By Tom Barlow, dealnews contributor Is there anything more symbolic of romantic love than the rose? And is there a day on the calendar as devoted to this love as St. Valentine's Day? Of course not, but as the holiday approaches, many will be looking into their wallets and wondering just how they can minimize the damage that a Valentine's Day bouquet of one dozen red long-stemmed roses will wreak on their budget. There are a number of ways to buy that bouquet — via a national vendor like FTD, or from a local florist, grocery store, or guy sitting at a freeway exit selling from the trunk of his jalopy. Here's a rundown of Valentine's Day floral options. National Florists Assign Orders to Local Florists Most national floral outfits have affiliate florists in towns across the country. So when you order from, say, Teleflora, the network sends your order along to a florist nearest to your delivery location. That shop then makes up the arrangement and delivers it. Teleflora takes a cut of the total cost (sometimes called a service or wire fee) and charges the shop to be part of its network. Pile these fees on top of the cost of the product, as well as the profit that the florist itself needs to make, and that bouquet is going to set you back some serious change. A few national vendors (1-800-Flowers being one) don't send orders to local florists in some cases, and instead ship directly to the recipient via FedEx or UPS. For more elaborate arrangements, though, major floral chains still use local florists. It's not easy to comparison shop between the national vendors; some won't offer a total cost until you've entered credit card information. (We're looking at you, Proflowers.) However, for the purposes of comparison, below are the total costs for one dozen red long-stemmed roses in a simple glass vase, ordered today and shipped to Columbus, Ohio. Keep in mind that when you place your order and when you want flowers delivered are important; the closer to Valentine's Day, the more likely the price will skyrocket. As you can see, the cheapest option comes to about $74, which works out to $6 per stem. Teleflora: $67.95 with a $15.99 service fee, for a total of $83.94 1-800-Flowers: $54.99 with $18.99 s&h, for a total of $73.98 FTD: $79.99 with a $19.99 service fee, for a total of $99.98 Proflowers: $69.97 with $20.97 s&h, for a total of $90.94 Local Florists Aren't Necessarily Cheaper You'd think that florists who sell directly to customers and who avoid service fees associated with national vendors would be able to hit price points that the big boys can't match. However, this doesn't seem to be the case, at least in the small sample size we reviewed. There's a difference in prices based on location and cost of overhead, including the cost to transport blooms from where they were probably grown (Ecuador or Columbia) to the shops. The cheapest dozen long-stem red roses we could find from a local florist came to about $78, or $6.50 per stem. DeSantis Florists of Columbus, Ohio: $77.95 with free shipping Allen's Flower Market in Long Beach, California: $79.99 with $12.99 s&h, for a total of $92.98 Glenn's of Huntsville, Alabama: $89.98 with $7.50 s&h and a $5 wire fee, for a total of $102.48 Grocery Store Flowers: Good Enough to Justify Savings? More and more people are choosing to do their flower shopping in the floral department of their local grocery store, where the prices are, on average, markedly lower. Is this shrewd savings? Most florists would argue that they carry a better quality product, but since there's no absolute scale by which to grade roses, the differences may be hard to discern — at least when the bouquet is fresh. Since blooms usually come from South America, logistics plays a large role in the quality of flowers. How long were they in transport? How long were they at the wholesaler? How long were they in the store fridge? A grocery store with fast turnover will likely have a fresher product than one that only sells a few bouquets a day. The only way to judge the quality and condition of each seller's roses is by examining the flowers yourself. Are the stems 70 to 80 cm long, the definition of a long-stemmed rose? Are the unbloomed flowers completely tight? Known as bullets, these roses may never open. Are the flowers fully bloomed? If so, the shelf-life of these flowers is short. Keeping all this in mind, the perfect roses should be in the beginning stages of bloom. While price and quality will vary wildly at a grocery store, we checked the offerings at a local Whole Foods in Ohio. That store was charging $24.99 for two dozen long-stem roses, although a shopper would have to provide his own vase. Still, even if you bought a $15 vase (which is probably more than you'd actually need to spend for something as basic as what you'd get from a florist), that comes to less than $2 per stem. Watch for Variation When Ordering from a National Chain Buying from a national florist is no guarantee that you'll get a bouquet that pleases your recipient, either. Consumer reporter Jean Chatzky recently test ordered roses for the Today Show from various retailers, and found that almost bouquet looked like the catalog photo. When Teleflora sends out an order to a local florist for immediate delivery, that florist might not have the exact flowers on hand to fill the catalog order. This is why each floral site has, buried somewhere in its order forms, the right to substitute flowers for the ones a customer orders. In some ways this is good as most customers would probably rather receive a dozen good-quality pink roses than a dozen reds that were destined for the dustbin. However, for a more complex arrangement, the final product might not resemble what the catalog pictured at all. So how can you make sure you end up with that dynamite bouquet of roses this Valentine's Day? Start comparison shopping now. Head to your local florists, then compare its prices to those from retailers online. If the exact look or type of flower isn't important to you, then consider opting for a cheaper order online. Otherwise, find a local florist and pick up the arrangement yourself, so you can make sure you're getting what you paid for. To make the Valentine's Day task even easier, set up an email alert now for floral deals. Front page photo credit: Ilse Sommers Photo credits top to bottom: Cumming, GA Florist, Century Floral & Gifts, Deluxe Florist, and AB Home Interiors Related dealnews Features: What to Expect From Valentine's Day Deals Inspired Valentine's Day Gifts: Save Money, Earn Brownie Points How to Choose the Perfect Engagement Ring Tom Barlow formerly wrote for AOL's WalletPop and DailyFinance, and in addition to his dealnews contributions, he currently writes about lifestyle topics for Forbes.com. Follow @dealnews on Twitter for the latest roundups, price trend info, and stories. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.