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What price love? Valentine's Day gifts could set you back hundreds of dollars

The cost of Valentine's Day
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The cost of Valentine's Day | skynesher/E+/Getty Images

The cost of Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day can be a great opportunity to celebrate a partner, friends or family -- as long as you don't let it blow up your budget.

To try and gauge the cost of the holiday, Bankrate put together the Be My Valentine Index, incorporating all the usual Valentine's staples: a dozen red roses, chocolates, a nice dinner for 2, jewelry and champagne. This year's Be My Valentine Index, drawn from our own price surveys, as well as market research companies NPD Group and Nielsen, is $512.02, and we'll keep tabs on it in future years to see where the price goes.

While it's not like Christmas, where going overboard can mean months of credit card bills to contend with, Valentine's Day does exert considerable pressure to spend, says Ron Hill, Naclerio Chair at the Villanova University School of Business in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

"For most couples, the expectation is there regardless of what the economic situation is," Hill says. "Love is one of the few things that we think has that infinite value," making it tough to scrimp on Valentine's Day celebrations even when they may not be in the budget.

A boost during the lull

That makes it a powerful tool for businesses to boost sales, says Priya Raghubir, a professor of marketing at New York University's Stern School of Business.

"Is it a gimmick? No. Is it a festival which marketers have leveraged relentlessly to make a dime? Yes," Raghubir says. "The winter is normally not an ideal time to go shopping because it's cold, it's rainy. People have just had a load of gifts, both that they have bought for others and that they have received. So it's something to try and get them to spend a little more."

Here's a look at where prices are for some of the most commonly purchased Valentine's Day items.

Methodology: Bankrate's Be My Valentine Index tracks prices of: 1 fine-dining dinner for 2, 1 heart-shaped box of chocolates, 12 long-stem red roses, a pair of princess-cut diamond earrings totaling one-quarter carat set in 14K white gold, and a bottle of champagne. Prices for all items but the bottle of champagne and the dinner were obtained from multiple retail websites Jan. 26-29, 2016, and were averaged. The average price for a bottle of champagne comes from Nielsen and the average price of dinner is derived from data provided by NPD Group. The average cost of each item in the Be My Valentine Index has been rounded to 2 decimal places, but the Index total is not rounded.

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A dozen red roses

A dozen red roses | Liliboas/E+/Getty Images

Average price: $41.66

If you're an adult in a relationship, it's more likely than not that you'll be buying flowers for Valentine's Day. A 2015 survey by American Express found that 56% of men planned to buy flowers for their partner on Valentine's Day.

Arrangements of long-stemmed red roses, a holiday staple, are never cheap, but the average price in major cities can as much as double on Valentine's Day, according to a 2014 BloomNation survey done in partnership with Reuters.

In our survey of online retailers, the average price for a dozen red roses was $41.66, but that's likely to rise the closer we get to Valentine's Day.

Growing price of flowers

And chances are, you'll be spending a bit more this year over last. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of "indoor plants and flowers" is up 1.7% over last year.

"The primary effect is supply and demand," says Jerry O'Brien, executive director of the Kohl's Center for Retailing Excellence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Certainly there's a plan to have a lot of roses available. However, they also know the demand is very high, so the market can absorb some additional price, which helps the growers get through those times of the year when there isn't such a high demand."

Fine dining for 2

Fine dining for 2 | Hemant Mehta/Getty Images

Average price: $80.46

Valentine's Day celebrators will have to brave more than crowds to enjoy a nice meal together this year. The average cost of dining out is up 2.3% since last year, 3 times the rate of overall inflation.

Dinner at a fine-dining restaurant will now cost you $40.23 per person, according to market research data from NPD Group/CREST, meaning that a nice Valentine's Day dinner out will run you $80.46, excluding a tip.

The gift of low oil prices

But don't expect that to deter your fellow diners from lining up 10 deep for reservations this year, especially with costs for several big household expenses being pushed down by low oil prices.

"Gas has been at incredibly low prices for a while; home heating this winter should be cheaper for everybody, so I would think the timing of Valentine's Day might be pretty good," O'Brien says. "People might start to believe these low gas prices are staying and they can take that $50 they saved on gas last week and go out for a nice dinner with somebody they care about."

It might even be a better use of your money than gaudy gifts, NYU's Raghubir says.

"You're spending time with your loved one rather than more consumerism," she says.


A heart-shaped box of chocolates

A heart-shaped box of chocolates | Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Average price: $15.11

As you can probably surmise from the huge candy displays at grocery stores, pharmacies and big-box stores, Valentine's Day is a big day for candy sales.

According to the National Confectioners Association, 83% of Americans typically give candy to friends and family on Valentine's Day, helping make Valentine's Day the 4th biggest holiday of the year for candy purchases behind Halloween, Easter and Christmas.

Expect the bill for all that holiday candy to be a little higher this year. The price of candy rose 2.9% between December 2014 and December 2015, outpacing the general Consumer Price Index, which went up only 0.7% during the same period.

Caution required

Chocolate, in particular, may cost you more than last year, thanks to rising cocoa prices, O'Brien says.

"Just as a commodity, globally, the price of chocolate has gone up quite a bit over the last year," he says.

The average price of a heart-shaped box of Valentine's Day chocolates weighing between 7.5 ounces and 8.5 ounces averaged $15.11 among the retailers and brands we surveyed.


Diamond earrings

Diamond earrings © Heintje Joseph T. Lee/Shutterstock.com

Average price: $323.26

Gift-giving is the most popular way to show you care on Valentine's Day. More than 6 in 10 U.S. couples said they planned to purchase a gift for a partner, according to the American Express survey.

If this year is like past years, many couples will choose to give jewelry. The most recent release from the Census Bureau found that in February 2013, jewelers sold around $2.5 billion in merchandise.

Value considerations

The price of jewelry has declined recently, falling 1% since last year, possibly driven by lower gold and silver prices. But it's still smart to exercise caution when buying jewelry, O'Brien says. It can be hard to figure out what a fair price for an item is because there are so many factors that can influence value, especially when it comes to gemstones, which can vary greatly in color, clarity and other factors.

O'Brien says the biggest problem when shopping around is "it's so difficult for the layperson to understand the quality differences."

In our price survey, we found prices on seemingly identical sets of diamond earrings that varied from $215 to more than $800. Overall, the average price for a pair of princess-cut, one-quarter carat diamond earrings with moderate color was $323.26.


A bottle of champagne

A bottle of champagne | Andy Roberts/OJO Images/Getty Images

Average price: $51.54

If you're a fan of popping a bottle of bubbly to celebrate Valentine's Day, good news: That bottle may be slightly cheaper this year than last. Prices of all types of wine consumed at home fell an average of 1.2% compared with a year ago, according to the Consumer Price Index.

The strength of the dollar overseas may be contributing to falling wine prices, but there's another, longer-term trend at work here, according to Villanova's Hill.

"We're getting increasing competition," Hill says. "There was a time when you'd never heard of Chilean wines, or South African wines, or wines from Australia. Like a lot of commodities from other places, they're flooding the market."

However, the top of the sparkling-wine heap, champagne, still won't come cheap. According to data from Nielsen, the average bottle of champagne sold in the U.S. last year cost $51.54. A cheaper alternative: Prosecco, a sparkling wine from Italy that will cost you an average of only $11.99 a bottle, and is flying off shelves, according to the Nielson data.

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