The rising cost of romance

Depending on your present mood and relationship status, Valentine’s Day is either an internationally recognized celebration of love and romance, or an excessively expensive opportunity to be stressed out and possibly get into an argument with your significant other.

Whether or not your view of February 14th is a little jaded, there’s no denying this: Valentine’s Day is a business and business, as they say, is booming. Love birds (the willing and the not-so-willing) will spend well over $13 billion on Valentine’s Day related purchases this year. And while all things may be equal in love and war, your Valentine’s Day bill won’t be. Men will spend approximately twice as much as women ($175 to $88).

What did you buy me?

If the staple offerings of Valentine’s Day feel a little perfunctory, there’s some comfort in knowing that – at least at one point in time – there was a good reason behind the same old, same old. Chocolate, for example, has pretty much always been considered an aphrodisiac, while roses were once identified as (the Roman goddess of love) Venus’ favorite flower.

While those traditions won’t die anytime soon, expectations seem to be trending in a different direction entirely. Credit comparison site CreditDonkey recently commission a survey on Valentine’s Day buying habits and found a growing disconnect between what men plan to give and what women actually want. In particular, the desire for old “standbys” – flowers, chocolate, dinner – seems to be on the wane, while less traditional, more commercial gifts like jewelry, electronics and gift certificates are gaining in popularity.

For example:

  • Dinner: 64.5 percent of men plan to give, but only 54.8 percent of women actually want.
  • Flowers: 60.3 percent of men plan to give, but only 36.9 percent of women actually want.
  • Chocolate: 41.2 percent of men plan to give, but only 34.5 percent of women actually want.

At the other end of the spectrum:

  • Jewelry: 22.2 percent of women want, but only 18.9 percent of men plan to give.
  • Gift cards: 12.6 percent of women want, but only 7.9 percent of men plan to give.
  • Electronics: 7.1 percent of women want, but only 3.7 percent of men plan to give.

This is interesting because it suggests something that the disenchanted have been saying for some time: that Valentine’s Day is in danger of becoming a hollow celebration of consumerism (unless there's something particularly romantic about gift certificates and iPhones that I'm missing).

The folly of frugality

Since we’re all about smart money management here at MMI (that is what the “MM” part of our name stands for after all), it stands to reason that we’d be advocating for a cost-effective Valentine’s Day. But does a frugal February 14 miss the point of the holiday? As NY Times financial reporter Ron Lieber puts it, “Cut-rate romance feels somehow wrong…It’s a special day, after all.”

Is it in some way offensive to cut financial corners on Valentine’s Day? Would your significant other be weirded out if you used a Groupon to save 40 percent on your fancy, candlelight meal? Those hand-dipped chocolate strawberries are going to cost a heck of a lot less on February 15, but is it really a good idea to wait it out?

Like most deep, quasi-philosophical questions, you’ll need to find the answers yourself. Fortunately, it shouldn’t be too difficult – you just need to talk to your significant other. What do they want? What do they need? What makes them feel loved and cared about? Those aren’t unreasonable questions, because the answers are different for everyone and not always readily apparent. I don’t have any science or research to back this up, but I have a good feeling that for everyone who’s even marginally disillusioned with the holiday there’s a story of Valentine’s Day disappointment, frustration, and miscommunication in their past.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re both honest about your expectations and your resources, Valentine’s Day can be just what it’s supposed to be: a celebration of love. Pure and simple. Don’t buy flowers because you think you’re supposed to. Don’t spend gobs of money because you think you have to. Just show that you care. Really, that’s all anyone truly wants.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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