frame and surprise your boo with their custom-made city skyline to hang over their desk and inspire their work every day!
21. Custom-Made Adult Coloring Book
If your boo is artistic or likes adult coloring books, this is the gift for them. It’s super easy to make, and will be the perfect place for them to bestow all their energy whenever they’re feeling anxious, bored, or creative! I promise this is the last time I’m mentioning that photo stenciling website, but it’s just so dang cool and you can make so many awesome things with it!
To make a custom-made coloring book, start by finding photos you know your partner will love. The must-haves are photos of you two together and your fur babies (or real babies). But get creative! What do they like? Dragons? Cats? Landscapes? Coffee? Sunsets? Greek history? Find photos of whatever they love, and make sure the tone of these prints feels like your partner- whether that’s cheesy, irreverent, silly, romantic, etc. When they open their book it should feel like THEM.
Next, run each photo through the stenciling website, adjusting the settings to make sure all the lines are nice and thick (easier to color between). I also like to make a cute cover page like, “Nora’s Coloring Book” with a custom image. Print all your pages out!
Finally, you bind it. There are several ways you can do this. If you have a laminated report cover, that’s perfect. I happened to buy a 10 pack a few years ago so I have a lot of these on hand. Alternately, you could put the prints in a nice folder or just hole punch/tie them all together with a cute cover page on the outside. I’d lean away from that last option though-I think it’s nice to keep each print available to be framed if your partner happens to particularly love how one colored page came out.
And that’s it! This is such a creative and easy gift to give, and is so fun to think up all the images your boo would love to interact with. I always think the best gifts are the ones that require heart, and this gift is surely bursting with that.
22. Pour Some Wine, Light Some Candles, & Slow Dance
If you and your partner lead a crazy-busy life, this is the gift for your relationship. You may not have time to draw them something or get a home project done for them, and that is totally valid. The best thing you could give them in this case is a romantic night at home, slowed down, just the two of you.
How often does anyone slow dance anymore? We cry when we watch Allie and Noah dance in The Notebook, but when it comes to our own lives the most romantic thing ends up being who does the dishes before bed.
And don’t get me wrong, helping each other through our daily lives is romantic in and of itself. But we owe it to our partner and relationship to be enchanted with each other for a night, especially if our lives are crazy busy. If you have kids put them to bed early, pour your partner’s favorite wine (use the nice glasses), cue up Dean Martin, light those candles that have been sitting on the bookshelves, and seize your boo in tight. It’s okay if it’s a little awkward at first, you’ve maybe never slow danced together! Just relax, enjoy feeling their chest against yours- their warmth, their smell, the feel of their arms holding you.
It’ll be an intimate night that your boo will remember over any random gift.
How do you plan to shower your partner with love without breaking the bank? Tell us your favorite ideas and what you end up doing!
Writer, bibliophile, podcast enthusiast, self-admitted coffee addict, proud cat/puppy mom, vegetarian foodie, wine appreciator, pilates junkie, wifey to the most darling man there ever was. Avid NPR & NYT fan. Lifelong storyteller & optimist. LA-based. Writer for Society19 & Thrive Global. In all my writing I like to both challenge and validate the reader. You can check out my stuff at ashawrites.me. Sign up for my mailing list: https://tinyletter.com/ashanoeliyer