With the weakened economy forcing families to tighten their budgets, it's more important than ever for cupid to hit the mark with Valentine's Day presents.

With the weakened economy forcing families to tighten their budgets, it's more important than ever for cupid to hit the mark with Valentine's Day presents.

"Let's get away from flowers and candy," said Laurie Dixon, who writes about shopping and bargains at www.thebag.com. "Let's be creative." This is the year for ladies to drop hints and for their partners to ask questions and take notes, according to gift and shopping experts.

Many men are relieved when their partners provide them with gift ideas, said Christiane Branderhorst, director of Tiffany & Co. at Easton. She routinely sees customers coming to the jewelry store with catalogs that have pictures circled or notes in the margin. "Guys really appreciate these hints," she said.

Ladies who want to help their man choose the right gift can find out if their favorite store offers a registry or wish list. Many jewelry stores do, Dixon said. Tiffany's provides an online wish list that allows you to choose their favorite pieces without leaving home. And men who aren't getting any hints from their true love can get the ideas by asking the following questions:

1. Are you interested in trying a new fragrance? If so, which one? If not, do you need any new products in your favorite fragrance line?
2. Is there a piece of jewelry you've had your eye on? What is it and where can I buy it?
3. Is there a special show or concert you would like to see?
4. Are you interested in a getaway at a local hotel or bed and breakfast?
5. Is there an outfit or item of clothing you wish you had?
Now hop to it, ladies. Use this hint sheet to the right and place it under your husband's pillow or in his briefcase. Then sit back and wait for the goodies.

Valentine's Day gift ideas

Fragrance sampler: Available at Sephora in Polaris Fashion Place. The package includes 10 samples of perfume for women to try and a coupon for her to put toward a bottle of her favorite scent.
A fancy bag: Interesting and colorful purses are fun accessories that many women will appreciate.
Costume jewelry: Select a piece of fun jewelry in colors that complement her wardrobe.
Gift card: Choose one from her favorite spa or salon.
Dinner and tickets: Go to a movie, concert, show or comedy club. Every woman loves an evening out and she'll be especially excited if you make the child care arrangements.
Plan a getaway: Without leaving town! Book a room at a downtown hotel or area bed and breakfast.