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Tess Vigeland: Looks like even Cupid is no match for the troubled economy. A National Retail Federation survey says Valentine's Day spending will likely go down this year for the first time since 2005. It's a big drop too. From $123 on average last year to $102.50. Of course not all consumers were created "average." Marketplace Money's Sean Cole recently got some insight into what the other half spends on Valentine's Day. Or rather, the other 1 percent.
Sean Cole: I talked with Jim Trippon.
Jim Trippon: So I'm Jim Trippon. I'm the adviser to America's millionaires.
He's a CPA in Houston. He has 400 clients, all of them millionaires -- some of them, uber millionaires. And every year around this time Trippon releases his list of the ten most outrageously expensive Valentine's Day gifts in the world.
Trippon: Yeah we call it "The Ultimate List of Valentine's Gifts" or sometimes we call it "The Worlds Most Expensive Valentine's Gifts."
We're talking anywhere form a $48 million private jet to a $40 bottle of spring water.
Trippon: Bling water.
Both of which were on the list in 2007. This year the most expensive item on the list:
Trippon: Is an authentic templar knight castle in Tuscany. And you can pick that up for the cheap, cheap price of only €11 million.
Or $14 million.
Trippon: Yeah but that's completely renovated, of course. You don't have to redo the kitchen or anything.
Cole: Well that's a savings isn't it?
Trippon: There you go.
I was relieved we could laugh about this. Trippon isn't some jerk celebrating conspicuous consumption. In fact, he says, there's a message to his madness, at least partly.
Trippon: The point of coming out with the list was if money is no object, I'll show you the ultimate gifts you can buy for Valentine's Day. But if buying something on this list would cause you to fight about money the rest of the year, then maybe you want to be little more cautious about your spending.
Cole: So it's really sort of a cautionary exercise.
Trippon: Right, but if you have unlimited funds, we've got some great stuff on our list.
About a third of the items come from researching high-end magazines and shops. But the other two-thirds come directly from his clients.
Trippon: They say Jim you know you really ought to put this on the list because this is something that we're going to do.
Which is where No. 2 came from this year. Isla Bonita, a $2.6 million island off of Brazil.
Trippon: One of my clients was looking for a vacation property. And so they were looking at a variety of islands throughout, you know, this part of the world.
Cole: And is your client buying it as a Valentine's Day gift?
Trippon: They were certainly talking about it.
The rest of this year's list is what you might expect: A $60,000 watch, a $9,600 cell phone. Some of the items were so fancy I couldn't even tell what they were at first.
Cole:: Bond No. 9 Crystallized Amphora. Is that a watch?
Trippon: No, no. What that is, it's a perfume bottle.
Trippon: And it doesn't even come with the perfume. But it is covered with small, very tiny diamonds.
Cole: So, it's like a perfume decanter.
And now a special Valentine's Day message to my girlfriend: Baby, if, for some reason, I present you with a 42-ounce, $3,500 perfume decanter, please murder me with it. Let's return to the Marketplace Money story already in progress.
Trippon: Other than the island this year, our average price has moved down a little bit from years past.
So the economic downturn might even be affecting the absurdly rich. Plus, they're looking at more substantial,investment-type gifts this year. The question is, is there more sentiment in a $60,000 watch than a $60 watch, or a $6 watch. Trippon says it's all a matter of scale.
Trippon: And to them, if they gave something less than that it may not show that they really had that much commitment. And as silly as that may sound, you know, they're really flying at a different altitude than the rest of us.
Cole: They certainly are, because that does sound extremely silly.
Trippon: But, you know ,it's only one weeks' salary, so what's the big deal?
I'll tell you what the big deal is, said almost all of the people I stopped on the street in Boston last Sunday:
MAN 1: A castle for Valentine's day? That's crazy.
WOMAN 1: It seems a little outrageous.
WOMAN 2: I think it's crazy.
MAN 2: I think they're outrageous.
WOMAN 3: Ridiculous.
WOMAN 4: I think it's ridiculous.
MAN 3: I think that's really crazy.
Then again, said these very same people.
MAN 4: If you got the money, spend it. You know what I mean?
WOMAN 5: I guess that's true.
MAN 6: It stimulates the economy, so. Well, depends whose economy but, yeah.
This was in a busy shopping area and a few of these folks were busily shopping for Valentine's gifts themselves. One of them carried a hundred dollar pair of sneakers for his girlfriend of five years. He was 19 years old.
COLE: Do you think that, like, you can sort of bespeak love with a castle? Do you know what I mean?
MAN 1: I don't think so. Not with a castle. Maybe an island though.
MAN 1: Maybe an island. I think so.
And that's the thing about this list, if you look at it long enough you think, wouldn't it be great if I could buy stuff like this, whether or not I ever would? Wouldn't it be great if i never had to worry about money again?That's a reality for some people.
Trippon: Money allows them freedom from not having choices, you know. If they have a health crisis they can get the best doctor. They can get the best of whatever it may be.
COLE: And I guess that's what I'm saying is, like, I can totally understand getting Cadillac health care with your money if you have that kind of money. But what I don't understand is buying somebody a jet for Valentine's Day.
Trippon: Well, then get the island this year.
And now, another special Valentine's Day message to my girlfriend: I love you.
In Boston, I'm Sean Cole, for Marketplace Money.