Last year, Americans spent around $19.6 billion for Valentine’s Day, making it the third-largest shopping holiday in the United States.
Even though we spend a lot of money on the holiday, we aren’t planning that far ahead for it, as 46 percent of Americans wait to shop for Valentine’s Day until February. (That’s less than two weeks, for the mathematically challenged among us.)
We wanted to take a closer look at how this money is typically spent in the U.S., but before we dive too deeply into the financial side of things, let’s find out how Valentine’s Day became the holiday we know and (slightly over half of us) love today.
How Did Valentine’s Day Start?
The holiday itself was named after an actual person—Valentine—who lived in the third century A.D. Although the accounts differ as to the reason, Valentine was beheaded by the Roman emperor on February 14, and this date later became a holiday celebrating the life of Saint Valentine.
By Shakespeare’s day more than a thousand years later, the word “valentine” had come to have a romantic meaning, and was used in the same way we would ask someone to be our Valentine today. In fact, “valentine” is used this way in Hamlet.
After the rise of automation in the 1700 and 1800s, mass production of cards became possible, and in England, cards with romantic poems were sent to loved ones on Valentine’s Day. This practice later spread to other parts of the world.
In the mid-1800s, the Cadbury family (yes, the Cadbury chocolates family!) started the tradition of sending boxed chocolates to loved ones on Valentine’s Day.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Victorian Era men and women sent what was known as a “vinegar Valentine” to anyone they did not want to receive romantic attention from. These cards had silly insults on them instead of the typical romantic poetry of the day.
Sweetheart Valentine candies, the little heart-shaped candies with Valentine messages on them, got their final makeover in 1901, when they went from being a flat wafer to the familiar heart shape we recognize today.
As you can see, many companies and people over several centuries contributed to the holiday we’re familiar with today; so, although it may feel like it to the cynical among us, Hallmark did not actually create Valentine’s Day. (However, Valentine’s Day is the second most popular day to give cards—topped only by Christmas.)
But it’s no secret that Valentine’s Day is a big shopping holiday in the United States. How big? We crunch the numbers below.
How Much Are We Spending?
The $19.6 billion spent last year was slightly down from the $19.8 billion spent in 2017. We take a look at trends in Valentine’s Day spending in the following chart.
You can see that Valentine’s Day spending hit a ten-year low in 2011, only reaching $17.5 billion. Sales sharply increased in 2012 and 2013 with a slight dip in 2014, then climbed again in 2016 and 2017. While 2018’s sales decreased slightly, spending for 2019 was expected to top the $20 billion mark.
We split out average Valentine’s Day spending among generational lines to see if there were any differences. The results are shown below.
As you can see from the chart, in 2019, the youngest set of Millennials (up to age 29) planned to spend an average of $266 on Valentine’s Day.
The group that planned to spend the least was, interestingly, their older cohorts—Millennials between the ages of 30 and 38—who only planned on spending an average of $109 on Valentine’s Day.
Gen Xers planned to spend the most, averaging around $268 for Valentine’s Day, with Baby Boomers falling in the middle with planned spending of $151 on average.
However, Baby Boomers were the only generation whose partners expected them to spend more for the holiday than the purchaser was planning. Baby Boomers expected that their partners would spend an average of $198 on Valentine’s Day, a difference of $47.
The other generations expected their partners to spend less for Valentine’s Day than their partners were planning.
In general, men spend more than women by a wide margin. On average, men were planning to spend around $229 for Valentine’s Day in 2019, while women planned to spend around $98.
Next, we take a look at who we’re giving Valentine’s Day gifts to, and how much we expect to give to each.
As expected, significant others get the lion’s share of spending, but pets made the list, too, with Americans planning to spend, on average, about $7 on their pets. Americans planned on spending a little less than $9 on average for their children’s classmates and teachers, only about $1.50 more than their pets.
Of course, these figures are just an average, and many Americans will spend more than average or less than average in these various categories.
So what about all the single people out there? Do they miss out on the Valentine’s Day goodies?
Actually, in 2019, 49 percent of Americans were not planning on celebrating Valentine’s Day. We look at what those who weren’t going to celebrate were going to do instead.
Of the 49 percent of American men and 49 percent of American women who said they were not going to celebrate Valentine’s Day, 25 percent of women still planned to do something to observe the day, whether that was by splurging on themselves, getting together with friends and/or family, or buying an “anti-Valentine’s Day” gift.
An almost equal percentage of men (23 percent) were also still planning to do something to observe the day, as laid out in the chart above.
When singles splurge on themselves, women tend to spend an average of $40 on themselves, while men generally spend an average of $71.
Since just about everyone buys something for Valentine’s Day (whether they’re celebrating it or not), we decided to take a look at where we’re spending nearly $20 billion a year and what we’re spending it on.
Where and What Are We Buying?
Where were most people planning on making Valentine’s Day purchases? Surprisingly, according to the National Retail Federation, or NRF, department stores topped the list in 2019, ahead of online retailers. We break this down a little more in the chart below.
As you can see, discount stores also beat out online retailers by a good 5 percent. Only 9 percent of shoppers planned on making a purchase from a jewelry store for Valentine’s Day.
Now that we know where people are shopping, what types of gifts are they buying? It probably comes as no surprise that in terms of dollar amounts, flowers and jewelry were the top-selling items, followed by clothing, specialty items, and salon or spa visits.
Let’s take a closer look at the item with the largest amount in sales: flowers. Who’s buying them and what are they buying?
It may surprise you to know that 63 percent of those purchasing flowers were under the age of 35.
Of course, red roses remain the most popular Valentine’s Day flower among all ages, but people also looked up the following (in order of popularity):
It was estimated that around one-third of U.S. households would be purchasing flowers in 2019 (not all on Valentine’s Day—but most of them!) Mother’s Day just beats out Valentine’s Day in terms of flower-selling holidays.
Although not in our chart above, chocolate and candy remain popular items to purchase for Valentine’s Day. In 2014, the amount of chocolate and candy purchased for Valentine’s Day was staggering, as expanded upon in the graphic below, and that number has continued to grow over time.
In 2019, roughly 52 percent of Valentine’s Day shoppers planned to buy chocolates or candy, translating to about $1.8 billion in sales. Interestingly, only about 32 percent of Americans wanted chocolates—20 percentage points less than those who planned on buying chocolate/candy this year.
You may be thinking, “What about lingerie? Surely that’s a popular item to buy for the holiday!” Yes, but it’s not a very popular item to get. Check out the chart below.
As you can see, while more than one-fifth of men buy lingerie for their significant others, only 2 percent of women actually want to receive lingerie as a present.
So what else don’t people want for Valentine’s Day? The following were the least-wanted items for Valentine’s Day. (Birthdays or Christmas might be better times for some of the gifts on this list.)
- Gym memberships
- Sports equipment
- Valentine’s Day-themed stuffed animals
We’re not sure who out there is still creating mixtapes for their significant others on Valentine’s Day, but according to the list above, unless your loved one has specifically asked for one, maybe try something different next time.
It may surprise you to know that around 43 million Americans will get a Valentine’s Day gift they didn’t want, and nearly $9.5 billion will be spent on those unwanted gifts. So, make sure you know what your loved ones want before splurging on something they’ll just try to return later.
But a bad gift is better than no gift at all. According to a recent survey, 53 percent of women would end a relationship if they didn’t receive a Valentine’s Day gift from their significant other.
Take her out for dinner if nothing else and salvage that relationship! Speaking of—where are people eating out for Valentine’s Day?
Yep, this gets its own special category. Slightly more than one-third of Americans dine out on Valentine’s Day—whether they’re in a relationship or single. That would mean that Valentine’s Day is restaurants’ second busiest day of the year!
So, what are people eating when they dine out? What about those who choose to dine in? We examine both in the charts below.
Among all the options out there for Valentine’s Day diners, the top three cuisines chosen were Italian food, French food and seafood.
Of those, 17 percent chose Italian food, while French food and seafood were tied with 13 percent of diners selecting each.
Diners going out for Valentine’s Day were set to spend an average of $100 for a meal with their date.
But even diners who chose to order food in had their preferences on Valentine’s Day.
According to GrubHub, the top food choices for couples and singles dining in on Valentine’s Day are noted in the table below.
Funnily enough, almost every item on the couples’ top order list is sushi! The singles ordering food on Valentine’s Day showed a much greater variety, ordering everything from Italian to Mexican to Vietnamese and Greek cuisine, along with Chinese and American foods.
This data actually corresponds to a Match.com and GrubHub study from 2016 which showed that couples who ordered sushi on a first date were far more likely to get a second date. Who knew?
Going from first dates, to second dates, to proposals—what’s the scoop on the Valentine’s Day proposal? If it seems like everyone you know got engaged on Valentine’s Day—well, you may be right!
Were you proposed to on Valentine’s Day? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, 50 percent of couples get engaged on February 14. For 2019, that was expected to equal around 9 million wedding proposals.
And today, around 80 percent of American women receive a diamond engagement ring from their fiancé. But why?
Diamonds didn’t become associated with engagement rings until the early 1900s after the DeBeers mining company controlled the South African diamond trade.
Just a few decades later in the early 1940s, diamond engagement rings had become the top sellers in most major department stores, thanks in part to a huge marketing strategy by none other than the DeBeers company.
In 2012, the average amount spent on an engagement ring was $4,000. We take a closer look at what both men and women thought of their engagement rings in the infographic below.
As you can see from the data above, while one-third of men worried over the ring, 93 percent of women liked what they got; but a full one-quarter of women wished their fiancés had put a little more thought and effort into the proposal itself.
Great job on the rings, men—but don’t forget to put as much thought into how you ask your beloved to marry you as you do into selecting just the right ring to place on her finger!
Valentine’s Day is the third-largest shopping holiday of the year, in part because even those who don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day still spend money on themselves for the day. In fact, in 2019, Americans were poised to spend around $20 billion for Valentine’s Day.
Half of all wedding proposals occur on Valentine’s Day, meaning the popularity of the day isn’t likely to diminish any time soon, and it’s a boon for restaurants and chocolate makers as well.
Even if you don’t have a significant other on Valentine’s Day, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself or making plans with friends or family and celebrating anyway. Have fun and enjoy yourself whether you have a date or not!
- National Retail Federation, “Valentine’s Day Data Center.”
- .History Channel, “Valentine’s Day Facts.”
- Smithsonian Magazine, “The Gory Origins of Valentine’s Day.”
- Statista, “Total Valentine’s Day Sales in the United States from 2009 to 2019 (in Billion U.S. Dollars).”
- eMarketer, “Valentine’s Day 2019: Fewer Givers, Greater Spending.”
- National Retail Federation, “Fewer Consumers Celebrating Valentine’s Day, But Those Who Do Are Spending More.”
- WalletHub, “2019 Valentine’s Day Facts – Gifts, Money, and More.”
- Entrepreneur, “Shocking Valentine’s Day Stats That Will Make You Rethink Your Marketing.”
- Bustle, “The Truth About Valentine’s Day Proposals, Because People Love Getting Engaged on February 14.”
- Reader’s Digest, “Here’s the Real Reason We Propose With Engagement Rings.”
- 1-800 Flowers, “14 Valentine’s Day Fun Facts.”
- Bustle, “GrubHub’s Valentine’s Day Statistics Reveal the Most Popular Foods that Singles and Couples Order on the Holiday.”