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St Valentine’s Day: Counting the cost of love

Pricewatch: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Well, maybe let me count the total outlay, first of all

It is almost a quarter of a century since Jennifer Lopez told the world that her love don’t cost a thing. While Pricewatch hasn’t a notion whether she was singing the truth or not, we’re pretty sure that if J.Lo was in Ireland, the whole love business would have ended up costing a fair few bob, all things considered.

And make no mistake, the prices peak this week as the world and its wife gets ready to celebrate the brutal death of a humble man or three at the hands of the Romans more than 1,500 years ago.

The celebration of St Valentine means many Irish couples won’t have any change out of €500 when the roses are delivered, the cards and cute bears are exchanged, the more expensive but wonderfully thoughtful gift is handed over, and the special Valentine’s meal in the fanciest of restaurants is digested.

Before we get to the specifics of the week ahead, we thought we’d bring your attention to a press release we received last week which detailed the cost of love when spread out over the course of the year.


Now we normally look at “research” of this kind with highly arched eyebrow, and this is no exception – but for what it’s worth, this press release, from the Love Boat, otherwise known as Princess Cruises, suggested that when spontaneous gifts, romantic weekends away, meals out, date nights and holidays were totted up, the cost of keeping the spark alive in long-term relationships comes in at £3,531 a year.

If we covert that to euro and add 20 per cent on – because in our experience that is how much more we have to pay for being Irish – we’d be looking at spending just shy of five grand a year on keeping the magic going.

And that list didn’t even include Valentine’s Day, which is where we come in, as there will be a lot of money spent on love this week.

According to recent research from the US, retailers and restaurants there are ready to cash in on an expected $6 billion (€5.57 billion) of spending for Valentine’s Day this year. Were we to extrapolate levels of Irish spending based on those figures, Valentine’s Day closer to home will cost way north of €40 million, with the average couple spending in excess of €300. For many the bill will be higher.

The cost of a dozen red roses can vary wildly, but a fairly high-end bouquet delivered on February 14th will cost at least €65 (petrol forecourt flowers cost much less but, really, nothing says I don’t give a rashers more loudly than forecourt flowers). A decent-looking card will cost a fiver, and there might be two of them exchanged, taking the cost to a tenner – or slightly more if they have to be posted – but for our purposes we will assume they are hand-delivered.

The cost of what you might hope is a romantic dinner for two in Ireland very much depends on where you go, but we reckon a price of €60 per person, including wine, is not outlandish – it could, in fact be considered quite cheap in many quarters. We have come across research from the UK which suggests that average restaurant prices increase by as much as a third on Valentine’s Day, and there is no reason to believe things are much different here.

Mind you, restaurants have had a very lean January, and it’s not like they force us into their establishments at gunpoint, so it’s not like they can be blamed for being packed to the rafters this Wednesday.

If we assume our fictional couple don’t want to walk or drive to the restaurant, we will have to add another €60 for taxies there and back.

Then there is the bottle of champagne. Again there is no set price, but a bottle of Moet & Chandon in our local Tesco is currently selling for €58, so we will add that to our fictional cost. We will allocate €100 for gifts to spend as you wish, and another €40 for a box of fancy(ish) chocolates, and the cost of the day is coming in at just over €450.

And, of course, if you want to spend more, there are options out there. For a modest $1,000 you can get yourself a private tour of the top of the Empire State Building in New York City, with the price tag including a bottle of bubbles and access to special roped-off area for a couple of minutes in case you have any important questions you might want to ask. If you spend 10 grand you can even have dinner up there too. The $10,000 will not include your flights to the US, or the accommodation, or the price of an authentic New York slice at pizza specialist Sbarro (and yes, that is a nod to all fans of Michael Scott of The Office reading this).

But enough of those flights of fancy – how is it that we end up spending all this money at what is, for most of us, a pretty lean time of the year in the first place?

While no one knows for certain exactly how or why St Valentine’s Day started, there are plenty of theories, most of which are pretty bloody and not terribly romantic.

One of the more enduring origin stories is that the celebration was born out of the Roman feast of Lupercalia, although that event had less to do with roses and cute verses and more to do with Roman priests sacrificing goats or dogs and using strips of the hides dipped in extra blood to whip women in order, allegedly, to make them fertile.

And that wasn’t all. Once the priests were done, the town’s bachelors would get to pick the names of the women from a clay urn and whip them with bloody hides. It sounds absolutely horrendous.

Over time, however, Lupercalia mellowed and morphed into something quite different, with the whipping and killing mercifully dispensed with in favour of a shout-out to a saint. We’re not entirely clear who the saint was, as there are three Valentines who had the misfortune – or good fortune? – to be martyred in times past.

There was a priest from Rome, a bishop of the Italian town of Terni and another Valentine who died violently in Africa. The Terni chap is widely regarded as our Valentine, as he is the one who – by all accounts – secretly married off Roman soldiers to stop them being sent off to war by emperor Claudius II, as the laws of the day only allowed single men to fight for the glory of Rome.

But none of the Valentines in the early days had much to do with February 14th. That date was selected as the day for lovers because it was said to be the (very precise) moment in spring when birds chose their mate.

In case you are wondering whatever became of Valentine, bits of him ended up in Rome, Terni, Vienna, Prague, Glasgow and Dublin. A part of him was brought to Ireland in 1853 after Pope Gregory XVI was so impressed by the oratorical skills of a visiting Irish Carmelite called John Spratt that he gave him some of Valentine’s blood and body parts as a gift.

As you do.

They are still in the church on Dublin’s Whitefriar Street and are placed on the high altar on Wednesday.

More than one billion Valentine cards will be exchanged all over the world this week at a cumulative cost of €2 billion, give or take, with about 350,000 trees chopped down to make all the card.

While many people blame Hallmark for all that tree carnage, the card people are not to blame. The tradition of sending Valentine’s cards goes right back to the 15th century, when the cards were far more pleasingly known as “amorous addresses”.

The first card – legend has it – was sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans, who had been captured by our friends across the Irish Sea during the Battle of Agincourt. He spent his days in prison writing romantic verses to his wife. The practice spread throughout Europe and eventually reached the US.

Roses are also something of a tradition on St Valentine’s Day. There’s a good chance the roses you wake up to in the middle of this week – if indeed you do wake up to them – will have come from Kenya or Tanzania. They are cut there and transported in a refrigerated truck to an airport, and flown – equally chilled – to Amsterdam, to be sold at auction to wholesalers, who then distribute them to independent florists and retail chains here.

Grand Prix roses are widely considered the most romantic, you will pay at least 20 per cent more for a dozen of them on Wednesday than at other less loved-up times of the year.

That is not really the fault of the florists of the world. Unlike Christmas Day, which isn’t celebrated everywhere, Valentine’s Day is almost universal and celebrated in much the same way in every corner of the world.

The price of roses climbs globally at this time because huge demand puts huge pressure on every link in the international flower chain. African growers hire and pay extra staff, freight companies pay premiums, prices on international markets spike, and florists have to pay overtime to staff. It ultimately comes down to demand. A normal-sized flower shop might sell a couple of hundred roses on a normal day, and then 5,000 on February 14th.

And then there is the food. Valentine’s Day had little or no link at all with food until early in the 20th century. It started with conversation lozenges, which were invented by Joseph Dobson, who had made a small fortune making wedding cakes and cheery-sounding funeral biscuits.

Chocolate only became associated with romance when the canny Richard Cadbury noticed he could sell a lot more of his chocolates in February if he decorated the boxes with love motifs. His idea was that recipients could hang on to the boxes and use them to hide their secret love letters which had, sadly, stopped being referred to as amorous addresses by then.

And that takes us back to love. If you think Valentine’s Day is the most popular day for people to pop the question, you’re wrong. That is actually Christmas Day, but Valentine’s Day does come second.

If you are considering asking for a person’s hand in marriage this week and can’t make it to the Empire State Building, plan carefully. First, you should make sure they are actually fans of Valentine’s Day – if they are not, the proposal might come across as a bit cheesy. And maybe avoid having a big moment in a restaurant? It will be loud and packed – and do you really want to pop the question when all that love belonging to other people is in the air too?

Apart from ignoring it altogether – which certainly has its merits – are there ways in which to do Valentine’s Day on the cheap, or is it impossible to be both loved up and frugal?

We have come up with some ways to cut the costs without being miserable.

Breakfast of champions

Want to look super-romantic first thing in the morning? Brilliant, we have you covered. Source yourself some heart-shaped cookie cutters – you should be able to find a set either in a kitchen shop or TK Maxx for a fiver. With the cutters, make heart-shaped eggs, dainty pancake kisses and some class of romance-themed Cupid’s arrow toast first thing on Wednesday morning, at a total cost of less than a tenner. Buy yourself a cheap bottle of cava and some freshly squeezed orange juice, and you will be good to go for 20 quid all in.

Roses are cheap

Nothing says Valentine’s Day quite like a dozen red roses, but you need to be careful what type you buy and where you buy them. Grand Prix roses are widely considered the Rolls-Royce of the rose market, and by far the biggest Valentine’s sellers. A dozen can cost more than €80, but the German discounters will be selling impressive-looking displays for €29.99, while there are also bargains to be found in the other supermarkets.

Sparkles for less

Bubbles are a must, but does it have to be Champagne? It is the most traditional booze with which to celebrate the big day, but prosecco is much cheaper. Cava is pretty good value too, but your best bet might be a Cremant. This sparkling wine comes from a region close to Champagne, but the wines cost a whole lot less.

Dine in for two

Go to a restaurant by all means, but don’t be surprised if the experience is not amazing. The restaurants will be very busy and the mood might be more tense than you’d like, as absolutely everyone in the room will be under pressure to be loved up.

Picture this

We are without a doubt the most photographed generation in history with high-res smart cameras meaning a digital snap is never far from hand. But all too often, the pics stay on our phones. Spend a few minutes today going through your camera roll for the best shots of your heart’s desire, and then have a collage printed out and framed. You’ll easily get it done before the middle of the week, it will cost you less than €30, and you can claim the idea as your own. We’ll not tell anyone you stole the idea from us.

Date day

Rather than follow the herd, take the day off work – presuming you can – and have a date day. Valentine’s Day lunches are, we’d imagine, much nicer than their dinner counterparts, and there are all manner of fun options to consider, from museums and Dublin Zoo to walks in the park and on the beaches. According to our admittedly not terribly reliable weather app, there won’t be a lot of rain over Ireland in the middle of the week, so the outdoors should be an option.


Don’t be worried about having the perfect day. As with so many things in our world, the media – present company excluded, obviously – creates all sorts of unrealistic expectations as to what Valentine’s Day should be. Then, when it fails to be all that, people inevitably get disappointed.