By Katrina Kagan

Valentine’s Day is complicated. It comes with big expectations for romantic love, but love – in its fullest definition – doesn’t always get its shine. That’s why I started using Valentine’s Day as a way to gather my nearby crew in celebration, and send my long-distance besties a piece of snail mail to say, “I love you and I’m thinking about you too.”

Now, as we grow older and further apart, I’m finding this tradition more important than ever. It’s become more and more apparent that these small gestures go such a long way (emotionally and geographically!) in showing my friends they’re loved, and as a true-to-my-core Virgo, that’s really important to me. Also important? My budget.

Here’s how I’m showing my friends some love this year without breaking the bank:

Baking candy heart cookies (don’t worry, they’re easy)

Candy hearts are a Valentine’s Day staple, and I grew up just a town away from the NECCO candy factory. Since there will be no conversation hearts this year (crying forever), I’m making my own GNI-approved candy heart sugar cookies.

These were a no-brainer since sugar cookies are really easy to make (these only have seven ingredients!) and super inexpensive, too. To get that smooth frosted top, you’ll need to make a royal icing to flood your sugar cookies with. I prefer a recipe that uses pasteurized egg whites that come in a carton because STORE BOUGHT IS FINE. I also highly recommend using a stand mixer if you have one because your arm WILL get sore.

To decorate, outline 3-4 cookies at a time with a border and then flood each cookie in rounds. Let them dry for several hours (or overnight) before writing on them. Then make it easy on yourself and buy edible ink markers online or at your local craft store and write up your own self-care or friendship messages.

Getting crafty with DIY Valentines

Anyone else never grow out of handing out valentines? I’m a big fan of cute illustrations and cheesy puns but struggle to find adult cards kits, so this year I made my own pup-themed set using heart-shaped construction paper, rubber stamps and ink. The possibilities are endless and the puns are lovably cringe-worthy. If you come up with any good ones, tag #GNIvibes and show us the notes you’re sending friends this Valentine’s Day.

Getting my knit on

If I’m really going all out (let’s be real, not an every-year thing), I’ll send IRL warm and fuzzies by knitting something small to send to a long-distance friend. See what I did there? I love this cute beanie pattern from Purl Soho because it’s easy to pick up for beginners, and a quick fun project for knitting pros.

Hosting an in-person party (it doesn’t have to be complicated!)

There’s nothing wrong with taking your Galentine’s Day celebration indoors and making it come to life potluck-style. In fact, some (me!) might argue it’s better that way.

Fire up the group text, tell your friends you’re down to host, and ask everyone to bring a favorite cheese and or a bottle of red. Then you just have to supply the crackers, grapes, nuts, and sugar cookies and you can gather your favorite people around a cheeseboard for a night of games, laughs, nostalgia, or just plain catching up – just as friend-love should be.

Does your friend group have any Valentine’s Day traditions? What are some of your favorite ways to show them some love? Let us know in the comments.

All images taken by Katrina Kagan.