By Jason Wright
There are three things men cannot avoid: death, taxes and Valentine's Day.
Nor can we avoid their proven side effects of stress and the cold sweats.
At least in the case of Feb. 14, there is hope. To combat V-Day-induced anxiety, the National Retail Federation reports that men will spend an average of $168.74 on flowers, candy, jewelry and cards for their sweethearts. Overall, both genders in America will drop a hefty $17.6 billion on the holiday.
Many of us love-struck men are so committed to getting it right, we'll even go into debt to finance our Valentine's Day purchases. Because nothing screams romance quite like saying, "I love you so much I'm willing to max out my Visa card in your honor."
But you don't have to be Dr. Phil to know that she'd probably prefer a single rose and 100 uninterrupted minutes of your day. She doesn't want to know you spent a lot of money -- she'd rather know you spent a lot of time.
If you'd like to try celebrating Valentine's Day this week without busting the budget, consider one or more of these 10 ideas to make the day meaningful without requiring a bank loan.
1. Re-create your first date.
A lot sure has changed since that first date, hasn't it? Why not surprise your sweetheart by re-creating it as best you can, right down to the itsy-bitsy details? What did you eat? What did you wear? Did you tell a dumb joke? She will appreciate that you savor those memories.
2. Breakfast picnic in the park.
Buy her favorite kind of cereal in the miniature boxes, plus single serve bottles of milk, juice and perhaps a bagel or donut and take her to the park for a long lunch or dinner. Too cold? Tuck the kids in early and throw a blanket on the living room floor.
3. Rent that movie.
You know that movie she can't watch often enough? Yes, it's the same one you just can't bear to imagine watching again. For Valentine's Day, why not track it down, make her favorite treat and cuddle on the couch while she enjoys the movie she loves with guy she loves even more.
4. Dollar-store date.
Give yourselves a budget -- $5 each? -- and hit your local dollar store. The goal is for each of you to buy things that have sentimental value without the other person seeing what's in your basket until you're home. Each item has to relate to a favorite memory from your relationship.
5. Hand over your phone.
Come home early on Valentine's Day and immediately hand your wife your iPhone, pager or Motorola brick. Tell her to ignore the shivers, shakes and other withdrawal symptoms and not return it until the next morning. Then tune the rest of the world out and tune into her.
6. Visit that place.
You know that museum, gallery or visitors' center she's always wanted to visit? This just might be the night. Most are free to enter and she'll appreciate that you've been paying attention when you've driven by. Plan well and be sure to call ahead to check operating hours.
7. Take the day off.
If your schedule allows, consider taking off the entire day and dedicating it to her. Does she have a honey-do list? Would she enjoy a long walk together? Could you care for the kids while she reads all afternoon on the couch? How about a discount matinee at the movies?
8. Shout "I love you!" 2013-style.
In the classic romantic comedies, the man takes the microphone at the concert or yells from the middle of a crowded mall that he loves her with all his heart. In the digital age, why not shout from the rooftops of Facebook or Twitter and appropriately proclaim your feelings online? She'll smile -- guaranteed.
9. Make a handmade valentine.
We all remember making valentines in elementary school using candy hearts, Red Hots and construction paper. She wouldn't really appreciate that today, would she? Just watch her eyes light up when you hand her something you made by hand with her individual tastes in mind.
10. Do something she hates.
We all have things we just don't care for. Why not pick a few things from her list and knock them out? Iron your own shirts, deep clean the playroom, vacuum her car, or brave that long line at the DMV or post office. Discover what she's been putting off and take on that headache for her.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 13th Day of Christmas." He can be reached at email@example.com or jasonfwright.com.