Valentine’s Day : In critique of Cupid

Valentine’s Day.  In some ways it causes more harm than good.  If you happen to be in a relationship where your values and attitudes to money are completely aligned AND you both feel exactly the same way about the occasion and each other then maybe it’s a wonderful thing.  However, what if…

  • You’re single
  • You’re not together on the day due to work commitments or similar – it adds an extra layer of awful.
  • One partner spends extravagantly, whilst the other does not.
  • One partner is more thoughtful in their gift(s) than the other.
  • Partners have different expectations of the occasion: romance, proposals, sex…
  • … and the pressure of the occasion makes all of it less enjoyable.
  • At least one partner is disappointed
  • … and you fight over it.  Or just let the resentment fester.
  • Everyone else sounds like they had a better time than you.  Even if you had a lovely time, it is tarnished in retrospect.
  • Particularly if you’re still young, it turns into a competition between your friends.  Even if you “win” one year, you’ll lose the next.


Negative emotions

Actually, I have a short story on that last point.  I went to an all girls’ Grammar School in the UK, where academic and other rivalries were fierce.  In my final year, when I was 18 I had a boyfriend who I had been dating for a year or so.  At school during the day the cool girls‘ boyfriends had things delivered to the school!  Helium-filled balloons, flowers, teddy bears, chocolates.  In retrospect, I am sure that the girls put them up to it as I’m not sure many teenage boys would spontaneously think of doing that en masse.  Anyway, at this point in the day I hadn’t even heard from my boyfriend (no mobile phones!) and was feeling disappointed.  This was ridiculous for several reasons.  Firstly, because what he had planned was lovely.  Secondly, because I allowed these other girl’s grab for attention dent my own self esteem.  Thirdly and most importantly, I had not yet learned that Valentine’s Day is a public display of affection and the magnitude of gesture does not necessarily correlate to the magnitude of feelings.  Unfortunately, according to an article in Time Magazine, social media has far from helped teenagers with the feelings of jealousy and inadequacy.

Money Money Money

How much money do people spend on Valentines Day?  This infographic based on the US is pretty enlightening:

valentine's day spending
Image by Niall McCarthy on Statista


I have a lot of thoughts about these statistics, but my first one is: why do pets require a Valentine’s Day gift?!  All of the symbols associated with Valentine’s Day are about romantic love.  The love between adults and soon-to-be adults.  Turning it into a warm feelings occasion is a marketing triumph if ever there was one!  Why just exploit feelings between those romantically involved when you can also guilt pet owners into parting with their money?  As a Brit living in the US, I also find the idea of involving children in Valentine’s Day and giving cards to teachers extremely strange – another method for the greetings card industry to increase their profits.

The other thing that stands out of course is that the average spend is so high.  Just to be average a person needed to spend $136.57 on Valentines Day 2017.  If ever there was an occasion where average is not good enough, it’s Valentine’s Day.  Who was ever bowled over by average?  That’s probably why average keeps increasing (that and the fact that Valentine’s type gifts are more expensive around February 14th – keep an eye on the price of roses if you don’t believe me!) :

Average Valentines Day Spending in the U.S. | Fundivo

Provided by: Fundivo

To help explain the maths, I am in a heterosexual marriage (according to the infographic above, men and women spend differently) and 2018 will be our 16th Valentine’s Day as a couple.  As a very rough calculation I’ll take the average spend of 2011 as the average Valentine’s spend over our 16 years, given it marks the midpoint in our relationship so far.  This would mean that an average couple over the course of a 16 year relationship like ours would have so far spent ($159 + $76) x 16 = $3760.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story.  What if instead of spending that money, the couple saved all of it each year and invested it at an average yield of 4%?

valentines day spending

You read that right.  $5,333.92 :  That’s enough for a really great holiday, or at $5 per lb (Trader Joe’s) getting on for 2.5 tonnes of chocolate!  🙂  Of course, I would rather keep that money in our Index Fund investments for now, allowing us both to retire / work part time in our 40s which I consider to be the most romantic gesture of all.  I know I’m less ordinary on that one :).  Incidentally, if the money spent by all Americans over these 16 had been saved and invested with the same 4% return, the total money in their collective bank would be $356 billion dollars.  That’s more than 1% of their National Debt.  (I’m only picking on the US because of the available data.  Britain is every bit as bad).

If every single expensive Valentine’s Day has created great, lasting memories for you and made your relationship stronger then your $5k was money well spent.  Even from my perspective.  Carry on and enjoy!  If those memories were not because of the money spent, consider trimming back this February.  Or reallocate your spending to the things that make the most difference.  Valentine’s Day is not a particularly special event in our house, because we do nice things for each other all year round.  We always have a nice meal at home on a weekend, so I make something a shade fancier for Valentine’s Day.  We don’t do bought cards either – I prefer to receive a letter.  Although it saves money, the reason is for more than that.  To X, all my love Y on a card requires no imagination.


I love a good meal out from time to time, enjoy wine and chocolates, and the letters that my husband writes me.  All of these things are Valentine’s Day compatible, give genuine enjoyment and don’t generate extra landfill above and beyond our baseline.  Unless your partner loves teddy bears and other heart-encrusted knick knacks, please think twice before buying them!


In summary

Expressing love and gratitude is a wonderful thing, so it’s great that Valentine’s Day serves as a reminder to do so.  However, it also has a lot of pressure and expectations to spend, behave a certain way and be seen by others to do so.  Consider this instead:

  • Buy flowers on a random day spontaneously instead.  The lack of expectation will make their impact all the greater.  And, because it’s a random day your money will go a lot further!
  • Concentrate any spending on the things that bring the greatest joy.
  • Ask yourself what the Valentine’s Day rituals are for:  To make others envious?  In exchange for something from your partner?  Because it’s the norm?  Are these good reasons / do you think anything needs to change?
  • Buy gifts throughout the year as you see items that have meaning and keep them for Valentine’s Day / other occasions / just because.  Nothing says I needed to buy you something, but couldn’t think of anything more than a gift certificate!  They’re great in some situations, but not for the one you love!


valentines day money A Woman Less Ordinary lives, parents, purchases and thinks differently.  With 10 years of teaching experience, she has many effective techniques for managing kids’ behavior (and a lot to say about finance if you’re interested) BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ANY OF IT!

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