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Happy Valentine's Day!

Posted by Elizabeth Sullivan on

How to save on those Valentine’s Day chocolates and flowers!

I’m a bit of a Valentine’s Day Scrooge — not to the point where I want to impale Cupid on his own arrows, but I burn at the idea of shelling out serious bucks to prove my devotion to my sweetie for one day in mid-February.

It’s hard not to see it as a commercial machine built to boost the coffers of chocolatiers and florists (not to mention the greeting card or jewelry industries). Are the heart-shaped boxes of candy that show up right after Christmas or those bouquets of ruby roses worth it? Or are we emptying our wallets on mass-produced merchandise: chocolates that were manufactured before Halloween and flowers destined to wilt within a few days of being delivered?

Of course I — and anyone who feels the same way — can skip the holiday altogether. But if you do enjoy Valentine’s Day, you can celebrate it without breaking the bank. Here’s advice from chocolate and flower experts on how to get the most for your money.

Good to know

Those iconic heart-shaped boxes of chocolates filling grocery store displays were probably produced last summer, because large manufacturers have a lead time of six to eight months from production to shelf. That’s not to say the sweets are inedible, though. Manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure freshness. Chocolate has a shelf life of about 12 months when stored and sealed properly, says Chris Gindlesperger, spokesperson for the National Confectioners Association.

But here’s the kicker: The big-name candy companies make the same chocolates year-round. Only the packaging changes. Yep, those same chocolate-coated creams, nuts and caramels that were encased in snowflake-festooned shrink-wrap now reside inside a Valentine’s Day-themed box. And the red and pink Valentine’s M&M’s taste the same as the standard colors. In essence, you are paying a premium for the holiday wrapping.

Artisan chocolate, by contrast, is made by hand in small batches. It’s fresh and carefully crafted. You can generally find diverse offerings and unusual flavor combinations that may only be available for a short time. Although artisan chocolatiers aren’t immune to inflation, they don’t increase their prices for Valentine’s Day.

“It’s just not their style,” says Pam Vieau, co-owner of Chocolate Inspirations in Roselle, Ill., which creates handmade artisan traditional and vegan chocolates and confections. “Our pricing is the same year-round, because we are all about quality over quantity. We make just enough product and price it accordingly to move off the shelf quickly,” she says.

Shop smarter

Go for the good stuff. Seek out an artisan chocolate retailer, where you will probably find not only a wide variety of flavor profiles, but also handmade pieces that often resemble tiny works of art. “Customize your gift box with six to eight pieces. Then, maybe gift it with a rose or two. That may be a better gift than a 40-piece box and a dozen grocery store roses,” says Danielle Centeno, co-owner of Escazu Chocolates in Raleigh, N.C.

Watch for Valentine’s Day sales. Mass-market retailers want to sell merchandise. If items aren’t moving at a pace they want, you may start to see discounts or buy-one-get-one-free offers on heart-shaped boxes.

Don’t pay for packaging. Stroll the candy aisle of your local supermarket or big-box store. You may find assorted chocolates or other confections without the Valentine’s Day trappings for a lower price. If you still want to give your gift a holiday look, simply repackage the contents in a festive container.

Shop the day after. If money is tight but you still want to tell someone you love them, head to stores on Feb. 15, when retailers typically cut prices on Valentine’s Day candy by about 50 percent or more. After all, they want to clear the shelves for all that Easter candy.

Good to know

Between limited space on refrigerated airplanes and trucks, as well as increased labor costs along the supply chain, Valentine’s Day roses in 2022 will cost as much as 60 percent more than their everyday price, says Chris Drummond, chairperson of the Society of American Florists.

This year, an arrangement of a dozen long-stemmed red roses from a florist will run you about $85 to $150. A plastic-wrapped bouquet found in buckets at a supermarket or warehouse store may be equally fresh but less expensive, starting at about $20. Floral fact: The longer the rose stem, the higher the price. Shorter stems are typically found at grocery stores.

There is also a delivery crunch on Feb. 14. “If my three stores do 150 deliveries on a regular day, it’s 2,000 for Valentine’s Day,” says Drummond, who is also president of Penny’s by Plaza Flowers in the Philadelphia area. So not only are you paying a premium delivery charge, but your bouquet may also not arrive until the end of the day.

Shop smarter

Seek alternatives to florists. Steve Daum, a plant physiologist who works for FloraLife, creator of the first fresh-cut flower food, says the trick to finding great flowers at places other than florists is to shop at stores that handle flowers all the time. “Look for a supermarket or warehouse store like Costco or BJ’s Wholesale Club that sells flowers year-round, is always rotating stock and understands proper storage,” he says. Having an on-site floral specialist is another good sign.

Be picky. When buying a bouquet, perform a careful examination. Pull the flowers back and look into the water reservoir. Flowers need clean water to thrive, and gray or brown water is a sign it hasn’t been changed. Also, pull down the cellophane sleeve. Examine where the bloom meets the stem. If you spot any brown, that’s probably fungus, and you should move on to another bouquet. Look at leaf quality. Are the leaves firm without yellow spots? Finally, flowers should be upright, not limp, which is a sign of stress.

Skip red and pink. Talk to your florist about the best value on non-red flowers. “Everyone wants red or pink roses,” Drummond says. Going with something off the beaten path, such as lavender snapdragons or hydrangea, can be a less expensive — and more creative — option.

Bypass flowers altogether. Consider live potted plants, bulbs or flowering succulents. African violets, tulips, orchids, hyacinths and cyclamen are affordable alternatives that will outlast fresh flowers, which often fade after a few days.

Make a florist’s day. “Call your local florist, tell them your budget and ask for designer’s choice,” Drummond says. “They will use what they have in stock and what is freshest. It’s a great way to save money. You end up with more flowers, and florists love it, because they get to exercise their creativity.”

Nix the intermediary. Brokers such as Teleflora or 1-800-Flowers may take a cut of up to 30 percent of what you pay, says Gregg Weisstein, co-founder of BloomNation, an online marketplace for florists across the country. “When a broker sets the price, you may not get the arrangement pictured in that online photo, or the florist may give you less product.” Online shoppers should bypass these services and buy from a trusted source, so your money goes toward the flowers. Even if a florist’s website appears to be legitimate, ensure you are dealing with a real store. Look for reviews and a street address, and call the shop to confirm it’s the real deal.

Deliver early or late. Have flowers delivered on Feb. 11, 12 or 13, so they have a chance to hydrate, open their buds and look their best on Feb. 14, says Kaylyn Hewitt, lead floral designer at online retailer the Bouqs Co. This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday, so some florists will offer a discount if you choose Friday delivery. Include a card that says, “I couldn’t wait to say I love you.” Or spread out gifts over “Valentine’s Week,” earmarking roses for Feb. 17 or 18, around when their prices return to normal.