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The ages of affection

Youth means money on Valentine's Day, and lots of it. With age comes more intangible - and frugal - ways of showing attention, researchers say.

Published February 14, 2004

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Abby Ross, 21, of Largo browses through racks of Valentine's Day cards while shopping at Lynn's Hallmark in St. Petersburg's Tyrone Square Mall on Wednesday. Ross spent about $300 on her boyfriend for their first Valentine's Day.

ST. PETERSBURG - She's 21 years old and in love. Really in love.

So Abby Ross, a Largo financial adviser, took a day off this week and hit one of those jewelry islands at Tyrone Square Mall, where she plopped down $250 for a 14-carat gold bracelet for her boyfriend of almost a year. She found a $50 bottle of Polo Blue cologne he likes at Perfume World. Later at the Hallmark store, she found the card:

Our First Valentine's Day. Sometimes when real love comes along, it's not at all how you dreamed it would be ... .

Next to her in the card aisle, John Lambert, 47, was spending his third lunch hour this week flipping through cards. He always gets his wife one serious card, plus one funny card. Sometimes the freight truck driver from Valrico gets her a present; sometimes he doesn't. This time, he found a pair of blushing bears that light up when they kiss for $6.95.

The older people get, the less they spend and do for their significant others on Valentine's Day, consumer researchers say. Twentysomethings such as Ross typically spend significantly more on Valentine's Day than baby boomers such as Lambert.

Surveys show those 21 to 34 years old typically spend $135 to $183 on Valentine's Day purchases, while 35- to 49-year-olds shell out about $55. Those older than 50 typically spend about $40 in Valentine purchases.

But no matter how old we are, Americans are celebrating Valentine's Day more and more each year, those same surveys show. In fact, about 92 percent of Americans will do something for Valentine's Day this year, up from about 75 percent just three years ago, according to surveys by Brand Keys Inc., a New York consumer research company, which conducted the random telephone survey of 2,000 U.S. men and women.

Even those who have no significant other are acknowledging the holiday, whether it's by sending a card to a nephew or going to dinner with friends, said Brand Keys president Robert Passikoff.

Passikoff says that even though older people typically spend less, it's not because they feel any less romantic. Their spouses or significant others typically have had a number of years to accumulate gifts, and they are more cautious about what they buy.

"It doesn't take an elaborate gift to tell someone you love them after you've loved them for 21 years," said Lambert, the freight driver.

Several gift and jewelry store owners agreed that younger people tend to buy more and spend more on Valentine's Day, but older people may spend more time picking out the sentiments in their cards.

"I'd say it's a holiday for everyone," said Sue Wurdeman, manager at Lynn's Hallmark at Tyrone Square.

Valentine shoppers are expected to spend nearly $13-billion this year. On average, they will spend $100, up 23.3 percent from about $81 last year, according to the National Retail Federation's 2004 Valentine's Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey.

Ross, the 21-year-old financial adviser, recognizes she's being generous, but she's in love and she wants him to know that she cares. Yes, it's a lot of money, but just think of the look on his face when he gets it, she says.

Elaine Coffin, 61, of South Pasadena said she and her husband of 10 years typically don't do much for Valentine's Day. But they'll probably go out to dinner this year and exchange cards. She got him a sugarless Whitman's Sampler because he's a diabetic.

"I guess you're more comfortable when you get older," she said. "You don't feel the need to come up with something costly or flashy. A card is sufficient. You know you love each other."

Largo garbage truck driver Jim Mark, 33, goes all out on Valentine's Day, which follows his wife's birthday by two days. This year his wife of six years is getting flowers, balloons and 1-carat diamond earrings for $1,600.

"I don't know, it seemed like a nice thing to do," the Pinellas Park man said, as he priced the earrings at a jewelry store with his 6-year-old in tow this week.

Matt Gerhardt, a 17-year-old Largo High School junior, will present his girlfriend of three months, Brittany Tomlin, a diamond tennis bracelet he got for $240 this week.

Gerhardt, who has bright green eyes and wears a puka shell necklace around his neck, said he earned the money working at a laser tag business and running birthday parties. He decided on the bracelet as a gift because a ring means "mad commitment" and "my mother would shoot me."

Does he love her?

"I don't know yet. I haven't figured that out yet. ... It's way too early. That's something you don't say for a year or two."

Why so much money?

"Well, it's like Valentine's Day. It's supposed to be something special. Valentine's is the time to get brownie points for the rest of the year."

[Last modified February 14, 2004, 01:31:45]

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