Light-hearted index tracks cost of 'I love you'

Houston ChronicleFebruary 14, 2012 

John Payne has tracked the cost of the same bottle of Simi Chardonnay for the past 20 years.

He is not waiting for a markdown. He is the creator of The Cost of Loving Index, a year-to-year Valentine's Day gauge of prices of gift items such as wine, long-stem roses, perfume and Godiva chocolates.

This year's index is notable in that most of the nine items that Payne, president of investment advisory firm Houston Asset Management, tracks did not go up in price, including long-stem roses, lingerie, wine, Godiva chocolates and greeting cards.

Some more expensive items did rise in price this year, however. A one-ounce bottle of Chanel No. 5 climbed by almost 10 percent, according to his index.

The Loving Index has its surprises.

For example, the cost of that bottle of Chardonnay from a local liquor store has actually declined a bit since 1992, from $26.95 to $25.85, he said.

A movie for two at the same mainstream movie theater, meanwhile, has gone from $6 to $21 in that time, an average increase of 6.5 percent a year, Payne said.

Payne got the idea for the Cost of Loving Index after concluding that traditional consumer price indexes were dull. The name Cost of Loving is a play on the Cost of Living Index, but is not a traditional index, he said.

His Loving Index is intended to be fun, he said, and has shown that the national cost of living and Cost of Loving indexes "both end up with about the same rates over a 10 or 20 year period, although some luxury Valentine's Day gifts will have their spikes."

Given that the Cost of Loving Index relies on data from only one local retail source in each of his nine Valentine's Day gift categories, Payne stressed that his research is not scientific. It is consistent, he said, as he calls the same store each year and asks the price of the same Valentine's Day gift. He does not reveal he is doing a survey.

Over the past decade, the nine items in his index have increased by a cumulative total of almost 2 percent a year. Nationally, spending on Valentine's Day gifts is expected to go up this year. Consumers will increase the amount of their Valentine's Day gift purchases by 8 percent, according to an American Express survey.

More than half of consumers - 54 percent, compared to 41 percent last year - plan to buy Valentine's Day gifts, while 46 percent expect to visit their favorite restaurant, up from 39 percent last year.

Flowers are the most popular tokens of affection with 29 percent of consumers planning to buy them, followed by gift cards, 19 percent, andjewelry, 15 percent.

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