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How to Choose the Right-Priced Valentine's Day Gift

Harriet Edleson

When Anna Post had been dating her now-fiancé for three months, she gave him a French press and a "nice bag of coffee" on Valentine's Day.

He made a candlelit dinner for her at his apartment, gave her flowers and purchased a molten chocolate cake for two at her favorite bakery.

"It was chocolaty and decadent," Post says. Of the gift she chose, she adds, "It doesn't say 'this girl is obsessed with me.'" She knew the relationship had "serious potential," as the two had worked together for two years, but the couple had only been dating for three months.

The age-old question of how much love to show and when to show it still haunts some people as the day of love -- Valentine's Day -- approaches. What to give to whom? Does the gift imply more than I mean to say? And, a related question, how much do I spend to say 'I love you,' or other similar but less intense sentiments?

Post, an author and spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute, an etiquette organization, sums up her answer to the quandary this way: "Gift-giving is always up to the giver." She elaborates: "There is general etiquette whenever you give a gift," says Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, an American author famous for writing on etiquette. "You want to personalize it a little bit. You want to give them something they like."

So when it comes to Valentine's Day, how long and how well you know a person -- not to mention what you're trying to express -- can determine what to give and how much to spend. Yet, dollars don't always tell the whole story, Post says. "It doesn't have to mean spending money. You can say, 'You're special to me and I want to show it,'" she says. "It also can be done with creativity and your time."

[Read: 4 Budget-Friendly Gifts Your Valentine Will Love.]

Though Post and others who spoke about gift-giving on Valentine's Day were reluctant to say how much to spend on Valentine's Day gifts, they noted that the longevity of the relationship and your budget will dictate how much to part with in the name of love.

"It's based on your relationship to the person," Post says. "The longer you've been together the more you can spend on this." Yet, Post isn't a believer in extravagance when it comes to Valentine's Day, anyway. She suggests spending from $10 to $30 as a guideline, for example, for a card, a bottle of wine, flowers, chocolate or some combination of these items. "You can scale these gifts to say more," Post says.

Of course, there are times when you'll want to splurge, and that is totally up to the individual as when and why.

What does the data show? According to the Emily Post Institute Valentine's Day survey, Valentine's Day is not for everyone. In fact, less than half of those who participated in the survey conducted by Survey Monkey said it was "very important" or "somewhat important" to do "something special" on Valentine's Day. Of those respondents, only 12 percent said the occasion was "very important," while 28 percent said it was "somewhat important." The rest? Twenty-four percent were neutral, 15 percent said it was "somewhat unimportant" and 21 percent said it was "very unimportant." More than 500 individuals responded to the survey.

[Read: Seniors spend less on Valentine's Day.]

Post's advice is to show that you're "smart" and you understand the other person, without putting pressure on the relationship. You have to gauge how personal the gift can be. "Something can be personal without being inappropriate or overstepping," Post says. "Safe can be a really good way to go." It can be good for your wallet, too.

Based on the Post survey, chocolate or another type of candy is in that category because 36 percent would most like to receive it and 37 percent they were most likely to give it. You can scale the size of the box to suit your relationship, and your budget.

Another survey from creditdonkey.com found that men tend to spend more than women on average for Valentine's Day. Men indicated they planned to spend an average of $86.92 while women said they expected to spend $56.27. In addition, 38 percent of men said they intended to spend $100 or more while only 17 percent of women intended to spend that much. "Valentine's Day is more geared to women any way," says Jasmine Williams, a research analyst at creditdonkey.com.

In addition, fewer Americans will celebrate this year at 54 percent compared with 60 percent in 2013, according to the National Retail Federation's 2014 Valentine's Day Spending survey by Prosper Insights and Analytics. The average person, says NRF, intends to spend $133.91 on candy, cards, gifts, dinner and more, up slightly from $130.97 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $17.3 billion. This survey shows that almost half -- 48.7 percent -- will buy candy, 37.3 percent will give flowers, and half will send greeting cards. Nineteen percent will give jewelry to their significant other, for a total of $3.9 billion worth of glittery items.

Here are some more tips on how to give the right gift on a budget:

Personalize the gift. Put thought into the gift, says Julie Kenney, founder of thegiftingexperts.com. "While it depends on your own budget and life circumstances, how you present your gift on Valentine's Day can mean the most." Consider having M&Ms made with your loved one's name on them. Look for coupons from places like groupon.com that allow you to spend $15 instead of $30. Make something yourself using whatever talent you have such as knitting, sewing, drawing or painting.

[Read: 17 Creative Ways to Impress Your Valentine if Your Pockets are Empty.]

Stay with safe choices. Buy something neutral, and stick to the $10 to $30 if you have any doubts that you are investing more than is appropriate. Chocolate or other types of candy are winners while intimate apparel is only for enduring relationships where you can take a risk and know you are safe.

Find out the person's preferences. "The new love is the trickiest," Kenney says. "It's not how much do I spend? Gauge where you are in the relationship." Sometimes a card is enough to give. "Cards are so appreciated since so much takes place online today." If you want to spend more, look for discount tickets on sites such as goldstar.com.

Post bought a French press and coffee because she knew her now-fiancé enjoyed it but she didn't get overly personal when the relationship was at the three-month point. She expects to marry in August.

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