TIME consumer spending

Here Is Proof the Class of 2015 Is the Most Spoiled Ever

Graduation
Getty Images

These numbers are staggering

For all the parents who have spent four years gritting their teeth and writing checks to pay for their kids’ college tuition — sorry, you’re not done yet. This year’s crop of graduates are going to be raking in a record $4.8 billion in graduation gifts, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey.

The NRF has been tracking spending on college graduation gifts for a decade now, and the outlay has never been higher.

After hanging out below $4 billion from 2009 through 2011, Americans’ collective spending on graduation gifts shot up in 2012. Last year, people gave $4.7 billion in graduation gifts, the survey’s previous record. The amount spent by each individual on graduation gifts also hit a new high this year, rising from a tick under $98 last year to $102.50 this year, and the average graduation gift-giver is shopping for two people — so those new grads will have to share the wealth.

Cash is the most popular gift — more than half plan to give it — so it’s possible some of this largess could be going towards the student loan debts many of these young adults have accumulated over the past four years. But the Benjamins are just the tip of the iceberg: More than 40% will give new grads congratulatory cards, about 30% will give gift cards, 13% will give clothes (that interview outfit might be a subtle hint) and more than 10% will buy them electronic gadgets, an increase over the 8% who bought new grads shiny new devices last year.

NRF results show that the ones giving the most green might be mom and dad: More than 60% of people between the ages of 45 and 54 who plan to give graduation gifts will give cash, and they’ll spend an average of $126.43. Older adults are also more likely than the overall pool of gift-givers to give gift cards.

MONEY Holidays

5 Ways to Get Back at Your Ex and Celebrate Being Single on Valentine’s Day

name label with cockroach on it
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (cockroach); Eric Hood (label)

There are many ways to celebrate one's love on Valentine's Day. But how about some ideas for folks who want to spew hate at their exes, or at the contrived holiday in general?

Rest assured that there are plenty of ways for embittered haters to participate in Valentine’s Day too. Here are five possibilities:

Name a Cockroach After Your Ex
The San Francisco Zoo has a couple of unusual Valentine’s Adopt-an-Animal specials for those eager to get over a relationship gone bad. For a donation of as little as $25, the zoo is encouraging spurned lovers to adopt either a Giant Hairy Scorpion or a Hissing Cockroach and name it after one’s ex. “Nothing says ‘I’ve moved on’ like adopting a giant cuddly cockroach in the name of your favorite ex,” the zoo’s sales pitch states. “With a little luck, this generous donation will release your bad love life karma so that you never have to encounter a cockroach again.”

After adopting and naming one of these creatures, zoo patrons are given the opportunity to enter the names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails of anyone they’d like to notify about the event. Hmmm… now who might you want to tell?

Machine Gun Memories of Your Ex
The new “Just Divorced” Experience from a Sin City-area shooting range called Machine Guns Vegas welcomes customers to fire a choice of automatic weapons at items from their old relationship, “including (but not limited to) wedding dresses, tuxes, and marriage certificates.” The package, which is available starting February 14 for a limited time, costs $499 for up to four guests, and comes with 40 rounds of ammunition and transportation to and from the range.

The owner of Machine Guns Vegas—who, believe it or not is named Genghis Cohen “because his father admired Genghis Khan,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal—said that while most personal articles are fair game for blowing away, there are restrictions: “They’re not allowed to shoot a picture. They can do it privately, but if a nut job shoots a husband or wife in the light of day, we don’t want to be involved in a lawsuit.”

Donate Stuff from Your Ex to Charity
Instead of blowing mementos of your old relationship to bits, you could do some good with them by participating in Donate Your Heartbreak, a program from WebThriftStore.com. The New York City-based site is asking people to consider donating gifts and other valuables. It will sell the items online and turn over 80% of each sale to one of five dozen charities.

Jewelry is a particularly popular category for “Heartbreak” donations, and one participant explained to the Daily News why it was so easy to hand over a watch that was given to him by his ex. “The gift was ‘you’re always running behind so I thought I’d buy you a watch,'” he said. “I think at that point I knew most of the sugar is gone from this relationship.”

Send Some Hate Mail
Valentine’s Day isn’t just for proclamations of love. It’s also a fine time for unleashing other kinds of feelings—like how much you loathe your ex or Valentine’s Day in general. Luckily, there are virtual and physical cards out there allowing celebrants to issue forth all these messages and more.

The Just Wink greeting card company boasts Valentine’s cards with messages such as “Besties Before Testes” and “Most Guys Are A******,” the latter slogan encapsulated in an oversized pink heart. Someecards, meanwhile, offers a dizzying number of funny and quirky messages to be shared in mock celebration of the holiday, including “This is the most special of the estimated one billion cards that will be sent this Valentine’s Day” and one intended especially for exes: “It’s not you, it’s someone else better than you.”

Party at an Anti-Valentine’s Event
No matter if you hate your ex or simply detest how forced and fake the Hallmark holiday of Valentine’s Day can seem, you’ll be welcomed at the many anti-Valentine’s dinners, happy hours, and parties happening around the country. Anti-Valentine’s themed events have been popping up for years, particularly in cities with large populations of young people. This year, there are plenty of options for Valentine’s haters in Dallas, Portland, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and beyond.

Some anti-Valentine’s events are basically just drink specials (with festive and colorful names like the X-Boyfriend), while others are mixers for those eager to get back into the game, and still others award prizes for people willing to share their worst “dumped” stories. Perhaps most unusual of all, a radio station in Wisconsin is hosting an Anti-Valentine’s Gaming Party. What better way to celebrate singlehood and make your ex jealous than by playing Mario Cart for hours on end? Or something. Plus, it’s a benefit for the Make a Wish Foundation.

 

MONEY Holidays

These Miserable Guys Say Valentine’s Day Is a Ploy By ‘Oppressive Chocolate Capitalists’

Vday chocolates on shelf
Denis Beaumont—AP

Imagine if the Grinch hated Valentine's Day instead of Christmas. A group of dudes with this kind of mentality are planning a march in protest of the "blood-soaked conspiracy of Valentine's Day" on Saturday.

A reasonable case can be made that Valentine’s Day is too forced and commercial. It’s the ultimate Hallmark holiday, the argument goes, in which many people spend purely out of a sense of obligation, based on traditions cooked up ages ago by entrepreneurs pushing chocolates, greeting cards, jewelry, and roses. This week, for instance, the Miami Herald reported that over the course of half a century, Colombia has spent a fortune developing and marketing flowers to export to the U.S., and the result is that today three out of four flower orders delivered on Valentine’s Day originate in the country.

The point is that no matter how much Valentine’s Day has to do with genuine displays of love and affection, it’s also about marketing and making money. Big whoop, you might think. Every holiday, from Thanksgiving to Halloween and beyond, is exploited by somebody trying to make a buck.

Apparently, however, one angry group of men in Japan feel that they can’t stay quiet or simply ignore the holiday they view as offensive and oppressive. They are planning a “Smash Valentine’s Day” protest march in Tokyo on Saturday to get their voices heard.

As you might imagine, these haters and their movement aren’t big hits with the ladies. In fact, they admit as much. The group’s name is Kakuhido, which translates roughly as “Revolutionary Alliance of Men That Women Find Unattractive” or just “Revolutionary Unattractive Male Alliance.”

A call to arms on has been issued on group’s website, the (UK) Telegraph reported. “The blood-soaked conspiracy of Valentine’s Day, driven by the oppressive chocolate capitalists, has arrived once again,” reads the announcement about Saturday’s planned demonstration. “In order to create a brighter future, we call for solidarity among our unloved comrades so that we may demonstrate in resolute opposition to Valentine’s Day and the romantic industrial complex.”

On the one hand, Katsuhiro Furusawa, who founded the “Revolutionary” group in 2006 after (surprise) being dumped by his girlfriend before Christmas, is sometimes known to express a sensible point of view. “The love the mass media is talking about is actually commercial love,” he explained of Valentine’s Day to one magazine. “They are using love to turn people into consumers.”

Yet Tokyo Reporter noted that, by and large, “Kakuhido’s beliefs are misogynistic.” They’re anti-woman, anti-marriage, and also just plain angry and sad. And it’s not just Valentine’s Day they hate. The group hosted an anti-Christmas demonstration last December, reportedly because they were “tired of feeling lonely and depressed by the lack of female companionship during the holiday season.”

Sad. Let’s hope that come Saturday, a Grinch-like miracle happens and the hearts of Kakuhido members grow three sizes on Valentine’s Day.

MONEY Love and Money

10 Luxe Valentine’s Gift Ideas for $25 or Less  

'I Love You' Ceramic Trinket Dish, available at Nordstrom
'I Love You' Ceramic Trinket Dish, available at Nordstrom

You don't need to spend a lot to show that special someone how much you care.

On a recent Money Match game show episode, couples said they estimate spending anywhere from $100 to $500 on Valentine’s Day gifts. And, wives tended to guess more than their husbands. (No pressure, fellas).

For those of us whose budgets fall more in the two-figure range, consider these seven special gift ideas, all for $25 or less.

Some of these items are available online only, but if you act now there’s a good chance you can still get your gift in the mail before Saturday.

On the cutesy side…

For her: Either the I Love You Ceramic Trinket Dish from Nordstrom ($8) shown above or the I Like You oval tray from Fishs Eddy ($25) is sure to put a smile on your beloved’s face. I speak from experience: My husband actually got the latter for me for Christmas. It’s a lovely decorative place to rest a necklace, small knick-knacks or treats.

For him: Sticking with the V-day theme, how about heart-printed boxers from J.Crew ($15) or Gap ($13)? They’re cute and flirty, but also practical.

Geo Heart Boxers, available at
Gap Geo Heart Boxers

For the sweet-toothed…

More than half of consumers plan to buy candy for their sweetheart on Valentine’s Day – more than any other type of present. If you want to go for that box of chocolates, consider skipping the Russell Stover variety from CVS and, instead, splurging on a more luxurious treat. Fancy british chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker sells an adorable Milk Chocolate Handbag and Heels ($15) box in which the chocolates are in the shape of shoes!

For gifts that pamper…

For him: Give the gift of the perfect shave. The starter kit from the Art of Shaving ($25) features pre-shave oil, shaving cream, after-shave balm and a trial size badger shaving brush.

Unscented Starter Kit,
Unscented Starter Kit

For her: You can gift wrap the spa feel with a cozy bathrobe. This one is only $18 at Amazon and comes in a number of attractive colors. (My personal fave is dark pink.) Pair it with a shower and moisture set from The Body Shop, on sale currently for just $5. Or simply give her some aromatherapy with the grapefruit-rose scented Voluspa Pink Citron candle from Nordstrom ($16).

Maison Blanc - Pink Citron' 2-Wick Candle, Available at Nordstrom
Maison Blanc Pink Citron 2

And, finally, an alternative to overpriced roses….

Opt for a single orchid. It won’t be expected and is no less a symbol of love and strength. Plus, it should last longer and be a constant reminder of the fact that you didn’t forget Valentine’s Day! Purchased online they tend to be on the pricier side. I suggest buying at a local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, where they can be found for less than $25.

 

More from Money.com:

MONEY gifts

5 Valentine’s Day Gifts If You Want Her to Break Up With You

Vermont Fifty Shades of Grey Teddy Bear
John Goodman Vermont Fifty Shades of Grey Teddy Bear

These five gift ideas could be exactly what your very special someone wants for Valentine's Day. More likely, however, is that they'll come across as creepy, tacky, or otherwise ill-advised.

We’ve seen all of the ideas below promoted in earnestness as good gift options for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day this year. And sure, for the right recipient, these gifts could be seen as hilarious, romantic, charming, and perhaps even deeply thoughtful. But you better be 100% sure you know your significant other well enough to foresee her reaction, because these oddball ideas also come with the serous risk of misfiring, to put it mildly.

S&M Teddy Bear
Falling somewhere along the spectrum of amusing to downright creepy, the Vermont Teddy Bear Company is selling a bear with “smoldering gray eyes, a suit and satin tie, mask – even mini handcuffs,” based on the erotic novel and movie Fifty Shades of Grey. “She can’t help but submit to loving him,” gushed the company’s description of the limited-edition bear, which retails for $89.99.

A warning at the bottom of the bear’s web page states “Contains small parts. Not suitable for children.” And, well, to state the obvious, the fact that it contains small parts is hardly the only reason this bear, made with “the silkiest fur we can get our paws on,” isn’t a good idea for kids.

Clearance Sale Lingerie
According to a survey conducted on the behalf of Offers.com, the top two items that women DON’T want to receive from their sweethearts are stuffed animals (presumably, especially not stuffed animals that come with handcuffs) and lingerie. In a separate survey, from BeFrugal.com, nearly 90% of women (and 79% of men) said it was OK to look for ways to save on Valentine’s Day gifts.

Still, buying lingerie is a risky proposition for guys, seeing as the recipient could be insulted if the article in question is deemed too slutty, too prudish, or the wrong size. And if the main reason the buyer decided to go with a certain article of lingerie is that it was 80% off, then you’ll certainly give the impression you’re too cheap. So let’s hope the only folks following the advice to buy deeply discounted lingerie for Valentine’s Day are women making the decisions for themselves.

Candle-Lit White Castle
In what has become an annual tradition, the blue-collar mini-burger chain White Castle is welcoming customers to “enjoy a romantic evening with tableside service” at select locations around the country on February 14. Reservations are required. Dozens of Waffle House locations are doing the same, with special Valentine’s Day dinners including normally unheard-of amenities such as candlelight and tablecloths.

On the one hand, with the right dinner partner it could be an absolute hoot to mock-celebrate Valentine’s Day at a down-and-dirty fast food joint, or perhaps a so-called “breastaurant” like Tilted Kilt. On the other, bringing an unsuspecting date expecting a fancy romantic Valentine’s dinner to such an establishment could be a recipe for getting a drink thrown in your face.

Animal Sex Lecture & Dinner
On February 14, the Detroit Zoo is hosting the fourth annual “Love Gone Wild,” a three-and-a-half-hour long adult-only event that includes a champagne welcome drink, passed hors d’oeuvres, a sit-down dinner, a commemorative gift, and, most interestingly, “a candid and entertaining look at how zoo animals do the ‘wild thing,'” according to promotional materials.

Yes, the $85 event’s focus is animal sex at the zoo, which ranges from “prolonged public bouts of coitus to brief clandestine assignations,” a press release explained. And yes, the lecture is quite detailed and graphic. “We not only talk about [sex], we name names, show pictures and critique performance.”

Vacant Lot in Newark, N.J.
Let’s just say it’s probably unwise to buy a vacant lot in Newark and promise to live on the property for five years without consulting your significant other. That goes even if the property is being sold for a mere $1,000, which is the special “lovebirds” Valentine’s Day offer on the table on February 14. Couples who are interested in any of the 1,000 available vacant lots should go to Newark City Hall on Saturday morning with a $500 down payment, as well as proof you and your partner can cover construction costs needed to make the property inhabitable within 18 months of closing.

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.”

TIME U.K.

Here Are The Most Surprising Gifts the British Royal Family Received Last Year

Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge And Prince Harry Visit Tower Of London's Ceramic Poppy Field
Samir Hussein—WireImage From Left: Prince Harry, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge visit The Tower Of London's Ceramic Poppy installation 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' by artist Paul Cummins, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of First World War on Aug. 5, 2014 in London.

Buckingham Palace has revealed all the official gifts given to to royal family in 2014

Over the course of a year, Britain’s royal family are presented with hundreds of gifts as they go about their official duties. On Wednesday Buckingham Palace and Clarence House released lists of the official gifts the royal family received in 2014. Among the expected assortment of commemorative coins, bottles of wine or whisky, plaques, framed paintings, jewels and cultural tokens, are a few surprises.

The most surprising gifts included:

  • a miniature throne from the Game of Thrones series (given to Queen Elizabeth)
  • a PhD thesis (given to Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall)
  • an automatic rifle, decommissioned (given to — who else? — Prince Harry)
  • 12 boxes of mangos (given to Prince Andrew)
  • an Arctic Monkey’s CD (given to Prince Andrew)
  • Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices (given to Prince Andrew)

The names of most gift givers is not noted so there is no way of knowing if Hillary Clinton gave her own book to Prince Andrew.

Though Prince William and wife Kate received numerous gifts, as well as many gifts for Prince George, nothing unusual stands out in their the official gift listing. Then again, the royal couple gave the vaguest descriptions of their gifts — jotting down “book” or “selection of condiments” — so perhaps there were some surprises in the mix as well.

Last year’s collection of gifts aren’t among the most unusual the royal family, namely Queen Elizabeth, has ever received. The most bizarre gifts the Queen has been given over the years include live animals; several horses, a canary from Germany, jaguars and sloths from Brazil, two black beavers from Canada, two young giant turtles from the Seychelles and an elephant called Jumbo from the Cameroon. (The more exotic animals are cared for by the London Zoo.)

MONEY money etiquette

Help! Should I Accept Money From a Neighbor I Barely Know?

Here's your chance to give advice in the pages of MONEY magazine.

In MONEY’s “Readers to the Rescue” department, we publish questions from readers seeking help with sticky financial situations, along with advice from other readers on how to solve those problems. Here’s our latest reader question:

I’m a new mom. A neighbor, who we don’t know well, gave my husband $50 to put toward diapers. Should we accept the money?

What advice would you give? Fill out the form below and tell us about it. We’ll publish selected reader advice in an upcoming issue. (Your answer may be edited for length and clarity.)

Please include your contact information so we can get in touch; if we use your advice in the magazine, we’d like to check with you first, and possibly run your picture as well.

Thank you!

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TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: Christmas By the Numbers

Everything you didn't know you needed to know about Christmas

Christmas was Thursday, but do you know how many Christmas trees were sold this year and how many of them were real? Do you know how much the average American spent on gifts this year? How about the most downloaded Christmas song? Hint: The answer to that one is featured at the end of Love Actually.

If you’re still in the Christmas spirit (or even if you aren’t), watch Friday’s installment of Know Right Now to learn some yuletide facts about this year’s X-Mas.

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