Family, Self

12 Free Romantic Gifts

12 Free Romantic Gifts

"A three-story brownstone in the West Village."

"A 20-acre ranch to rescue and raise all the homeless dogs from the animal shelter."

"A $3000 clothing allowance from Barneys."

These are a few of the gifts my husband and I gave to one another last year. (I'll let you guess which one of us received the Barneys clothing allowance.) OK, so we gave one another these lavish gifts…on index cards.

Times were tight last Christmas, and rather than set an arbitrary limit, then be forced to search for something, anything of importance for $25 or under (pretty much impossible, by the way), we decided to skip the gifts altogether. What's worse than no gifts at all? Those random ones that were forced because of a price limit. They often rival Secret Santa office presents.

We still wanted to show thoughtfulness and thankfulness for one another, however. That's why we decided to gift one another the ideas of things we would have purchased, had money been no object. We allotted one another 12 index cards. On each, we described over-the-top presents ("A backstage pass to a Radiohead concert, with a one-hour visit with Thom Yorke"), as well as some simple ones ("Candy Cane Hershey Kisses"—I couldn't find them anywhere last year).

It truly was the embodiment of "the thought that counts." Although it may seem underwhelming to receive a dozen index cards, the thought that my husband put into my "gifts" was amazing. To think that someone put so much consideration into my likes, loves, and passions—made me love him all the more. It told me that he listened to me and really, truly knew me.

The one that really got me? "A time machine to go back and spend time with Isaac as a young, energetic, playful dog." I had put my 12-year-old husky, Isaac, to sleep that September. He was suffering from cancer, and really hadn't been himself for the final year of his life. I always told my husband I wished he could have known Isaac when he was younger—that he was a different dog. My husband wished me the power to see him, too.

No one else—absolutely no one else—could have known to give me that gift. Half of the emotion was tied to letting go of a beloved companion; the remainder the joy that someone knows me so well. (And, to be honest, at times when I could throw him out the window, thinking of that index cards softens any annoyance or anger. For life—or at least so far.)

Perhaps you worry you'll suffer from writer's block? Or that your index-card gifts will look sub-par compared to his? There are other ways to show your love. A friend of mine dusted off the old homemade coupon booklet for his girlfriend. He offered 30-minute backrubs, good anytime between 6 pm and 11 pm, Monday through Thursday. ("Nope, I don't do backrubs on Fridays!" he explained.) Aside from everyday chores and favors, I won't go into detail with "in the bedroom" coupons, but you can imagine the possibilities…

And if your significant other has his or her heart set on a physical object, and you're not interested in adding petty theft to your record, consider bartering. Sites such as and are the ideal place to trade that unused, lonely treadmill for a gently used Wii.

However you choose to show your affection this season, putting some thought into your gifts—and your relationship—could mean a world of difference. Now it's time to fill 12 new cards. I know "Our daughter sleeps through the night for the rest of her life" will top the pile.