Procrastinator's Guide to Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is upon us. If you haven’t yet figured out plans for the big night, that fact might send you into a blind panic.

It’s getting harder and harder to get dinner reservations at the hot spots in town (Valentine’s Day being on a Friday doesn’t help). Finding a killer gift at the last minute might be a Mission: Impossible. And yes, it does matter to her if you fail to do anything on February 14.

Never fear. Even the worst of procrastinators can put together a memorable Valentine’s Day (one that is memorable for the right reasons). Instead of striking out, you can hit a romantic home run.

Here are some last-minute Valentine’s Day tips to help you go from zero to hero in almost no time at all.

1Chef Yourself

Who needs reservations at an expensive restaurant when there is an exclusive table for two inside your own place?

Few things are more romantic than fixing a special dinner for the one you love. That’s especially true if you’re not the “resident chef.” Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a cook, some of the most romantic meals are actually some of the simplest to prepare. Steak, for example, is a recipe that could be described in just a couple of steps. Can you warm a pot? You’ve got fondue. And breakfast in bed is mostly about getting up early; breakfast items like eggs and toast are easy enough for anyone to prepare.

If you can’t cook at all, it is still possible to have a Valentine’s dinner at home. Those busy restaurants aren’t going to be all that busy in the afternoon. Order take-out dishes early, and then simply warm them up at home (and before your date arrives).

2Set the Mood

More so than the food, it is the setting that will really set your Valentine’s dinner apart.

Once again, the simplest solution is probably the best: just dim the lights and light up some candles (and/or the fireplace). Break out the good china and silver, if you’ve got it. Rose petals or a simple bouquet in a vase on the table are a big plus, since you still have time to get flowers.

Another creative option: if the weather permits, you can pack up dinner for a romantic picnic under the stars. February 14th is a full moon this year, so you will have some moonlight to work by. You can set up for the picnic at a nearby park, an urban rooftop or perhaps even your own backyard. Just pack blankets, warm clothes, cheese and a bottle (or two) of wine to warm you up even more.

Besides the physical setting, there are other things you can do to help set the mood. Music, for instance; even if you don’t have time to put together your own collection of love songs, there are ready-made romantic playlists on Spotify or Pandora. And even if you aren’t going out, you can still dress to impress. Since she’ll likely be the only one seeing it, the effort you put into dressing up will signal how important she is to you. It’s all about the details, like unique dress socks with personality, a skinny tie with unbuttoned top collar, or some classic cufflinks.

3Last-Minute Gifts

But what about finding a Valentine’s Day gift on short notice?

The important thing to remember is that it truly is the thought that counts—even when you’ve neglected to think about it ahead of time. Something like a handwritten love letter or a scrapbook-style slideshow of important moments in your relationship can carry more weight than expensive trinkets.

With some creativity, almost anything can be turned into a romantic gesture. An old set of house keys can be decorated and presented as “the keys to my heart,” or a light bulb tagged with a note that “you light up my life.” Punny, yes, but it also appears more personal and heartfelt than a store-bought card.

If you do want to indulge her with something nice but have run out of time to shop for it, consider giving her the gift of a Valentine’s Day shopping spree. After all, you don’t need reservations at the mall, and this will allow you some couple time together while allowing her to get exactly what she wants.

Gift certificates provide one additional way to give a Valentine’s Day gift for something that wouldn’t otherwise be available on Valentine’s Day itself. The gift of a day at a spa, for instance, would be expected to come in certificate form, and she’ll never know whether you bought it last-minute or a month in advance. Other romantic options to consider include sessions with a professional masseuse, tickets to an upcoming concert or even a cruise scheduled for an upcoming vacation.

4Acts of Service

Finally, when it comes to what you’re going to do in your time together on Valentine’s Day, you can be her hero by selflessly focusing on her needs and wants.

Perhaps that means you rub her tired feet or give her a massage yourself. Or have a hot bath waiting for her when she gets home (as an added bonus, this gives you more time to prepare or cook dinner). Or queue up Netflix, swallow your pride and watch that romantic movie she’s always wanted you to see together. You can create a handwritten gift certificate for 5 “pampering evenings,” complete with foot rubs, drawn baths, cooked dinner and romantic movies.

Do it right, and she’ll never know you didn’t spend weeks planning out the perfect Valentine’s Day to show your love. Above all, she just wants to see that you put your own touch on celebrating. That kind of personality comes through in the details, so make it personal and you’ll make it memorable. Happy Valentine’s Day!