My thrifty Valentine: The thought counts even more this year

Americans plan to spend about 20 percent less on Valentine’s Day than in 2008.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor
Tita Garcia, who was shopping at Sweet Cupcakes in Boston, says she doesn’t have any big plans for Saturday.
Ann Hermes/CSM
Baker Emily Bao decorates a holiday cake at Sweet Cupcakes in Boston.

Alas, even Cupid is feeling the affects of the recession.

This Valentine’s Day, the nation’s lovebirds – squeezed like everyone else – are getting creative, choosing foot massages and chocolate fondue at home over a dozen roses and a high-priced dinner out.

Others have turned the traditional adult night out into a family affair, baking heart-shaped cakes and celebrating what they see as the real meaning of the holiday.

In short, this year is more like Valentine’s on a dime, as Americans plan to spend about 20 percent less than last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Crimped wallets

Its annual Valentine’s survey found the same number of people who spent money on flowers and chocolate last year plan on doing so by Saturday, but they’re just not going to spend quite as much.

“You’ll find a lot less money being spent on high-end gifts – like jewelry and cars – but candy and flowers, and maybe teddy bears, won’t be affected that much,” says Dennis Jacobe, chief economist at the Gallup Organization. “That’s because of the trade-down effect: You have both the traditional people who are buying those gifts and then those who are” also buying them instead of more expensive ones.

But Corinne Van Plaar has decided to forgo even the flowers and chocolates. She’s spending Valentine’s at home with her two kids, in part because of the recession. She still has a job at Dudley’s Paw, a pet shop on Greenwich Street in New York. But she and her children know several people who’ve recently become unemployed. That’s given her kids a new understanding.

“They’re really grateful for having a roof over their head, heat, and having food on the table,” says Ms. Van Plaar. And so she’s using this Valentine’s Day to remind them of what love is really about. “It’s basically about being together and telling each other that you really care and love each other,” she says. "I’m baking a heart-shaped cake for my kids, and we’re just going to tell each other we love each other – real simple.”

Trading romance for fun

Shawn Ward from Milton, Mass., and his wife have also decided to make Valentine’s a family affair. They usually hire a baby sitter and go out for a romantic dinner. Instead, they’re making it a “fun day instead,” although he wanted to keep the details a secret until Saturday so as not to ruin the surprise.

“This is the first Valentine’s Day we’re doing it all as a family,” he says. “We’re not paying a baby sitter, we’re not doing anything elaborate. It wasn’t intentional, but I guess it is recession-related. We’re being careful.”

But for others, even in a recession, “a rose is rose is a rose,” to quote the poet Gertrude Stein. And florists around the nation say sales are still good, if not great. Thirty-five percent of Americans say they intend to buy their loved ones flowers, about the same percent as last year.

Flower sales robust

At Flora Tech, a storefront flower shop in the trendy Tribeca district of New York, the glass-fronted refrigerators are packed with a rainbow array of specialty cut flowers, but what stands out are the dozens of luscious deep red roses. Sales have been brisk, but the dollar amount rung up for each one is a little bit less than last year.

“Not having roses on Valentine’s is like not having kisses on romantic evenings,” says Michael Collarone (“aka Mikey Flowers”), an owner of Flora Tech. “Granted, everybody’s a little afraid, but ... if somebody deserves roses on Valentine’s Day, they get roses.” Even if it’s just the one.

For now, at least, Peter Glyman is sticking with a full dozen. He isn’t going to let the recession crimp his Valentine’s style. He’s planning on buying his wife flowers and chocolates and taking her out to dinner on Saturday.

“It’s the one holiday you really can’t skimp on,” says Mr. Glyman of Tolland, Conn., adding a joke about the role of the long-suffering husband: “That’s the price we pay.”

Chocolate sales up

And it’s not just flowers that are proving resilient this Valentine’s. As Milton Snavely Hershey, the founder of Hershey Chocolate Co. noted, “Chocolate is a permanent thing.” Chocolatiers around the US say sales are actually up, despite the downturn. For example, Hershey’s recently announced its profits jumped 51 percent.

The Village Chocolatier, a small storefront on the historic green in Guilford, Conn., is also having a record year. The biggest sellers so far this Valentine’s are heart-shaped dark chocolates covered with different-colored foils and chocolate hearts filled with truffles.

“It’s the look and the aroma of chocolate: It’s delicate and sweet, even before you taste it in your mouth,” says Ingrid Collins, owner of the Village Chocolatier, explaining why she thinks her sales are still up despite the economy.

Jane Brown in Myrtle Beach, S.C. doesn’t need to be sold on chocolate’s ability to bring a little romance to an evening. She recommends chocolate fondue and foot massages as an economical Valentine’s Day alternative.

“It isn’t very expensive … and you can feed each other,” she says.

Romance at home

Up in New Hampshire, Charlene Smith-Fadden saw Ms. Brown’s idea on a friend’s Facebook page and decided that might be a good alternative to going out to eat. She and her husband had originally planned to have dinner at the Olive Garden, using a gift card they received through credit-card bonus points.

“Since they don’t take reservations and it is Valentine’s Day, we’re going to go on Friday night instead to avoid the mayhem,” she writes in an e-mail.

It’s part of the family’s effort to be prudent. “The recession hasn’t ‘hit’ us yet, other than the fear that it could, so we’re trying to keep things in line,” she writes.

Still, it is Valentine’s Day and Ms. Smith-Fadden is determined that it be “a GREAT DATE!” recession and all.

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