There are five major holidays when it comes to giving women gifts: her birthday, Christmas, Valentine's Day, your anniversary, and Mother's Day (assuming she is a mother). Some presents work for one occasion but not others. Most holidays have standards that come along with it for what kind of gifts are acceptable. For example, stuffed animals are only really acceptable on Valentine's Day or anniversaries. Also, things like cookware can only really given for Christmas or Mother's Day.
Personally, I believe the best presents are the ones with some kind of necessary purpose. For some reason, people like to give me decorative bowls. While someone else may find a decorative bowl really handy, I only have so much surface space and tiny objects that need collecting in decorative bowls. If your girlfriend is always leaving her purses and coats in a pile by the door, maybe a vintage coat rack would be appreciated. But if she has an immaculately organized, tiny studio apartment, a big, bulky coat rack taking up her space probably won't go over well. Things that take up space and may not be used that often, like knick-knacks and candles, should be given with caution.
The more a gift is tailored to the woman, the better the present will be received. Buy her a blouse in her favorite color, not the color that washes her out. Does she prefer silver or gold? The purpose of personalization is giving her something she will want to have. It may be a lovely necklace, but if it's not her style, she'll most likely never wear it and who wants to give a gift that will forever sit in a drawer.
Any guy can pick up a bouquet of flowers at the grocery store on their way home from work. Instead, go to a florist and design a bouquet using her favorite flowers, colors, and, GASP!, an actual vase! And it doesn't have to be something expensive, it can be something that you made or put the finishing touch on.
Things to give at your own risk:
- Any sort of cleaner - vacuum, dishwasher, etc.
- Something you want for yourself - video games, movies, etc.
- Lingerie - unless you know her size, her taste, and what kind of lingerie she likes, just stay away from this one. You will lose more brownie points than you could ever earn if you buy her a fishnet bodysuit two sizes too small and expect her to wear it.
- Home-made coupons - unless you agreed on not spending money or it is part of a larger gift, it will look like you completely forgot and threw them together at the last minute. Also, we can get all the "Free Hugs" we want, moron.
- Cash, gift cards, an IOU - the only way this idea kind of works is if you got her an actual present and then took her shopping at her favorite store on the way to dinner.
- Anything for the two of you - if you both use it, it can be a present, but it should be a surprise present on a non-holiday. A gift on an ordinary Thursday. And be very mindful with this one because if it's something you both use, she will most likely want some say in it.
- A pink or red cardigan for Valentine's Day. Depending on your budget, pick up a cotton, wool, or cashmere cardigan at a department store. Once you have a sweater, go to a fabric store and pick out some new buttons that she would love. Replace the old buttons on the sweater with the new ones.
- Occasion: color of cardigan
- Function: sweater can be worn anytime
- Personalization: new buttons
- Effort: sewing on the new buttons
- A handmade wall clock. Buy a clock kit and some collage glue at a craft store. Make a collage of things that remind you of her or pictures of the places you've been together on the face of the clock. Attach little pictures of you and her on the hands of the clock (put some thought into whether she would want to be the minute or the hour hand)
- Occasion: best for anniversaries
- Function: who doesn't need another clock? I never know what time it is.
- Personalization: she's on a clock!
- Effort: you made a clock!