NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Valentine's day isn't a holiday: It's a barrel filled with dumb, lovestruck fish that the retail industry hovers above with a shotgun and blasts until every last dollar floats to the surface.
There is no supply on the day that's supposed to be the calendar's manifestation of love. Only demand. Endless, guilt-laden demand.
This is the cycle of cynicism Esther Howland and her greeting card industry mafia began when they latched their blood-leeching tentacles onto Valentines Day's in the late 19th Century. This is how DeBeers wrested two months' salary out of Americans' mitts when engagement rings were far less costly and glittery. This is the kind of monetized thinking that turned Valentines Day into a $20 billion industry that trails only the $69.2 billion spent during the winter holidays, according to IBISWorld.
That's roughly $3 billion more than what's spent on Mothers Day. Seriously, you're spending more on future exes and spouses you should be appreciating more throughout the year than you're spending on your own mothers — annually. The childbirth, the patience it takes to raise you, the expense of it all? Somehow it merits only a brief text message and a gift card while someone a step up from a Tinder swipe gets dinner and a movie at a holiday premium. You are terrible, terrible people.
Just about the only thing that prevents people from indulging in this marked-up, overblown, bloated cherub of a "holiday" is a shortfall in their own bank accounts. The National Retail Federation is predicting a modest uptick in spending this Valentines Day after its consumer survey showed lovestruck shoppers shelling out $142.31 a pop, on average, just to keep up appearances. That's up from $133.91 last year, when the holiday didn't fall firmly on the weekend, but it's among fewer overall spenders: In pre-recession 2007, more than 63% of those surveyed said they'd celebrate Valentines Day. That dropped to 55% this year, with an impressive 45% of U.S. shoppers taking a pass on those red boxes of candy and novelty stuffed animals they've been seeing in their supermarket's seasonal aisle since late December.Read More: The $10,000 Gender Wage Gap Is More Real Than Your Ghostbusters Outrage
Those who are falling into the trap this year say they intend to spend $41.55 on flowers, $172 on jewelry and $78 for a night out. What they're not saying is that they're actually going to spend much of their Valentines Day investment on whatever crap is left in their drugstore's displays during their lunch break the week before the holiday. Market research firm NPD Group sniffed out that bit of ugly truth in its most recent research, which found that 78% of Valentines Day shoppers wait until the last week to pick something up.
Bad decisions are in high supply around Valentines Day, and demand for them only increases as they day draws nearer. For those already losing hold of their senses and considering making some ill-advised purchases just hours before the big day, here are the five most lunkheaded things you could possibly spend money on this close to Valentines Day. You may as well take your significant other by the hand, lead him or her into the nearest rest room, hold a fistful of bills over the nearest toilet and make it rain while flushing at regular intervals. It'll be far more entertaining, or at least memorable, than any of the items listed below.
Do you realize how far out of rose-blooming season much of North America is? Here's a hint: If you're about a week or less away from the last time you shoveled snow, you're not seeing roses for a good, long while.
Only on this ridiculous holiday would consumers shell out a premium for a flower that's not only available for the overwhelming majority of the warm-weather months but, in several cases, blooms multiple times during that period. The Society of American Florists, which actually hands out talking points to its various florists to defend the near-indefensible sale of marked-up roses around this time of year, says more than three-quarters of flowers given on Valentines Day are roses, with 257 million roses grown for Valentines Day 2014 alone.
Flower prices feel enough pressure after Christmas, which sucks up 30% of the year's plant and flower purchases and gives growers only 50 to 70 days to work on the Valentines Day supply. It doesn't help that Valentines Day, which ranks third behind Christmas and Mother's Day with 20% of annual plant and flower volume and 25% of sales, vaults to No. 1 when it comes to sales of fresh flowers. Roughly 36% of all flower volume and 40% of flower revenue comes from Valentines Day sales.
With 37.8% of Americans planning to buy flowers for Valentines Day, according to the NRF, demand only increases for cut-flower supply that isn't great to begin with around this time of year. That cost only jumps when you have flowers delivered instead of picking them up on your own. Based on surveys of New York and California florists and input from the Society of American Florists conducted by Cheapism, the average cost of rose delivery in February hovers around $50. Services including FTD and Teleflora raise that rate to between $66 and $79 as the holiday draws closer, and even that's gambling that what you see online is what you'll get upon delivery. Consumerist's Garden of Discontent selection of flower delivery horror stories makes a strong case for spending locally if you're going to spend on out-of-season flowers at all.
4. Dining out
Valentines Day is a terrible time to work in the restaurant industry and a similarly awful time to be a restaurant customer.
The crowds are relentless, the food is a hollow shell of what's usually served and the money is too good to end the madness anytime soon. The folks at Google-owned restaurant ratings guide Zagat say spending on a dinner out jumps from $70 for a typical dinner for two to more than $146 on Valentines Day. It's rookie day at your favorite restaurant, and everybody wants the reservation you can make with ease just about any other day of the year.
Not that they'll enjoy your favorite dishes, mind you. Most restaurants ditch the full menu and specials for a short list of easily prepared entrees that encourage diners to turn over their tables quickly. If you've ever eaten at a banquet hall for any function, you'll have some idea of what Valentines Day dinners will enjoy when the holiday rolls around. Mass-prepared trays of uninspired fare, pre-fixe menus of special dinners and prices approaching double the cost of a standard meal.
It's usually a great way to grift the rubes for some extra cash and balance the books a bit, but U.S. diners are starting to catch on. The National Retail Federation says the percentage of folks planning an evening out has plummeted from 48% in 2008 to just 35% this year, though their average spending has increased from $66 in 2010 (the first year the NRF started tracking such things) in 2013 to $78 this year. That's during a year in which Valentines Day falls on a Saturday and Valentines Day dinner is fair play for pretty much the entire weekend. That puts almost $400 million more on the table for various eateries, even if fewer people are making the trip out.
Jewelry prices really only fluctuate with their commodities, but the demand for specific items — engagement rings, for example — has only driven up prices in recent years. If you're one of the many folks who thinks a Valentines Day proposal is the way to go and not-at-all cliched, prepare to pay dearly for your lack of originality.
According to the editors of engagement and wedding site TheKnot, August vacations make that month the most popular for proposals, but February comes in a close second during the Thanksgiving-through-Valentines Day period the site considers engagement season. As a result, Jewelers of America reports that February makes up 8% of jewelers' annual sales — lagging only behind the November and December holiday season's 32.3% and May's Mothers Day and bridal-driven 8.3%.
As a Valentines Day investment, an engagement ring itself doesn't hold the value it once did. Jewelers of America placed the average value of an engagement ring last year at $4,000 — significantly less than the more than $5,600 figure TheKnot gleaned from its more affluent readers. That's down 25% from pre-recession 2006, but up significantly from the $3,538 the same rings fetched in 2011. You missed your window, and now you're stuck with a costly investment that seldom appreciates. Sorry.
2. Movies and theater
Movie and theater tickets generally cost the same on Valentines Day and Valentines Day weekend as they would any other time of the year. As with every other item on this list, however, demand just makes them much harder to get around this time of year.Read More: Why Nearly Two-Thirds of American Shoppers Aren't Out There Spending
As Comcast-owned movie ticket site Fandango found out, more than 60% of Valentines Day moviegoers buy their tickets weeks in advance. Last year, when Valentines Day fell on a Friday, Hollywood brought in more than $56 million on that day alone, according to BoxOfficeMojo. The top-grossing movie last Valentines Day? The utterly forgettable Kevin Hart remake of the '80s romantic dramedy About Last Night, which took in almost $12.8 million.
We've already told you it's a terrible idea to go to the movies in winter, but Hollywood is loading up Valentines Day to make up for last year's awful, RoboCop-laden debacle. The Fifty Shades of Grey movie releases the day before, as does the weepy Broadway musical adaptation The Last Five Years. Looking for something less lyrical or masochistic? We have the British secret agent X-Men of Kingsman: The Secret Service.
It's not even about the markup on this particular product: It's that they have no holiday-specific merits other than the heart-shaped cardboard container that holds them.
The National Confectioners Association in Washington, D.C., put out a press release last year saying that Americans prefer getting candy to flowers on Valentines Day by a margin of 69% to 31%. The group also contends that U.S. confectionery sales for Valentines Day 2014 are projected to hit $1.057 billion — a 1.9% percent increase over last year — while chocolate will make up about 75% of candy sales on Valentines Day.
This doesn't say as much about the volume of chocolate that's being moved this holiday season as it does about how much you're about to get bilked for those same chocolates. The National Retail Federation doesn't have great news on that front, as 52% of those spending money on Valentines Day items will do so on candy. That's up from 49% a year ago and is the highest percentage since they began recording such data in 2011. The $23.86 they plan to spend is also a record high. All told, that's adding nearly $300 million to the candy dish as total chocolate and candy spending hits nearly $1.7 billion.
Frugality? In the age of $2 gas, we shouldn't really be all that surprised that some consumers are using this year as the opportunity to step up from gas-station chocolates.
— By Jason Notte for MainStreet
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