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by Jesse Campbell on February 11, 2015

The price of a great Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world. It has historical roots that go all the way back to the 5th century AD. Like most modern holidays, it’s current, commercialized form is a bit disconnected from its origins, but it isn’t very accurate to claim that February 14th is just a “Hallmark holiday” manufactured to sell candy and jewelry.

That said, it sure does feel like a thinly veiled excuse to sell candy and jewelry sometimes.

According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual survey, American consumers are planning on spending about $142 on Valentine’s Day this year. To put that in perspective, last year the average consumer planned to spend about $800 during the winter holidays (for Christmas, Hanukkah and/or Kwanzaa), $137 on Easter, and $78 for Halloween. The average Thanksgiving dinner for a family of 10 costs about $50.

How did Valentine’s Day come to be America’s second most expensive holiday? And why is it so unbalanced? According to that same NRF survey, men plan to spend about $190 on Valentine’s Day, while women will spend about $95.

We give a lot of lip service to the idea that it’s “the thought that counts” but the thought still seems pretty expensive. Is it really possible to skip the spending on Valentine’s Day without causing a minor relationship meltdown? And even if it is, is it advisable?

Looking for answers, I asked a few folks for their personal feedback on February 14th.

Do you look forward to Valentine’s Day?

David (married 36 years): Not especially – it’s not a significant event for either of us.

Polina (dating 2 years): I have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. I agree with the denouncers, but at the same time I am not immune to mass hysteria. When society expects you to do romantic stuff – get flowers and gifts – you can resist for so long before starting to expect that, too! So I am that classic girlfriend who’ll say “we don’t have to do anything” and then get mad when you don’t plan anything.

Kay (married 37 years): Valentine's Day is just another day to me. My husband is sweet and always gets me a card or something. Sometimes I get him something, sometimes I forget. If I remember in time I make him something. Either way, I always tell him I love him.

Stacey (married 10 years): I always look forward to the weekend, so it’s really just a coincidence this year.

Would you be okay just skipping Valentine’s Day?

David: It wouldn’t bother me.

Polina: My boyfriend does not believe in Valentine’s Day. We didn’t do anything last year – so of course I got mad at him despite myself. Basically, we agree that doing romantic stuff spontaneously rather than on Valentine’s Day is more interesting and feels more authentic.

Kay: Truthfully, we pretty much have always done nothing on Valentine's Day. We tell each other we love each other, we give each other big hugs, but that is no different than any other day.

Stacey: I actually just made that suggestion for 2015!

Valentine’s Day and money

Whether or not you really have to do something on Valentine’s Day depends very much on your partner and your own honest feelings about the day. Just keep in mind, however, that while your partner may not want to want a token of affection on February 14th, the allure of the season can sometimes have a mind of its own.

That said, if you’re participating in Valentine’s Day you’re likely going to feel pressure to spend money, but the consensus seems to be that spending hundreds of dollars just isn’t necessary.

“I’m more interested in the thought behind the present or the effort involved,” says Polina. “I would be a little annoyed at $7 supermarket flowers picked up on the way home, but $7 spent on some supplies to create something thoughtful? Awesome!”

“If he cooked me dinner or gave me a homemade card I’d be perfectly happy!” adds Stacey.

Stephanie and Sandy are financial educators in Arizona. “A tight budget can actually make Valentine’s Day really special,” says Stephanie. “A limited budget forces you to really focus on what matters and what makes your special someone happy. Candles, cuddles, and a favorite meal can mean so much more than just stuff.”

“Plan an activity that fits your budget,” says Sandy. “An experience is always better than a gift.”

What do you think? Does Valentine’s Day need candy and jewelry to be special? Do you have any budget-friendly Valentine’s Day traditions?

Posted in:  Shopping, Reflections, Holiday


Colleen says:
February 12, 2015

My husband is plowing for a local high end French restaurant near us and they have given us Gift Certificates for part of our plowing bill so that allows us to have a nice dinner out and not have to dig into other money to have a nice dinner out. We love trading.

Nomad says:
February 12, 2015

I once bought a heart-shaped cake pan for brownies but I lost it before the day came around again! How's about writing down some notes on scratch paper and leaving them all over the place, for her (or him) to find as they progress through their day... Things like, Love is: US. Or, If I know anything about Love, it is because of you. Even, well, searching the internet may suffice, to locate way too many qoutable quips. This is my plan. What's yours?

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