Sending the right message in a box

Valentine's Day giving can be tricky at any stage of a relationship

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Everything but the ring: For him

On the subject of sleepovers, this carry-on suitcase tells him, "Let's have a romantic getaway"— even if you don't go anywhere. The red undies promise a very fun trip, and they're a gift that keeps on giving. If he reads a certain honeymoon flavor in this present, mission accomplished.

(Embark four-piece luggage set, $39.99, Target,; Gilligan & O'Malley thong, $7.99 and bra, $19.99, Target ) (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / January 24, 2010)

Ever feel like cupid's arrow shot you in the head instead of sweetly pinging your heart? Do you think of Valentine's Day as your annual opportunity to misstep, disappoint, be let down or send the wrong signal?

Battered veterans of this designated romance day know that it's not easy to get it right — and wickedly simple to make a mess of it.

Are you asking yourself, "Why does it have to be so hard?" The answer: It doesn't — anymore.

In the interest of all of us who've loved and lost — or merely wished they could wipe the treacherous Feb. 14 off the calendar — I've put together some guidelines and gift suggestions to end your bad Valentine's Day track record and steer you in the right direction no matter what your temperature on the romance thermometer. No more shooting arrows in the dark.

And here's some great news in this perilous economy. The success of your day has nothing to do with lavish spending. All the ideas on this page come in well under the $103 average that a National Retail Federation survey says celebrants plan to spend this Valentine's Day.

It's only

just begun …

You've been out together a few times but it's too soon to tell if this is going anywhere.

Your best strategy: Think playful, goofy, thoughtful. Stay away from anything romantic or intimate. At this early stage of dating, you can't go wrong with an animal theme. This shows your softer side without a hint of commitment.

And she thought you hated her cats. Show her that you're tenderhearted. (Ceramic cat bank, $12, Urban Outfitters,; ribbon on cat, Paper Source, $2.40/yard, )

He doesn't have a dog? This double-entendre collar fits man or beast. ( Dog collar, $6.50, Old Navy,

I like you,

honest I do!

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