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Valentines Day is a big candy holiday, but a recent survey suggest most people aren't thrilled to receive it. Opt for a romantic night out instead, Colley suggests.

Valentine's Day gifts: What people really want

This Valentines Day, stay away from the usual suspects, like candy and flowers. What most people really want on Valentine's Day is time. 

Ah, Valentine’s Day, the holiday where everyone longs for a box of chocolates and a dozen roses. Or do they?

Money Talks News recently conducted a survey asking, “Which gift would you be most excited to see on Valentine’s Day?” Both men and women in all age groups – 1,503 survey participants in total – were asked to select among five options: candy, jewelry, flowers, a gift certificate, or a romantic date.

While you might expect the most traditional gifts – flowers and candy – to top wish lists, the reality was practically the opposite. Here’s how each of the five fared…

5. Candy

Russell Stover might not want to hear this, but of the five options, candy was the least popular.

In a 2010 survey from the National Retail Federation, 47.2 percent of respondents said they planned to buy candy for their Valentine. Maybe they did – but the recipient might not have been as thrilled as they acted.

Only 11.7 percent of participants in our survey were hoping for candy this year, with men (13.2 percent) preferring sweets more than women (10.4 percent). Not surprisingly, candy is more appealing to the younger crowd: 17.9 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds put it at the top of their list, compared to just 9.2 percent of those over age 65.

4. Jewelry

Judging by the volume of radio and TV commercials for heart-shaped necklaces and diamonds, you’d think we should all be expecting a small, gift-wrapped box soon. According to a 2012 study by BIGinsight for the National Retail Federation, consumers planned to spend $4.1 billion on jewelry out of a total $17 billion in Valentine’s Day spending.

Some of that spending may have been misguided. According to our survey, jewelry was the second least popular gift.

Overall, only 15.4 percent of respondents chose a watch or jewelry. Women were more likely to want jewelry than men, 16.9 percent to 13.8. More surprising was the influence age seems to have on this choice: 23 percent of women 35-44 put jewelry first, while only 8.6 percent of those over 65 did.

3. Flowers

If there’s a gift that says “Valentine’s Day,” it’s roses. But while flowers may be traditional, they’re not all that wished-for. Flowers fell in the middle of our respondents’ wish list, with 16.4 percent overall saying they’re hoping for a flower delivery this year.

If you do plan on flowers, KGO-TV in San Francisco says roses (particularly red ones) will be the most popular, making up about half of all the flowers we buy. A dozen long-stemmed roses will cost about $80 on Valentine’s Day, compared to $62 the rest of the year, according to the Society of American Florists.

In 15 Sexy Tips to Save on Valentine’s Day we give you a bunch of tips to save on flowers, such as buying refrigerated flowers from a store, not online. And never on the side of the road.

2. Gift certificate

The second most popular gift in our survey was the most practical: a gift certificate. Twenty-four percent of respondents said that was what they wanted most. Guys prefer them more than women do, with 28.7 percent of men saying this was No. 1, compared to 19.8 percent of females. Gift cards also appeal to survey takers in rural areas more than urban ones, with 29.8 percent of respondents in rural areas giving them a thumbs up compared to only 21.4 percent of urban dwellers. And when it comes to ages, those 45 and up prefer them more than the younger crowd.

But just because gift cards did well in our survey doesn’t mean you can’t go wrong. From holiday stories "The Five Dumbest Gifts for Your Girl" and "6 Dumb Gifts for Guys – and 6 Smart Ones":

  1. Stay out of the kitchen – Don’t buy gift cards from kitchen stores or gourmet food shops. Sure, your significant other may love to cook, but be careful you’re not implying she should be spending more time cooking for you.
  2. Valentine’s Day isn’t about self-improvement – A free pass to a gym, a month long indoor tanning membership, or a six month supply of diet meals aren’t going to fly on Valentine’s Day.
  3. Clothes shopping trips for guys – Most guys aren’t that interested in clothes and they won’t be excited to get a gift card for them.

Once you know what gift cards to get, don’t buy them directly from the store. In "Best Sites for Buying Discounted Gift Cards," we give you a whole list of sites that sell them on the cheap – up to 35 percent off.

1. Romantic date

The most popular gift on our 2013 Valentine’s Day gift study, picked by nearly a third of respondents: a romantic date. Here’s the breakdown:

  • The was the most popular with both men (30.2 percent) and women (34.3 percent).
  • Respondents in the 35 to 44 age range picked this gift the most (39.5 percent) while many over 65 would just as soon stay home: Only 22.3 percent of seniors opted for a romantic date.

Conclusion? Give time, not stuff

While this survey flies in the face of what we think of as traditional Valentine’s Day gifts, the results shouldn’t be surprising. After all, when you’re on your death bed, you won’t be remembering the stuff you had, you’ll be remembering the times you had. Time with one another is where memories are made, not florist shops.

So rather than using your wallet this year, use your imagination. It doesn’t have to cost much to create a lasting memory. While a 2012 Zagat survey found the average couple planned to spend $147 on a Valentine’s Day meal, romance is free. A walk in the park, a picnic – there are plenty of ways to show that special someone how special they are without spending a dime.

But if a restaurant is part of your plan, at least save where you can. Check out 15 Ways to Save on Eating Out.

Angela Colley is a writer for Money Talks News, where this column first appeared.

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