Americans will profess their love this Valentine's Day by digging deeper into their wallets than ever before, new research shows.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that total spending this Valentine's Day is expected to reach $17.6 billion, with the average person shelling out more than $126, up nearly 10 percent from last year and the most ever in the survey's 10-year history.

Consumers will spend the most on their better halves, the data shows, with the average person spending $74 on their spouse or significant other. Additionally, consumers will dole out an average of more than $25 on their children, parents or other family members, nearly $7 on friends and $4.50 on their pets.

"As one of the biggest gift-giving holidays of the year, it's encouraging that consumers are still exhibiting the desire to spend on discretionary gift items, a strong indication our economy continues to move in the right direction," said Matthew Shay, NRF president and chief executive officer. "Anticipating high foot traffic in the coming weeks, retailers have replenished their inventories and will entice eager shoppers with great deals on everything from special menu items at restaurants to clothing to flowers and, of course, chocolates."

Men will do the bulk of the shopping this year, the survey found. The average male is expected to spend $168.74 — nearly twice as much as women — on clothing, jewelry and greeting cards, among other things.

Jewelry is garnering the most attention from Valentine's Day shoppers this year. Total spending on rings, necklaces and other bling is projected to reach $4.1 billion, up from $3.5 billion last year, according to the research.

Evenings out are also a hot commodity, with consumers expected to spend $3.5 billion for special nights out on the town. Shoppers will also spend more than $1 billion on each category including: flowers, candy, clothing and gift cards.

Though discount stores are expected to see the most traffic, the research found that one-third of shoppers will head to department stores, up from 30 percent last year. Online retailers will also see a nice boost from the business of love, with nearly 20 percent of shoppers spending their money via the Internet.

The 2012 Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions study is based on surveys of more than 9,000 U.S. consumers.

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who spent 10 years working as a newspaper reporter before working in public relations. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.

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