Hopefully I won't end up sleeping in the garage...

If you're feeling blue because you don't think you can spend much green to make this a Valentine's Day with a lot of red in it (think: cards, candy, roses), you're not alone.

TNS Retail Forward, a Columbus, Ohio, retail-research group, released a survey late last week that predicts a rather anemic-looking Valentine's Day for shoppers and store owners alike.

Some of the findings:

*Although men plan to spend $95 for Valentine's Day versus $92 in 2007; women will spend less: $67, down from $74 last year.
* Sixty-one percent of men plan to buy a card, compared with 69% last year.
* Sales in perfume and flowers are expected to be flat this year. Fine jewelry, lingerie and clothing will rise a little.

Well, I can explain that last one. If you're in a shaky economy, the last thing you really want to do is shell out a lot of money for roses that will be wilted in a week, or even a pretty scent that eventually will be just a memory. At least fine jewelry, lingerie and clothing will last, probably for years and maybe a lifetime. It's more of a practical investment, rather than a giddy romantic purchase based on passion. In fact, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, retailers had their worst January in at least 30 years because most consumers are being very sensible lately. As a rule, they used gift cards that they were given in December to buy essentials like gasoline and groceries instead of new clothes, electronics, books, furniture and the like.

I'm going the same route when I go Valentine's Day shopping and buying my wife things that I know our family needs instead of things she really wants. If she looks less than pleased when I unveil my gifts, I'll show her all of the numbers and data that I've collected on what other Americans are doing, but I'm hoping it won't come to that, and that she'll immediately appreciate my creativity and practicality. If she does, I'm sure she'll love her chocolate-covered spark plugs and our new lavender-scented toaster.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist, primarily for Entrepreneur magazine, and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America.
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