ALBANY – The percentage of Americans who celebrate Valentine’s Day has been steadily declining, but those who do have been putting more of their wallets, if not their hearts, into the occasion.

At an expected $20.7 billion in Valentine’s Day-related spending, the record set in 2016 will be shattered by $1 million, a survey that Prosper Insights & Analytics conducted for the National Retail Federation says.

Whether the partial federal government shutdown will impact the numbers is an unknown factor since the survey was conducted in early January before the financial pinch of the shutdown was being felt by consumers.

If the new record is set, it will be made possible by a sharp increase in average spending by the smaller number of Americans who observe what is generally considered the year’s most romantic holiday. The amounts that those celebrating intend to spend averaged out at $161.96 this year, well above the record $146.84 that also was set in 2016. The lowest spending level was during the Great Recession in 2009 when the average dropped to $102.50.

“Those who are participating are spending more than ever, and that could be the result of the strong economy,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said of the numbers released on Jan. 31. “With employment and income growing, consumers appear to be expanding the scope of who qualifies for a card or a box of candy.”

There’s also a growing trend toward showing love for others beside a spouse or romantic interest.

“The vast majority of Valentine’s Day dollars are still spent on significant others, but there’s a big increase this year in consumers spreading the love to children, parents, friends and co-workers,” Shay said.

The average is 13 percent higher than the $143.56 U.S. consumers spent last year, which neared the 2016 record by checking in at $19.6 billion overall.

Still, there’s much less romance in the air than there used to be.

This year, according to the survey, 51 percent of Americans plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day in some fashion, a 4 percent drop from last. The highest percentage of U.S. Valentine’s Day celebrants was the first year of the survey in 2007 when 63 percent participated.

NRF officials say there’s no clear reason why there are fewer celebrants.

“Valentine’s Day means different things for different people,” Prosper Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said. “Whether it’s a day of romance or one of making sure their children have enough cards in their backpacks for each of their classmates, it’s an important day for those who choose to participate.”

Of the $18.40 year-over-year increase in average spending, only $4.26 of that amount is earmarked for spouses and significant others, though they are still recipients of the lion’s share at $93.24.

Surveyors found that consumers say they’ll spend $29.87 on other family members, up $4.58 from 2018; $9.78 on friends, up $2.59; $8.63 on children’s classmates or teachers, up $1.37; $7.78 on co-workers, up $2.99; $6.94 on pets, up $1.44, and $5.72 on others, up $1.17.

Men once again will lead the charge (and cash) spending at $229.54, up a significant 20 percent from 2018. Women are much more frugal, coming in at less than half the men’s average at $97.77. If that holds, it will actually be a 1 percent drop from what women averaged last year.

And love — spendingwise, at least — is still for the young. The 35-44 age group tops Valentine’s Day generosity with a $279.14 average, followed by the 25-34 group at $239.07. Both, however, also have more people to buy for, including children and their children’s classmates and/or teachers.

And while chocolate isn’t a good idea for a pet, dogs and cats are getting in on the receiving end of Valentine’s Day. One out of five who plan to spend will buy something for a pet, generating $886 million in sales. When the NRF first asked about pet Valentine’s spending in 2008, the amount was $519 million.

The expected spending amounts this year by category are:

— $3.9 billion on jewelry, which will be given by 18 percent of celebrants;

— $3.5 billion on an evening out by 34 percent;

— $2.1 billion on clothing by 18 percent;

— $1.9 billion on flowers by 35 percent;

— $1.8 billion on candy by 52 percent;

— $1.3 billion on gift cards by 15 percent;

— $933 million on greeting cards by 44 percent.

Responses on the survey found that 40 percent wanted the gift of an experience, such as tickets to an event. Some are bound for disappointment because only 25 percent planned to give that type of gift.

Where will the gifts come from? Thirty-five percent of shoppers will head out to department stores, followed by 32 percent who will go to discount stores. Online purchases will be made by 27 percent, while specialty stores will be the destinations of 18 percent. Florists will get orders from 16 percent, small or local businesses can expect 14 percent to drop by, jewelry stores and specialty clothing stores will each get visits from 9 percent.

And who knows what you want more than you do? The survey found that among those who don’t plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day conventionally, 11 percent of them still plan to treat themselves to gifts like clothing or jewelry. Nine percent plan to hang out with single friends or family.

The survey of 7,384 adults 18 and older was conducted Jan. 2-9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

Contact freelance writer Jim Hendricks at papajimhendricks@gmail.com. Follow @JimEHendricks on Twitter.

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