The Difficulties of Shopping for My Wife

The Difficulties of Shopping for My Wife - picture of Christmas gifts

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A few days ago, I went Christmas shopping for my wife Holly. For those of you who have been reading us for a while, you may recall that neither of us particularly likes shopping in the first place. I’d rather stick a needle in my eye than go shopping for a normal person, yet Holly presents an even bigger challenge. What do you buy for somebody who literally hates “stuff?” How do you begin thinking about gifts for someone who is disgusted by things? It takes some mad skills to figure out what would be meaningful to my lovely wife.

Should I get her something that would make her feel really good, or should I get her something with a lot more meaning?  Which way should I go?

Obviously, shopping for my wife is kind of an arduous task. Yet, it didn’t start out this way. I used to enjoy shopping for her quite a bit. I would spend hours trying to pick out the right things to get her. I wanted her to know that I loved her, that I appreciated all of the things that she does for me on a daily basis. Unfortunately, approximately 39 of the first 47 gifts I ever gave her were returned to the store. The others were sold in a yard sale. She either decided that she didn’t need them or that she wanted the cash. Of course, this took most of the fun out of giving gifts to her, knowing that – although appreciative – she just didn’t like stuff.

The Annual “No Gift Bargain”

Now, all of our money is shared which makes it even harder to buy things for her because she feels like she is just buying things for herself. Still, every year I ask her what she wants for Christmas/Birthday/etc. She replies with, “Please dont’ get me anything. Let’s not spend the money.” Stupidly, I usually stop planning here.

By this point in our marriage, you would think that I would know better. Please remember, I was born with the brain of a man – which sometimes proves to be woefully inefficient in the romance quadrant. Inevitably, a few weeks later I hear from Holly the dreaded, “I got you something small for Christmas.” Again, I ask her what she wants and her reply is nothing. So, now I’m faced with a dilemma; do I buy her something that she will probably return, or do I honor our agreement by going sans gift – risking her thinking (wrongly) that I don’t care. At least my brain is developed enough for me to realize that there really isn’t a choice there at all.

Shopping Complications

Still, there are a few things that further complicate the matter further. First, I can never go shopping for my wife anonymously. Holly keeps a constant eye on all of our accounts. While this is a great thing and we know where our accounts stand at all times, it is a little difficult to hit up the Kohl’s store and her not know about it. Getting a call or a text as you are leaving the parking lot asking why you spent $50 at Macy’s is one of the few downfalls of completely combining our finances. Executing a surprise of any kind is nearly impossible to pull off.

In addition, I also have a timing issue to deal with. You see, Christmas, Holly’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, and Valentine’s Day are all within about 6 weeks of each other. So, not only do I have to figure out one gift to buy for her; I have to get 4 gifts all at the same time. This is tough both in the planning, and on the pocketbook. We certainly don’t buy expensive gifts, but it does make budgeting a bit tighter.

Stop Whining Already…

The women reading this are probably wondering what I’m complaining about. That leaves 46 weeks left in the year for me to plan this Birthmas Valenversary Extravaganza, right? That may be true if not for the fact that she buys everything that she wants, when she wants it throughout the year. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to stop her from buying the exact present I was going to give a few days later.

Believe me, I’ve tried all sorts of different gifts. I’ve tried jewelry. I’ve tried clothing. I’ve tried photos and frames. I’ve tried special event gifts. I’ve even tried trips to the spa and massages. Unfortunately, the little frugalista is an expert at making a $10 bottle of Sun-in last for a whole year, and she feels uncomfortable having a stranger paint her nails or rub her back. So, what in the hell do you get somebody like that?

In the end, I just want her to feel appreciated. I want her to know that I love her and that she is the motor that keeps our family moving. She is my best friend, my companion, and there is nobody that I would rather spend my days with. I want her to know that she is a great mom, and that I am proud to call her my wife. So, while I do have a gift or two for her to unwrap under the tree, I think this closing paragraph will mean as much to her as anything I could ever give her. I love you Holly, and Happy Birthmas Valenversary!

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  1. My wife is possibly the easiest person on earth to buy for, so I feel really sorry for you mate.
    Perhaps she would just enjoy a nice frugal home made neck massage from you? At least she can’t take it back 🙂

      1. Except that you don’t like massages…argh…

      2. My hubby the past 2 yrs has wrapped up a virtual gift under the tree for our family and its been our “big” vacation so that way its something to look forward to for 3- 6 months and its justifiable too 🙂 Also I have received many coupons for backrubs, nights out, dinner out, take out, type things.. Also those movie passes at costco for 2 with popcorn and drink are great too 🙂 or coffee cards – wrap them in a box in another box and wrap that box in a bigger box 🙂 throw sytofoam popcorn of fake snow in there too and make her work to get at the gift card for her favourite coffee/ store 😉 Then she can get what she wants when she wants it and you get the fun of seeing her unwrap something.. OH I also get food wrapped – like new flavours of sauces on the market for me to try for supper sometime or some of my favourite sauces that I like and he tollerates 😉 nothing perishable 🙂 plus my fav chocolates or coffee wrapped 🙂 Or if its my kids they randomly wrap things they find around the house and put under the tree, last yr it was a pair of my socks, a can opener and cans of soup. They get their humour from their dad (he did a $10 gift for an exchange one yr and it was “dinner and a movie” in a box he had a dollarstore dvd, can of spam, can of corn, can of potatoes, 2 wine glasses and a mini bottle of wine. The hillarious part was it ended up being my dad getting this gift LOL..

        1. That is funny! I think it’s cute that your kids have wrapped up random things around the house. That sounds like something my three year old would do!

  2. I feel your pain Greg! My wife’s birthday was only a few weeks ago and being creative with that & Christmas as well as Valentine’s can be tricky. My wife is pretty much the same way and hates to just get stuff. While we have combined our money completely she does have her own credit card that she can do as she pleases with. I generally know the balance but don’t check up on the activity as she’s so frugal with it and don’t want to ruin the surprise. If that doesn’t work then we just use cash so the place and thing is not known. Generally what I end up giving my wife is a day to herself. I stay home and watch the kids and she can go do whatever she wants and take her time doing it. As she usually has a kid or two screaming or hanging on her it’s usually well appreciated.

    1. That sounds like an awesome gift, John. He has actually tried that before….but I hate leaving all of them!

  3. I sympathize. I have a few people in my life that are very similar. Thankfully my wife is not.

    I’ve started to make charitable donations in people’s names to causes they support. It’s a thoughtful gift that doesn’t leave them with more “stuff” and on a frugal note, you do get a tax deduction.

  4. We solved the, “don’t spend our money to buy me stuff I don’t want” problem with DH getting an allowance. Now whatever he buys comes out of his money.

    Usually he gets me something to wear. 😉 Sometimes he gets me something to eat.

    One year he made a plaque with adjectives that he thinks describe me with the letters of my name running through diagonally in silver. (Like one of those poems that make words with the first letter of each word in the poem, except the first letter first word, second letter second word etc.) That made me tear up.

    What do I get him? I get him 10x his allowance in money from our funds. Because he likes to shop for stuff more than he likes to get stuff and I have never been successful in getting him something, even things he’s said he wanted because if he hadn’t gotten it himself by the time Christmas or his birthday rolled around, he didn’t want it anymore.

    1. Money… favorite gift of all time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think that is a great idea!

  5. It is tough to buy a frugal wife a gift (I’m in the same boat), but I think you just have to be attentive during the year to pick things up. It’s IMPOSSIBLE that she doesn’t want anything, ever.

    Everybody wants something. It may be simple and she may have said it in passing, but they drop clues. You just have to be ready and write it down when she does.

    That won’t help you this year, but maybe you’ll have an easier time next go-round.

    1. You’re right, Jason. Everyone wants at least something. We had Christmas with my in-laws this past weekend and my mother-in-law got me a new paper shredder (mine broke) and a Sonicare toothbrush. She nailed it. Last year she got me a steam mop. She nailed it there too.

    2. Oh she drops hints…and then usually goes and buys it herself🙂 I do take a list of the hints she drops, but I haven’t tried writing it down yet. Perhaps I will next year.

      1. I forget if Holly has a Pinterest page… but if she does then looking through the things she found ‘cute’ or ‘wants’ is a pretty easy indicator… it’s like a Christmas/Birthday list that she updates herself throughout the year….

        I tried going through my GF’s boards…except most are clothes and she enforces a strict “DO NOT BUY ME CLOTHES” rule.

  6. Mr. PoP and I are both tough to shop for… but one thing that has worked is “giving” each other extra vacation days. If we’re already planning on taking a 3 day vacay, we make it a 4 in the name of one person. Then that’s their day on vacay, and when day 3 comes and you’re not packing up your suitcase and heading home, the value of the gift becomes evident.

    1. That makes sense! And it’s something that you both enjoy…which is great for both of you.

  7. That anecdote about the gifts being returned reminded me of Friends when everyone knew that it didn’t matter what they bought Rachel since she would always exchange those gifts for things she “actually wanted”!

    I don’t have to worry about any of that right now being single, but to everyone else I am the pain in the ass to shop for. I always say that I don’t want or need anything since I: a) buy myself whatever I want when I want it, and b) also hate “stuff” so I’d rather not be forced to keep something just because it was a gift and feel bad getting rid of it. My father is the same way so I know how annoying I am to others when those times come around lol.

    1. Parents are impossible to shop for! My mom feels guilty when people spend money on her, so that makes it especially hard.

  8. My wife is the same way in regards to not wanting anything. She is not materialistic, which is awesome. She doesn’t really care about jewelry that much, though she has some. It makes it difficult for me to figure out what I am supposed to get. Her birthday is 10 days from Christmas, so I have to plan accordingly.

    1. Greg got me jewelry once…..a pair of diamond and sapphire earrings from Macy’s. I returned them. I’m pretty sure that’s the last time he will ever get my jewelry!

      1. Our first fight was him (actually his mother) buying me jewelry, back in high school. He accidentally left the receipt in there too… it was like $80 (insanely a lot in my mind at age 16) for a necklace *that his mother picked out* for someone who never wears jewelry. I wanted his first present to me to be something meaningful that showed he knew me. Luckily it only took the one mistake. (Though the gift of toffee, which I usually love, the year I had a temporary crown over Christmas was not appreciated.)

        1. I wouldn’t want a necklace that his mom picked out either. Have you really been together since high school? That’s awesome!

        2. Ha! Good try on the toffee, I guess. I hope he enjoyed eating it at least!

  9. “Christmas, Holly’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, and Valentine’s Day are all within about 6 weeks of each other.” Wow! That can’t be easy. My wife and I had a lot of fun getting each other Christmas and Birthday gifts the first few years we were dating. Now that we are married and have combined our finances, (and got each other some big presents in the past) it’s much harder to shop for each other. Granted Holly sounds MUCH more difficult to shop for than anyone else I know, it still can be difficult to shop for anyone who you share finances with.

    1. Valentine’s is taken care of this upcoming year because we will be in the Dominican Republic on vacation! Woot!

  10. I know exactly where you are coming from Greg. However my wife never says don’t get me anything she just doesn’t give me many ideas. Instead what I like to do is get her something I know she would use and appreciate.

    For example, I’ve noticed that my wife has some issues with back pain which she gets every now and again and as a result I got her an hour long massage lined up for her. This allowed her to get some relief from the stress and back pain and not have to pay for some product she might use once or twice.

    1. That is a really sweet and thoughtful gift, Chris! I’m sure your wife appreciates it.

    2. That is a very thoughtful gift. I’m sure that she really appreciated that!

      I have tried the services route a few times. Unfortunately, Holly doesn’t like the mani/pedis, massages, etc.

  11. Have you thought about doing something like an “experience” gift? Something the two of you could enjoy together? Sometimes I hate just getting “stuff” too, but I’ve always enjoyed things like spa days, or wine tasting…stuff like that as gifts. Girly romantic shit. 🙂

  12. I’m laughing out loud at my desk while I read this at work this morning. Too funny! My husband runs into the same issues in trying to buy things for me – his deal diva. Early on when we were dating or just married, he would buy me jewelry, flowers, etc….all of which I would politely thank him for while inwardly calculating the cost of these things. After several years, he now shops intelligently, asking me for Kohl’s coupons before shopping, and then impresses me with how much he’s saved by using coupons, Kohl’s cash, etc. That’s the best gift ever!

    Oh, and we get the credit card notifications, too. So, there’s no hiding it from each other unless we pay cash…which we wouldn’t because then we’d miss out on the credit card points!

    1. I know what you mean. My husband impresses me with his savings sometimes too. It speaks straight to my heart =)

    1. I’m sure they will love it, Lauren! I love it when my daughter sings to me! =)

  13. Mandy @MoneyMasterMom says:

    I’d say that last paragraph probably achieved more then any gift ever could. It’s like Lauren at L Bee and the Money Tree said in her post today. It’s all about the power of the written word.

  14. What a sweet post! Awwww….

    I agree w/Tonya. An “experience” gift is a good idea! Something you guys can do, that’s outside of the norm? Maybe skydiving? And this suggestion is coming from someone who is terrified to do that 🙂

    1. Skydiving?!?!?! LOL~ I would be terrified of that. We have talked about going parasailing on our next vacation. Kind’ve like skydiving? No, not really =)

  15. I’m sure I’m the same way. This year we didn’t get Christmas gifts at all but let our daughter go pick something out for each of us. I can’t wait to see what I got. Probably a tutu. I’d just get a sitter and go out to dinner or some other event. I think after you’ve been married for a while, gifts should be over.

    1. I do too. We are kind and loving to each other 365 days a year. That is the best gift I could ever ask for.

  16. Joanna @ Our Freaking Budget says:

    I feel for ya. Poor husbands. Even when women insist they don’t want anything, they WILL be disappointed if you follow that advice. Sit her down and force her to make a list of items she would like. If she’s like other women, there are ALWAYS more things she needs/wants, even if she says there aren’t. And then get some cash out and be the best sneak you can be! Good luck!

    1. Usually he gets cash out of savings if he wants to get a gift that I don’t know about. I dont check that balance every day and I wouldn’t notice if it was a little off anyway. HINT HINT

    2. “Even when women insist they don’t want anything, they WILL be disappointed if you follow that advice. ”

      This is not true for everyone everywhere. Some people are honest and forthright and say what they mean. Also, “no” means “no”.

  17. Feel your pain Greg. My wife sounds very similar to yours. My solution has been, and will continue to be, the gift of experiences. Some that jump to mind include Horseback riding lessons, drum lessons, and a GiftCard to her favorite restaurant with babysitting included. I wish you luck, sounds like you’ll need it!

    1. I like the experience ideas! I may have to try those sometimes.

  18. I think Brian does not have this problem buying for me – there’s always stuff I want! Haha. Even when it’s not physical “stuff” I do enjoy going to the spa or getting my hair done.

    1. For Mother’s Day a few years back, I tried the whole spa day gift. I think she enjoyed it, but pretty much told me it wasn’t something that she wanted me to get her again.

  19. Have you thought of giving her personal services. For example, cooking if she normally does the cooking, house cleaning if she normal does it or some other replacement service. You can make it more personal, massage, spa day, or just a day centered around her. Most people like to feel special and it is a very thoughtful gift.

    1. Yeah, I have tried nearly everything. Not only does she not like stuff, but she also doesn’t like for me to spend money. Once, I even gave her some “coupons” for a week where she wouldn’t have to do any housework. That gift backfired as well…

  20. ornella @ moneylicious says:

    You could use cash to buy “surprising” gifts.

  21. I feel for you. Hubby and I basically don’t buy each other gifts..but it’s so awkward if she gets you something and you don’t have anything. I”m impossible to shop for too..

  22. Really enjoyed this post, although my wife is not the frugal one – I am. So usually she goes along with my goal of not buying me anything (sometimes she breaks that request, but hey – it is still nice to get a gift) For my wife, there are certain ‘brands’ I know she likes. All I need to know is the brand name, and I’m golden.

  23. Hey Greg! This is the first Christmas (now that we are married) that we have properly combined finances and are also facing the struggle keeping purchases secret! It is driving me crazy not being able to check one of our accounts! Sad right?

  24. If she is not a big fan of stuff just hit up the dollar store and pick something out. I’m sure you hustle a buck from somewhere without her knowing. That way she won’t know and she won’t be upset that you spent alot of money. It’s the thought that counts, right? Mrs.CBB and I don’t give gifts for each other. We buy ourselves one thing that we “want” for the house such as the TV we bought last year after Christmas. This year we are looking for a sound bar. We feel the same it’s like spending our own money to shop for stuff so we don’t bother. We don’t bother with cards either. I don’t need a card to tell my wife I love her! I show her! Cheers mate and best of luck to you. It’s not that bad in the dog house hahaha..

  25. Haha, this is great 🙂 Yeah, it’s tough. My wife usually doesn’t say what she wants. I try to pay attention during the year, but well, you know how well that goes. Lately I’ve been just making reservations at a fancy place and getting a babysitter for the girls. SHe loves this. And I guess it makes sense…someone else cooking and cleaning and wiating on her…

  26. Haha I’m the same way and my poor hubby feels the pain…When I do want something it’s super practical like a broom or paint brushes which I think annoys him even more. Our finances are also combined so it gets tricky but for bdays/christmas etc we set a budget and usually just withdraw the money to buy in cash or we’ll just buy it and tell the other not to look at the account for x amt of days if it’ll be a dead giveaway (like a florist).

  27. Insanity, plain and simple. You’re doing the same things over and over again, but expecting different results.

    There are all kinds of creative ways to not give gifts. Try some of them out.

    1. Sorry, but that’s a little harsh! It’s just fun commentary. Lighten up!!! =)

  28. Justin@TheFrugalPath says:

    My wife and I have a rule that we just don’t check the accounts this time of year. It can be difficult, but we make sure to put purchases on different cards or use cash.
    It can be difficult to purchase for a frugal wife. My wife doesn’t like jewelry too much. I’ve bought it for her in the past, but she mainly wears the stuff I bought when we first started dating. It can be difficult, but you’ve got to be creative.

  29. I was so glad to read your post and all these amazing replies because I am just like your wife in the gift-giving department. One of the best gifts I have received is a commitment & follow-up to walk our dog twice a day…mind you, I am not happy at all when it doesn’t happen, LOL. What I wish for is more consideration in the housework; honestly, if I didn’t have so many dishes to wash I would be so happy. Is there something your wife doesn’t complain about but could use some help with? This is where the love has to kick-in, because perhaps you don’t want to do the dishes either. (Just teasing, and not meaning to sound sexist.)

    1. Those are all great ideas. I am a super practical person and I love gifts of cleaning the house, cleaning the garage, etc.

  30. Awww sweet!

    Have you ever tried getting her a spa experience? Something to relax the body.

    Made up chore / favor certificates could be a nice touch. When she’s tired and nobody feels like cleaning up the mess left wherever, she uses one of them to make you do it. Haha.

  31. What about chocolate?! It is delicious and everyone loves chocolate! I would be quite happy if my boyfriend only bought me chocolate for every gift giving occasion 😀

      1. Haha! I’ve started only buying $3-5 chocolate bars. SO MUCH BETTER! (And so worth it. Yes, it is frugal to buy expensive chocolate. I buy less of it! Haha.)

  32. My wife always buys something for herself and at Christmas “she surprises me” with the bill. 🙁

  33. eemusings says:

    I swear my fiance could have written this post about our relationship! He says he has a great Christmas surprise for me, though – will be interesting to see what he comes up with. If it’s just going to be something taking up space in the house I shall not be impressed (he’s materialistic, I’m anti stuff in general)

    1. We are both anti-stuff so it makes it hard! Hopefully he gets you something yummy to eat or an “experience.” type of gift!

  34. I face a similar dilemma with my dad. He literally has everything he could ever want and doesn’t want his kids to spend their “hard-earned money” on him. So every Father’s day and birthday, we have no idea what to do.

    Most of the time we take him out for dinner or coffee and just let him know how much we love him. I think that’s something good for everyone – offering your time. Our loved ones just want time with us!

    1. I totally agree. I’m sure that he appreciates your thoughtfulness!

  35. I kind of like what we did this year, I got her something that she basically picked out for me and she got me something that I picked out for her. Then I just got her a few little inside joke type presents for $20-$40 total. That way I know she will at least enjoy one of her presents(the one she picked out! haha).

  36. My husband always knows that some money for my travel a/c is the the thing I will be most grateful for. This year it was $150 cash placed in a small decorative can along with a bar of chocolate.

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  38. I have very similar problems. My lady is very hard to shop for because she is very cost conscience, she doesn’t really specify what material type items she likes, and when I ask what she would like as a present / what she would like to do, she usually responds with “I don’t know, don’t worry about it, etc”. Tomorrow is her birthday for instance and I, for a while now, have been racking my brain on what to get for her tomorrow as a present or at least plan something to do that will make her day but I am totally clueless as to what to plan / what to get her and it’s driving me insane as it usually does this time of year. lol She is usually pretty keen on what to get me for my birthday, fathers day, Christmas, etc… so naturally I feel bad when it comes around to her special day but I also realize that since I make my interests very clearly obvious to her and everyone else around me, I’m not very hard to shop for at all at the same time. haha

    The question is, what do you get someone that doesn’t make their interests clear and obvious to the ones around them? I’ve been with her for over 4 years now and I feel very silly having to massively struggle on ideas for her day. She is a mom of four wonderful chilren, she does like to rest and relax (what mom of four doesn’t), so I tried looking up day spas as an option. Two problems, one she also does not really like massages in general (from me or anyone else) and two the cost for these types of things can get pretty expensive, at least the packages that are worth anything. So, that strikes that option out. Now I’m lost in thought and her day is tomorrow!!

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