Cupid and Capitalism: Valentine’s Day Is for Spenders

Patricia O’Connell

The Beatles once sang “money can’t buy me love.” But that doesn’t stop millions of people from trying–especially when it comes to Valentine’s Day. Even the most dewed-eyed romantic can’t ignore the fact that Valentine’s Day has become a huge commercial opportunity for retailers of everything from traditional gifts–jewelry, chocolates, and flowers—to more distinct gifts. For example, nonprofits like and tout Valentine’s Day as a time to give, and then there are the zoos that will name a cockroach after your ex (or your current loved one, if bugs are their thing) and feed it to another creature. Ah, the circle of life!

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the average person will spend $196 on a Valentine’s Day gift this year, for a total of $27 billion, an increase of 32 percent over last year. And Cupid’s army is feeling the love for traditional shops. Almost 40 percent of Valentine shoppers plan on buying from a brick and mortar store; with Amazon running a close second at 37.43 percent, according to research done by The However, throw in the 7.37 percent of shoppers who plan on making online purchases, and almost 45 percent of Cupid’s tributes will be coming from the Internet in 2020.

Yet despite the upswing in the amount being spent, fewer people overall are buying into the idea that Valentine’s Day is for celebrating—and spending. In 2009, almost three-quarter of adults between 18-34 (72%) and just about two-thirds (65 percent) of those from 35 to 54 —said they planned on celebrating February 14th. In 2019, a survey done by the National Retail Foundation and Prosper Insights and Analytics, showed that just more than half of people under 55 planned to celebrate.

BankRate’s 2020 survey suggests that young love may be the most potent—or at least the most motivating: 75 percent of Millennials plan to spend money on the holiday, and they plan on spending more than anyone else: an average of $208 each. Millennials are putting other generations to shame: Gen Xers expect to spend $160; Baby Boomers $101, and the “Silent Generation” (those born between 1928 and 1945) $43.

And while it may be more blessed to give than to receive, reciprocity is expected: The typical adult believes an average of $102 will be spent on them for Valentine’s Day. Millennials expect something in the $153 range, compared to for modest expectations of $93 and $55 for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, respectively.

The Silent Generation appears to be silent when it comes to expectations, which may reflect how much Valentine’s Day has changed over the generations. “I remember when a simple box of chocolates or a pretty bouquet of flowers was considered a lovely gift,” recalls one woman in her eighties. “Jewelry was reserved for truly special events, like the birth of children, or significant birthdays or anniversaries.” She shakes her head watching her grandchildren—who are just starting out their post-college lives—make “a ridiculous fuss over people they won’t even remember in 10 years.”  She continues: “I’d rather see them spend that money on something for themselves.”

Grandma may have a point. Almost half of the population won’t be celebrating Valentine’s Day in the traditional sense, according to the NRF and Prosper. But about one-third of them will be doing something: making a special purchase, getting together with family and friends, going out. And there’s that group 5 percent of men and 4 percent of women who love to hate Valentine’s Day and will buy an “anti” Valentine’s Day gift (cue the cockroach mentioned above).


In fact, that’s the crowd that Hudson Hound co-owner Lou Rudy caters to on Valentine’s Day. The West Village Gastro Pub, known for its witty sidewalk sayings (contributions are sent daily from fans the world over), “is where the anti-Valentine’s crowd hangs out,” says Rudy. “We play songs celebrating the single life and single people who don’t want to be part of the fake revelry.”

Even those who won’t spend money on themselves or a human love will shell out for a four- (or more-) legged friend. Pet people will likely spend $1.7 billion on Valentine’s gifts for their non-human loved ones; with an average spend of $12.21. Both the total and the average are the highest numbers they NRF has seen since it started collecting data in 2010.

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is may not be a boost for the ego, but it is a big shot in the arm for the economy.