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Valentine’s Day—a day meant to celebrate and honor St. Valentine or a Hallmark Holiday created in order to coerce couples into spending money?

You may receive a different answer depending on if you ask a romantic or a realist, but for the purpose of this article, we will focus more on the realistic side of the argument. That’s not to say that Valentine’s Day can’t be a little of both; even the most stoic of hearts can find joy in a genuine display of affection, but the fact that Americans are expected to spend an estimated $19.6 billion this year according to the National Retail Federation (NRF) proves that the holiday isn’t all about love.

Actually, now that I say that out loud, I’m thinking the realists might have a point.

Why Do People Celebrate Valentine’s Day?

The true origin of Valentine’s Day is a bit mysterious, which simply adds to the romance of the holiday. One theory attributes the celebration to the honor of St. Valentine, a Roman priest who chose to marry couples in secret after the King declared marriage unlawful due to his belief that single men make better soldiers. Another theory suggests that St. Valentine was imprisoned for helping Christian refugees escape harsh Roman prisons and while serving his sentence, fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. It was to this young woman that the first “valentine” was sent—from St. Valentine himself! It is believed that the holiday is celebrated in February (US and Canada) to honor St. Valentine’s death.

Popularity of the holiday for lovers, has waxed and waned over the centuries. However, since the 18th century, Valentine’s Day has been regularly celebrated with small gifts and homemade cards.

Started at Homemade, Now We’re Here

The first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards were made and sold in the US in the 1840s. Since then, commercialized cards have become the standard—a far cry from the handmade, paper cards with puzzles and poems that used to be sent in the 18th century. Now, $8.6 million is spent on sparkling wine in the week leading up to the holiday, 50 million pounds of chocolate are purchased, and $4.3 billion is spent on flowers alone. Despite the majority of couples saying that they feel Valentine’s Day should only be about showing the love, 62% of couples still feel obligated and end up shelling out the money. One participant from an NRF study expressed his frustration:

“Valentine’s Day is a way for retailers to get you to spend money in their stores. People get caught up in the B.S., and I should not have to spend extra to show I care, and my girlfriend agrees. But we both still spent plenty!”

To emphasize this point, average spending per person has increased nearly 22% since 2007.

Giving Economists Cause to Celebrate

Obviously, it’s all coming down to the Benjamins. Remember what we said earlier? $19.6 billion. Americans are expected to spend more than $143 each on Valentine’s Day this year. Let that sink in. We didn’t always spend so much on this day of commercialized love, but companies such as Hallmark, Hershey’s and Flowers.com have carefully, deliberately, and very successfully marketed their way into our hearts and our pockets.

According to a survey of over 6,000 people taken by the NRF, most people take part in Valentine’s Day out of obligation. Not only that, but those who plan to buy for their lover expect their partner to spend more than they themselves plan to spend. This holiday is sounding more and more materialistic, isn’t it?

Who Benefits the Most?

Card companies, candy companies, flower companies, oh my! These are the real winners on Valentine’s Day. The following are the top earners for the holiday:

  1. American Greeting Corporation This card company earns $1.7 billion annually, with 25% of their sales made within the month of February. With earnings like that, we would love Valentine’s Day too!
  2. Flowers.com As their name suggests, this company sells flowers. Though they report more sales for Mother’s Day than Valentine’s day, the company has deemed February 14th a “key floral holiday.” Not surprising when you consider that 23% of those who participate in the holiday purchase flowers, resulting in $2 billion spent nationally.
  3. The Hershey Company With sales topping out at $1.6 billion for the holiday, no one can deny that Hershey’s is doing something right. Nothing says “love” like heart-shaped chocolates, right? Hershey’s CEO Michele Buck couldn’t agree more.
  4. Tiffany & Co. One company that might argue the point that candy is the best way to tell your loved one you care is Tiffany’s. The jewelry company is known for simple, classic pieces that any girl would love to show off in a heartbeat. This means great sales for the company with 19.7% of Valentine’s Day-ers expected to buy jewelry this year.
  5. Limited Brands Co. This parent company oversees brands like Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works. What does that mean? They make a killing during the season of love. Lingerie and personal care items such as those sold at Bath and Body Works are two of the top sellers during Valentine’s Day.

When you think about Valentine’s Day in terms of dollars and cents, it’s easy to feel like the true winners are the companies. One thing most consumers seem to realize, however, is that if you don’t purchase a gift for your loved one, you definitely lose. Our advice? If you can’t got the 18th-century, D.I.Y. route, at least make sure to pick up your boo’s favorite snack and a card that says how much you care. Maybe then you (and your wallet) will be able to slide through V-day relatively unscathed.

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