This coming Friday will be the most romantic day of the year, a day when couples get to express their love for each other and re-commit for the year ahead.
Or will it? Maybe it is just another con job, a fresh way to get us to spend money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need in order to conform with an entirely artificial notion of life that retailers, florists, restaurants, advertisers and marketing companies, tell us we should aspire to?
Well, whatever it is, Valentine’s Day is upon us and before this week ends many people will have spent hundreds of euro on proving their love for another person and make no mistake all the romance comes with a pretty hefty price tag for most Irish couples.
By the time the bells toll to mark the end of Friday night thousands of Irish couples will have spent well in excess of €500 on the flowers, the card, the bubbles, the present, the “romantic” candlelit dinner in a restaurant that has shoehorned extra tables in so more people can enjoy the “special menus”, the taxi home and – possibly – the babysitter.
More than €500, you say? Surely not.
Well, let’s look at the numbers.
According to research from the UK, British consumers will spend around £650 million (€766 million) on Valentine’s gifts this year. Brexit aside, we’re are not hugely different from our friends across the water and if we were to extrapolate Irish spending from those numbers, Irish people will collectively spend around €60 million on loved-up presents.
How do the costs break down?
Well it starts with the flowers. We had a look on the Interflora website for roses and prices varied wildly. There was one offering that caught our eye. “If there was ever a time for grand gestures, Valentine’s Day is it,” says the text. “And here’s the bouquet to help you make it.” And what is that bouquet?
“One hundred premium, long-stemmed, large-headed roses hand-tied and delivered right to their door. It’s an exquisite choice for an unforgettable moment. Featuring 100 red large headed ‘Freedom’ roses beautifully hand-tied, wrapped and presented in our kind-to-the-planet gift packaging.”
While getting 100 premium, long-stemmed, large-headed roses might be exquisite and although the packaging might be kind to the plant, the thing that we would struggle to forget is the price. It’s €494.
Of course, that is not how much it costs most people and a dozen more typical red roses will cost €68 on with Interflora.
While the price of roses spikes on Valentine’s Day and you will pay 20 per cent more on Friday compared with today, florists should probably not be judged too harshly for that spike. Prices climb all over the world because huge demand puts huge pressure on every link in the international flower chain.
It starts in Africa where growers have to hire and pay extra staff, freight companies pay premiums, prices on flower international markets spike and then florists have to pay overtime to staff. A normal-sized flower shop might sell a couple of hundred roses on a normal day and 5,000 on February 14th.
Next up for the romantic consumer is the card. All told, one billion cards will be exchanged across the world on the big day – that is enough to stretch around the world five times in case you have ever wondered. Now, let’s say the average price of such a card is €2 then €2 billion will be spent on cards this year and around 20 tonnes of paper will be consumed. If 30 per cent of the cards come from recycled materials then it only means that 350,000 trees will have to be cut down for those cards which will – let’s be honest – be looked at for about 15 seconds and then slowly make their way to attics, bins, memory boxes or wherever. Some people in Ireland will spend a lot more than our average of €2 on their card. Others will post them. We will set aside a fiver for the cards.
Bubbles, dinner and chocolates
After that we have the bubbles. A bottle of Moet & Chandon non-vintage champagne in Tesco is currently priced at €45 while 14 chocolates in a heart shaped box from the people at Butler’s will set you back a further €16.
We are going to allow €50 for a wonderfully thoughtful gift – for some people this amount will be ludicrously high, for others it will be ludicrously small.
Now, at the best of times, dinner in an Irish restaurant is not cheap but Valentine’s day is not the best of times and a lot of restaurants – who have just endured a miserable January in their defence – tend to offer special menus where the only really special thing is the price. Some couples may be able to have a meal with wine and perhaps a fancy drink on arrival for less than €150 but not many.
Finally we have to add the cost of getting to and from a restaurant – let’s say – €40 – plus a further €50 for a babysitter. Obviously there will be many people who will not require such service but we will leave them out of the picture (because they are not us!).
Now some of these costs – the dinner, the baby sitter and the taxi – might be borne by a couple while others will have to be doubled if both parties in a relationship buy gifts and cards and the like. That means that when our back-of-an-envelope numbers are added up, the total cost of a pretty modest Valentine’s Day for an Irish will be €540.
If there are 1.5 million couples and half of them spend close to this amount on Valentine’s Day then the total cost this year will be – drum roll please – €405 million.
Who says money can’t buy you love.
Valentine’s Day on the cheap.
1 Aldi, Lidl, Tesco, Dunnes and M&S will all be selling impressive-looking, but not hideously expensive, roses on the big day. They will have bouquets to suit all budgets but the fanciest roses will be fresh in-store on the days from the middle of this week. Supplies will be limited so if you don't want to be disappointed, drop into one of the stores early on whatever day you're buying them.
2 Maybe you don't have to spend more than €40 on a bottle of champagne? Prosecco is cheaper but might be too sweet for some tastes. There is also Cava, which can be excellent value for money. Or you could look at Cremant. This sparkling wine comes from a region close to Champagne but the wines cost a whole lot less.
3 The split between couples who eat out and eat in on Valentine's Day is around 50-50. As many as a quarter of those who chose to eat in will rely on the special meal deals from supermarkets. It is worth keeping an eye on the M&S dine-in deal and the rival offering from Tesco. And remember if you decant everything properly you may be able to pretend you put all the effort in and made the meal yourself.
4 Want to do something romantic for buttons? Buy heart-shaped cookie cutters – they're sold in every kitchen and homeware shop for not much more than a fiver. Use the cookie cutter to make heart-shaped eggs, romantic pancakes and loved-up toast at a total cost of less than a tenner. Get some bubbles from a discounter, some freshly squeezed orange juice and a dozen cheapish roses, and you're good to go for less than €30. You. Are. Welcome.
A sustainable Valentine’s Day
1 While love is blind it does not necessarily have to be expensive or environmentally unfriendly. Instead of a card – which is typically made of heavy cardboard – you could write your beloved a love letter instead. It will mean more – as long as it comes from the heart.
2 H ave you ever wondered where your romantic roses come from? They will almost certainly have been grown in sub-Saharan Africa and then flown to Amsterdam's flower markets before making their way – on a plane – to Ireland. And then on to the home of recipients all over the country – in cars, most likely. Those flowers will last a few days and then they will be gone. Maybe consider buying a plant instead?
3 Cook a meal yourself with food bought from local retailers. While the temptation is there to shop in a big supermarket, you could make an effort, and buy all the food you plan to eat on the big night from your local butchers and fruit and veg shop.
4 Cheap candles use paraffin wax. Candles which use natural waxes like soy, rapeseed, plant and beeswax are a better option.
5 If you are planning to surprise your beloved with a trip, keep it local.
The Twitter take
We asked Twitter users what they thought about the big day. Few people were in love with it.
"We spend nothing. Not a big fan of commercial holidays." – Greta Donovan
"Three euro on a card, maybe a bottle of wine, that's about it." – Orla Woods
"I see it as a challenge to be creative about it and try not fall victim to unnecessary spending. Some people too cynical about the whole thing. It's possible to celebrate the sentiment without splurging!"– Sarah Anderson (McKell)
"It's a cod! Total waste of money!" – Caitriona Collopy Wynne
" Aw, it's a day for young lovers... but I'm an old (ish) fart & I think it's utter rubbish." – Ashling Colgan
"Worst night to go out..... Nothing special about it imo [in my opinion]. Best to be spontaneous other times." – Ken Kelleher
"Showing u love some 1 always worth while. Very good 4 young children to see this tradition. U don't have 2 spend a fortune." – Patricia McGrath
"Amateurs only buy stuff just before Valentine's Day, smart buy in the January sales and hide the stuff well, very well!!!!" – Keith Spriggs