MONEY gifts

6 Totally Unromantic Truths About Valentine’s Day Spending

Greeting cards to send to your loved ones for Valentine's Day
Richard Levine—Alamy

Sure, people celebrate Valentine's Day to show how much they love that very special someone in their lives. But that's not the only reason people spend big bucks for Valentine's Day.

You’ve probably seen the headlines about how Americans will spend $18.9 billion on Valentine’s Day this year, which would be an all-time high. Before you buy the idea that Americans are simply gaga over the big lovey-dovey holiday and eager to splurge to demonstrate their feelings, let’s take a closer look at how people are spending their Valentine’s dollars, how spending changes over time—and why we celebrate this day the way we do in the first place.

Here’s some research to consider regarding Valentine’s Day spending:

One-quarter of men spend because they feel obligated or are just trying to get lucky. According to an Offers.com poll, roughly half of men say they celebrate Valentine’s Day in order to “spend quality time with my partner.” However, nearly one-quarter of men admit that they mark Valentine’s Day out of a sense of obligation or “because they’re hoping to get lucky.” Meanwhile, 13% of women say they celebrate just “because everyone else does.”

The longer the relationship, and the older you get, the less you spend. Love may or may not fade over time, but the likelihood of going all out on Valentine’s gifts sure seems to die the longer couples are together. One poll shows that men spend an average of $154 on fiancés, versus $136 for wives, while another survey indicates those in the prime spouse-seeking and newlywed 25- to 34-year-old demographic outspend all other age groups. Unsurprisingly, couples with longer-lasting relationships are less likely to make Valentine’s Day plans far in advance. Roughly half of couples who have been together for less than five years say they prepare at least a month ahead for Valentine’s, compared with only one-third of people who have been a significant other for more than five years.

Americans will spend more than $700 million on Valentine’s gifts … for pets. That’s according to the National Retail Federation. And that’s roughly double what we spend on Halloween costumes for pets, which is probably good—surely your dog prefers a Valentine’s snack to being dressed up in a ludicrous Madonna outfit.

1 in 5 women buy Valentine’s gifts … for themselves. Data cited by the Society of American Florists indicates that while men are more likely to buy Valentine’s gifts for their spouses—63% of men versus 30% of women—the ladies are more inclined to buy for their moms (30% versus 11% of men), friends (19% versus 7%) and themselves (19% versus 1%).

Rose prices spike just in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s not just your imagination. Roses really do get more expensive around February 14. While wholesale prices vary depending on location, florists say they typically pay twice as much for roses in early February than they do at most other times of year. Increased transportation costs and extra labor are among the reasons often given for why rose prices are inflated around now, but overall it boils down to supply and demand: Roses cost more for Valentine’s Day because people are willing to pay more.

The two people most responsible for modern-day Valentine’s Day were entrepreneurs trying to make a buck. For centuries, Valentine’s Day was a mashup of a wild Roman pagan festival known as Lupercalia and the celebration of two Catholic saints (both named Valentine) who were executed on February 14. By the Middle Ages, it had become somewhat of a tradition to offer a handmade card or flowers to one’s beloved. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s, however, that it became popular to give mass-produced chocolates and Valentine’s messages, and we have two business-minded visionaries to thank for this.

First, there’s Richard Cadbury, a member of the famous chocolate-making family that been perfecting the bite-sized delectable then known as “eating chocolate.” Cadbury had the brilliant idea of packaging and selling these chocolates in heart-shaped boxes for Valentine’s Day, and the rest is history.

MORE 17 Memorable Kisses Throughout History

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, a Massachusetts woman named Esther Howland was building her reputation as the “Mother of the American Valentine” for designing and popularizing high-quality lace-paper Valentine cards featuring messages of love and devotion. It was unusual at the time for a woman to run a business, yet Howland set up an all-female assembly line and kept the New England Valentine Company thriving for decades. First and foremost, one museum curator said of Howland to NPR, “She’s a businesswoman … I mean it is lacy, beautiful, feminine material that she’s producing, but she’s producing it successfully and making money.”

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