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Money with Mia

Those of you who know me know I love chocolate. White, dark, semi-sweet – it makes no difference to me. Chocolate is chocolate, and I don’t care what wrapper it comes in. I’m a sucker for Godiva as well as for Hershey’s.

On a recent excursion to Harvard Square with my sister, I stopped by CVS because I was craving chocolate, and for some odd reason I didn’t have my chocolate stash in my purse. It was the third week of January, and I had just gotten back to Boston from NYC after spending my J-term at CNBC. As soon as I entered the store, I was immediately bombarded with discounted Christmas cards, holiday candy, stuffed reindeers that light up when you press the “Push me” button. And of course, I was greeted with CHOCOLATE-Chocolate marked with special signs advertising “2 for 1,” “Holiday Sale,” “X% off” (where X > 40% in most cases). I instantly threw hollow chocolate Santas, Christmas foil-packaged Snickers and dark chocolate raspberry filled snowmen into my hand basket. My chocolate fix cost me $5.40 compared to the original price of about $14.

And now, of course, I’m excited for February 15. Just kidding, I’m not that cheap – I just love chocolate. However, in all seriousness, the idea of forking over money for heavily over-marked teddy bears, heart-shaped chocolate boxes and beyond sappy Hallmark cards just to show that special someone you love them is outrageous and offensive to many people.

Valentine’s Day is a huge commercial holiday in the United States. This year, American consumers are expected to collectively spend $17.6 billion. According to IBISWorld, an independent source of industry and market research, Valentine’s Day spending is expected to be up about 3.3% from last year. Not hard to imagine, considering we are in a different economic environment. We are only now starting to see moderate signs of economic growth and some strong signals from consumers. However, many are still strapped for cash after spending money on holiday gifts a few months ago.

Most of the 3.3% increase is because Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend – Sunday to be exact. As a result, many consumers will opt to dine out with their honeys rather than buy them gifts like flowers, jewelry or chocolate. IBISWorld expects the option of dining out to increase 8.2% from last year. This is great news for men who may feel like they are off the hook from sending the obligatory roses and other flower arrangements to their significant others’ offices so they can showcase (umm, showoff?) them to their colleagues and friends. But of course, bad news for florists – sales are expected to decline about 5% from last year. The Society of American Florists insists that Valentine’s Day being on a Sunday is the worst possible day for florists profit-wise. A quick scan of the 1800Flowers of the world shows that most are promoting special discounts to get males to think of it as Valentine’s Week instead of Valentine’s Day by buying flowers to be delivered earlier in the week leading up to the holiday.

Florists aren’t the only ones who may suffer this Valentine’s Day. Chocolatiers are also going to feel the pinch. If your honey loves chocolate-dipped strawberries, you most likely will have to pay a premium to buy these specialties. Chocolate companies that use fresh fruit like strawberries and oranges are paying more to buy these fruits since their prices have increased drastically due to the extremely cold weather in Florida and flooding in California, which damaged the fruit crops.

If, despite the increase in prices for some Valentine’s Day gifts and a weak economy, you are still committed to spending money on Valentine’s Day just to keep up with tradition or to not instigate an argument with your Valentine, you are not alone. According to BIGresearch, the average American is expected to spend roughly the same amount as last year – $103. About 60% of that will go towards spoiling their significant others (down $4 from last year), with the remaining balance going towards one’s children, other family members and friends.

So have fun reinvigorating the economy by spending money on your Valentine! I just moved to NYC. You can send me flowers, jewelry and, of course, CHOCOLATE to my new address.

Happy Valentine’s Day,

Mia Saini

AUTHOR’S BIOGRAPHY
Mia Saini is a born and raised California girl. She is currently on a voluntarily leave of absence from HBS and is working in NYC as a reporter/anchor for Forbes.com TV. She graduated from MIT and went straight to the sales floor at Goldman Sachs. She honed her journalism skills at CNN, WB, CNBC and as a TV reporter at Jim Cramer’s www.TheStreet.com. She is the founder of HBS TV and is a video host for MBA PodTV on www.mbapodcaster.com. Each week, she writes a “Money with Mia” column about money, business, and personal finance, so email HBS’s Money Honey your questions, story ideas and feedback.

February 8, 2010
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