(Reuters) - How much are you going to drop on Valentine's Day this year? A few bucks for a card? How about a cheap bouquet from the grocery store? Or are you going to dig deeper and buy jewelry, a serious arrangement of flowers or a night on the town?
Dave Payne, 32, saw no reason to spare expense this year. He's had reservations at the Palm Restaurant in Tampa, Florida, for more than a month, he plans to spend a generous amount on flowers and he has already spent money on another gift. In all, he's figuring, Valentine's Day 2012 will cost about $400.
"After many years of dating I finally found the one, and she's certainly worth it," he says of his girlfriend.
Sure, the courtship phase could be a bit costly for those looking to make an impression. But Payne is not alone in dropping big bucks on this romanticized holiday. The National Retail Federation (NRF), says Americans will spend nearly $18 billion on Valentine's Day this year, with the average guy expecting to shell out about $168, according to a survey commissioned by the organization. Women say they'll spend about half that amount.
WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO?
The highest percentage of those celebrating Valentine's Day (41 percent of adults say they don't plan to) will buy greeting cards, flowers and candy, according to the NRF.
The Society of American Florists says Valentine's Day is the top holiday for the sales of fresh flowers. Even though nearly 200 million roses were sold on the holiday last year, the actual dollar amount spent on jewelry and dining out tops other Valentine's Day purchases.
Spending on jewelry for Valentine's Day is projected to surpass $4 billion this year, according to the NRF.
Blue Nile, the online jewelry retailer, says its Valentine's Day-related business is boom time. "Our sales jump about 200 percent around Valentine's Day, and -- tough economic climate or not -- they've grown in both quantity and average price over the past three years," Blue Nile spokesman Josh Holland says.
Necklaces, earrings, diamond eternity rings and diamond studs are popular Valentine's gifts, he says. It's not unusual to see some customers spend $25,000 or more. Last year, one person spent $240,000 on a 5.2-carat diamond set in platinum, Holland recalled.
Eating out for the occasion will add up to about $3.6 billion, NRF says.
Scott Jampol, senior director of consumer marketing for the restaurant reservation service OpenTable, says two thirds of couples will spend more than $100 for a Valentine's dinner, and about 10 percent will fork over $200 or more for the occasion. The most likely places to spend big on a Valentine's dinner: Las Vegas, Miami and New York. Valentine's Day is one of the three holidays -- along with Mother's Day and New Year's -- with the biggest numbers of restaurant reservations.
Jampol adds that high-end restaurants will typically create special menus for Valentine's Day and include features that diners might not normally have, like dessert. He adds, "They certainly spend more on beverages and alcohol on that night."
THE OTHER END OF THE COIN
To be sure, though, spending money on this holiday isn't the only way to say that you care.
J. Lucy Boyd, a registered nurse and author of "Your Mental Health Questions Answered," says she'll be buying a card that will cost about $5 and making a steak dinner that she figures will cost about $25. To add a little flair to the day, Boyd says, she'll make her husband of 13 years pink, heart-shaped pancakes.
Her husband, she suspects, will treat her to lunch at her favorite meal out: Chinese food. "It's the little things, not the big ones, that make for a lasting happy relationship," she says. "To me, the best kind of Valentine's gift is giving someone their favorite things, not going over the top with something extravagant that is impractical and they might not even like."
(Editing by Beth Pinsker Gladstone and Andrea Evans)