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Are You a Valentine's Day Cheapskate or Spendthrift?

Gerri Detweiler

Ah, yes, it’s almost Valentine’s Day again; time to show your devotion to your sweetheart. This year Americans are expected to spend $18.6 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts: $1.6 billion on candy; $1.9 billion on flowers; $4.4 billion on diamonds, gold and silver; $1.6 billion on clothing: and $1.5 billion of gift cards, according to the National Retail Federation.

If your love can be judged by how much you spend, then many couples are going to try harder this year than last. The average American in a relationship plans to spend $226 for Feb. 14 festivities and gifts this year, according to a new RetailMeNot Valentine’s Day poll. That’s more than twice as much as last year, when most said they intended to spend only $100 or less on their significant other.

If you plan to pop the question, you’re likely to spend a whole lot more. Six million couples planned to get engaged last Valentine’s Day, according to the lastest American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, and another 14 million plan to do so sometime during the year. Given that they will spend, on average, $5,200 on an engagement ring, not to mention dinner or other expenses, it’s easy to see why some couples feel pressured to spend more than they can really afford.

I propose that how couples handle money on Valentine’s Day may be a clue to how their marriage navigates the tricky world of shared personal finances. Last year, we rounded up a lot of surveys and studies about couples and money. While the ominous statistic that 50% of divorces are due to money appears to be an urban legend, it’s pretty clear that debt and money problems do create a lot of stress for couples, and too many couples simply aren’t talking enough about money.

[Related Article: Engaged? 5 Things to Do With Your Money Now]

For example, just over a quarter (27%) of those who are married or living with a partner said disagreements over money are most likely to prompt a spat, according to a national telephone survey conducted for the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) by Harris Interactive. That bumped fights about money up above arguments about children, chores, work or friends. The main topic of contention? Most couples (58%) identified differences in “needs” versus “wants,” as the main cause. After that came bickering about unexpected expenses (49%), while a third (32%) named arguments about insufficient savings as the main problem.

The bottom line is if you are afraid to broach the subject of Valentine’s Day spending with your significant other, then what are you going to do when the really big stuff comes up?

So go ahead and have that conversation. You may find out that your partner doesn’t expect you to drop a lot of cash to celebrate.  Last year, RetailMeNot found 80% of respondents in relationships said that they would be “happy” if their significant other used a coupon to save money on a Valentine’s Day gift. And 30% of women in relationships think the holiday is overrated.

I know it doesn’t sound terribly romantic, but don’t wait until your sweetheart is slamming doors because you were too cheap to do anything special on Feb. 14, or because you blew the budget on a piece of jewelry when a weekend away together would have been the better choice. And if you’re on the receiving end, don’t expect your partner to read your mind and know whether you’d rather splurge or save this year. See if you can’t get a conversation about your financial frustrations, goals and dreams going tonight. It may just be the best Valentine’s Day gift you can give each other.

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