Rachel Everson looks at the many Valentine’s Day gifts at Longs Drugs in Walnut Creek, Calif. on Thursday, February 08, 2007.
Rachel Everson looks at the many Valentine's Day gifts at Longs Drugs in Walnut Creek, Calif. on Thursday, February 08, 2007. (Dean Coppola/Contra Costa Times)
VALENTINE'S DAY will be easier on Jeremy Jones' wallet this year. He's "off the hook" since he bought his wife, Jaime, an expensive watch for Christmas.

That means he's only responsible for dinner, champagne, flowers and a card. That is unlike other years when he was more extravagant, such as the time he sent her flowers every day for a week leading up to Valentine's Day.

"She works in an office," said Jones, who is 27 and lives in Concord. "Everybody got to see it."

Some people say Valentine's Day has become just another reason to spend money. They may be right.

Americans are expected to spend nearly $17 billion on Valentine's Day this year to romance their sweethearts, a 23 percent increase compared with $13.7 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation.But, does that mean there is more love in the air than years past? No, experts said.

Consumers are just more willing to spend. The reasons vary from having more disposable income to social pressure to prove how much someone cares via gifts and fancy dinners.

The National Retail Federation estimates that about 63 percent of consumers celebrate Valentine's Day with the average person spending $119.67. The occasion ranks third in consumer spending after winter holiday shopping and back-to-school shopping.

"The trend has more to do with disposable incomes and more to do with the effectiveness of retailers to persuade people to buy more," said Daniel Howard, a marketing professor at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business in Dallas.


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"It's not because people care more about their loved ones this year than last year."

Besides traditional gifts, consumers are also spending on nice dinners, weekend get-aways or a spa gift certificate, said Britt Beemer, president of America's Research Group, a consumer behavior marketing firm.

"It's gone from chocolates, candy and lingerie to an experience," Beemer said. "Consumers don't just want a gift for Valentine's Day, they want an experience."

The proliferation of advertisements for Valentine's products make it almost impossible for anyone to ignore the holiday, Howard said.

"Marketers are making it appear that you are a scumbucket if you don't buy and buy big for your sweetheart," he said.

Many drug stores, department stores and supermarkets devote aisles to all things pink and red.

"We're expecting a big Valentine's season this year," said Larry Gatta, vice president of the category management department at Walnut Creek-based Longs Drugs.

Longs carries its own line of Valentine's products called Love Fest that includes items such as a stuffed bulldog with a rose in its mouth, red and white boxer shorts, and a plush feet and hand warmer.

"You need more than a card to show you care," said Paul Hawthorne of Walnut Creek, who has been married for 13 years.

He plans to buy his wife cards "and other things." He has yet to determine the latter.

"Valentine's Day is a nice reminder that you need to get something," Jones said. "But it can get out of hand, and then it turns into a burden ... especially if you always feel like you have to outdo yourself."

During the early years of his relationship, Jones said Valentine's Day was a time to impress his girlfriend, whereas now it is a time to remind his wife he cares about her.

"If I wasn't so busy or if I was a better person, I would do these things more often throughout the year," he said. "Valentine's is a day I can't miss. I have to remember to do something."

Men typically spend about $156.22 and women are estimated to shell out an average of $85.08. The National Retail Federation data showed that men aged 24 to 35 spent the most of any age or gender group: an average of $164.32.

That may be true, Howard said, because younger men have a harder time expressing their feelings in other ways besides gifts, and their relationships tend to be new or still developing.

"For men, there's a lot of social pressure," said Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and professor of business at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "Instead of Valentine's Day being a day when men think, 'I really want to take this opportunity to show my woman I love her,' it's more like, they respond to social pressure by saying to themselves, 'I don't want my woman to think I don't love her.'"

The holiday serves as a thermometer for how well a relationship is going.

"It's like a midterm exam," Yarrow said. "I get to check up now on how much you love me."

Contact Blanca Torres at (925) 943-8263 or at btorres@cctimes.com. Read her blog, Shop Talk, at cctextra.com/blogs/shoptalk.