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Personal Finance
Valentine's Day scramble
February 11, 2000: 3:54 p.m. ET

Don't end up in the doghouse -- get that gift before it's too late
By Staff Writer Shelly K. Schwartz
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - We know, we know -- you've been busy, you're not the mushy type, and you don't pretend to be crafty.
    "But, that doesn't mean you don't care."
    Sounds like valid reasoning now, but take it from the legions of romantically challenged misfits before you, that laissez faire attitude makes a cold, cold companion come Feb. 14.
    "Valentine's Day is really a time to show that we care about our relationships," said Shirley Bavonese, a licensed marriage and family therapist and co-director of the Relationship Institute in Royal Oak, Mich. "There are a lot of women, and men alike, who think, 'Gee, there's only one holiday a year for this and this is one time when I'd like to be recognized.'"
    Interestingly, appointments for couple therapy in Babonese's office spike in January and February - just after the holidays.
    "That's when people start thinking about their relationships," she said. "The holidays put (their partner's behavior) right there in the forefront of their minds."
    
Follow the masses?

    If you're headed down the empty-handed exit ramp, the good news is: You've still got time.
    Insiders say there's lots you can do in the weekend ahead to salvage the big day, everything from booking a day at the spa, to dance lessons for two, to a few quick days in Paris, which qualifies as an off-season destination this time of the year. Moreover, they say, many of these packages cost less than you'd think.
    "It's definitely not too late," said Bob Diener, president of hoteldiscount.com. "You can get great travel bargains for Valentine's Day up 'til the last minute in some of the most romantic and popular cities in the world. There are all kinds of cheap fares and specials right now."
    The same is true of goods and services closer to home. You just have to know where to look.
    "The consumer has to ask for the deals," said Craig Conroy, executive vice president of Gibsonia, Pa.-based Conroy Resource Group, which is a research firm specializing in hot consumer trends. "It's not the chain stores that are going to cut you a price break last minute, but the smaller independently run store owners who realize that if their products are still sitting on the shelf after the big day it won't do them any good."
    Conroy noted anything dealing with hedonistic pleasures -- message oils, aromatherapy candles and days at the spa - will be especially hot this year, a function of economic prosperity and the continued growth in disposable income.
    "Anything that deals with self-enrichment is popular," he said. "No matter what end of the socioeconomic scale you're on, there's something out there for everyone."
    Those looking to drop some cash, for example, may want to consider a chartered jet.
    "It's probably way too late now to book a flight on the Concorde, but people can still get the high-end treatment with executive jet leasing programs," Conroy said. "A few of these companies are offering deals for about $5,000 that include a flight across the country, a night at the luxury hotel and formal dinner. If you've got the financial wherewithal to spend that kind of money, there are any number of ways to do it."
    
Who's spending what

    The International Mass Retail Association expects consumers to spend an average of $77.43 on Valentine's Day this year. That's about 21 percent more than last year, but slightly less than 1998, when shoppers spent an average of $86.
    Men, according to the study, will spend roughly 30 percent more than women at $95.32.
    
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    "Men are much more likely to buy big-ticket items and to shop at specialty stores for Valentine's Day," said IMRA President Robert J. Verdisco. "Valentine's Day is kind of a do-or-die holiday for men, who shop mostly for the women in their lives."
    At the same time, the greeting card industry projects that some 1 billion Valentine's Day cards will be sent this year. Another $1.1 billion will be spent on candy and more than 110 million roses will be sold for Valentine's Day 2000.
    
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    As you might expect, Victoria's Secret (LTD: Research, Estimates) and other purveyors of women's lingerie rake in big sales this time of year. But Conroy noted that those skimpy little get-ups aren't always well received.
    "This product category has been hot over the last six years, but it's usually stuff that women don't really want to wear," he said. "What the men think they want to see their wives in, and what the woman actually wants to wear are usually 180 degrees apart."
    
Procrastinators rejoice

    It used to be that shoppers who waited, paid the price. But with the growing number of e-tail stores, the marketplace has changed considerably.
    "What's happening is consumers on the Internet can find great deals, both way in advance and last minute," Diener said. "The Internet is used by many retailers as a way of getting rid of inventory. When they realize that they've got two more hotel rooms or airline seats left to book they just keep slashing prices and slashing prices until they're gone. It's a great opportunity for consumers."
    If Web traffic is any indication, shoppers this year are catching on.
    The Nielsen/NetRatings Valentine's Day index shows that sites with the highest growth in traffic for the week ended Feb. 6 included: RedEnvelope.com, up 123 percent; GiftPoint.com, up 103 percent; and 1800Flowers.com, up 71 percent. Not surprisingly, traffic on VictoriasSecret.com rose 65 percent and cyber activity at FTD.com rose 63.1 percent.
    Conroy noted, however, that many online retail sites are no longer accepting orders for Valentine's day - since the items would not be shipped on time.
    It's not, however, too late to e-mail to your friends and family an online Valentine's note. However, if that's the only gift you send your main squeeze, you may have some explaining to do.
    Traffic on online greeting card sites surged last week, climbing 30 percent as cybersurfers sent electronic Valentines.
    But, not all online sites fared so well.
    Jewelry sites, according Nielson's, slumped 38 percent, while superstores including Amazon, Buy.com, eBay and CDNow, simply held the line on traffic flow - despite the prominent display of Valentine's Day promotions. The stagnant growth suggests many consumers still prefer the old fashioned approach to buying big-ticket items.
    As for the hottest gifts this year, the Nielson index shows gifts are raking in 88 percent of sales, lingerie 78 percent, gift certificates 77 percent and flowers 32 percent.
    
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Budget travel

    Whether you've only got a night, or you plan to take a few days off, last minute travel packages abound.
     Las Vegas, for example, has long been a hot spot for gettin' hitched on Valentine's Day, with 1,697 ceremonies performed during the holiday weekend last year. Most major airlines offer last-minute package deals to Vegas that include airfare and accommodations for one low price. Hotels also slash their rates.
    Right now, for example, Harrah's Las Vegas is offering rooms for $59.95.
    
(Check out hoteldiscount.com for more monthly specials.)

     Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel online also offers tips for Valentine getaways. If you buy your tickets by Feb. 14, for example, you can get a companion fare on American Trans Air (ATA) for as low as $59, depending on the route you take.
     CheapTickets is also now advertising discount airfare deals from New York, but you've got to purchase by Valentine's Day. Roundtrip fares to New Orleans start at $192, Las Vegas starts at $250 and San Francisco starts at $256.
     If Seattle is more your cup of tea, the city is offering its annual Super Saver program, with downtown hotel rooms up to 50 percent off.
     The Inns at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Washington hosts a sweet hearts package, including overnight accommodations and waterside dinner for two. A bottle of cider and chocolates is tossed in for about $130 per couple.
     Another hot spot is Lake Tahoe. For $75 per couple, per night, you can enjoy the scenery of Camp Richardson. For ski buffs, Kirkwood Ski Resort is offering a special of $130 per couple, which includes accommodations and two lift tickets.
     Finally, don't forget Paris, the city of love. New Frontiers is offering Valentine packages for as little as $499, including, among other things, roundtrip airfare on Continental Airlines from Newark International Airport, five nights at a two-star hotel, continental breakfasts, a show at the Moulin Rouge with a bottle of champagne, and a Seine River cruise. The Paris package also is available from Oakland and Los Angeles with Corsair, starting at $589.
    
Lose those two left feet

    One other gift idea that gains momentum come February is dance classes. If you've been thinking of paying for lessons, now might be your chance.
    For a rough idea of prices in your area, check out these two deals:
    
  • The Fred Astaire Red Bank dance studio in Red Bank, N.J., is offering a special February rate of $12 per person per class. Unlimited group classes cost $45 per person. The studio teaches everything from the tango to the merengue.
  • On the other side of the coast, with a slightly trendier groove, Swing Dance with Lisa Kay costs $40 for six weeks of instruction. It's $10 per class.

    
No one to kiss?

    Lastly, if there's no one in your life worth smooching right now, fear not. There's always another option.
    A charity auction, presented by Web portal Yahoo!, is allowing consumers to "buy a kiss" from some world's most famous actors and musicians. Well, sort of.
    For anywhere from $10 to $1,500, you can bid on an original, autographed lip print from celebrity supporters including Janet Jackson, Stephen Baldwin, Fran Drescher, Lynn Redgrave. So far, Gillian Anderson's lipstick-smacked signature is getting top bidding at $1,536.
    The bottom line is this -- put some thought into your plans for Valentine's Day and you can't go wrong.
    Try packing a picnic lunch for two and hauling it into your spouse's office on Monday.
    If you've got kids, simply block out some time with the little ones this weekend to make a card for your honey. Even cleaning up a messy garage or the home office can show you care.
    "Most women, and men too, don't really want oodles of things," Bavonese said. "They just want to be reminded and told that they are cared about and loved." Back to top

  RELATED SITES

Travel Industry Association of America

Relationship Institute

Hoteldiscount.com


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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.