Sigmund Freud once lamented that despite all his years studying the human psyche, there was one “great question” he’d never been able to answer. It was, “What does a woman want?”
His problem, of course, was that it was the wrong question. To ask what a woman wants implies that all women are alike and want the same things. But real women are individuals, each with her own interests and desires – just like men.
The right question is, “What does this woman want?” Or more specifically to the holiday season, “What kind of gift would this particular woman [your girlfriend] be happiest to unwrap?”
That’s a question you can answer better than anyone else. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use some pointers about gifts women have appreciated – some inexpensive, some a bit more luxurious. With these ideas to get you started and with what you know about the special lady in your life, you can surely find a gift that fits your holiday budget and brings a smile to her face.
Gifts Under $20
If you think you can’t delight your girlfriend with a gift that costs less than $20, think again. When College Magazine polled girlfriends across the country about their gift wishes, one answer came up again and again: What made a gift special wasn’t the cost but the thought that went into it. Typical statements included, “Time together means a lot more to me than things” and “Don’t look for something grand, look for something that matters.”
In other words, to make your significant other happy, you must show you were really thinking about her and her particular needs, tastes, and wishes. And there are all kinds of gifts that express that idea, even on a shoestring budget.
Bringing your girlfriend flowers seems like a cliche, but according to College Magazine, it’s something lots of women want. Even if she’s never asked you for flowers, don’t assume she doesn’t want them. Most of the women in the article who said they liked flowers added that they want them to be a surprise, a spontaneous romantic gesture – not something they had to request.
A romantic gesture doesn’t necessarily mean a big, expensive bouquet from the florist, either. A dozen red roses won’t make your girlfriend happy if she doesn’t like red roses – especially if she’s already told you that. In this case, a lavish floral tribute isn’t a romantic gift. It’s a sign you weren’t listening to her.
So if you want to impress your girlfriend, don’t just get her flowers. Get her a bunch of her favorite flowers. If she loves daffodils or daisies, those will make her a lot happier than roses, and at a much lower cost.
They don’t even have to come from the florist. An inexpensive bunch of blooms from the supermarket – or better still, a bunch you grew and picked yourself – will make her just as happy as long as they’re flowers she likes. What matters most is that you listened to her and took her tastes into account.
Pro Tip: Websites like ProFlowers frequently run promotions around specific holidays. They can help you save a significant amount of money on your flower purchase.
2. A Houseplant
One problem with flowers as a present is that they don’t last long. Within a few days – or at most, a couple of weeks – they’ll begin to wither. A beautiful indoor plant, by contrast, can continue to brighten up your girlfriend’s home for years to come. And every time she sees it in its pot, it will remind her of you.
When you’re choosing a plant for a gift, look for something low-maintenance. A plant that’s fussy about light, water, or food isn’t a gift. It’s an obligation. A 2019 roundup in Good Housekeeping offers several ideas for affordable, easy-care houseplants, including:
- Asparagus Fern. Despite its name, the asparagus fern isn’t technically a fern. It’s a delicate, fluffy-looking plant that thrives in both sun and shade as long as its soil stays moist.
- Aloe. This spiky-leaved succulent comes with an extra perk: Its sap helps soothe minor burns. It likes indirect light and a thorough watering every one to two weeks.
- Begonia. This bright, showy flower needs only an occasional drink to keep it happy. Begonias come in a variety of colors and bloom from spring through fall.
- Christmas Cactus. The Christmas cactus is so named because it blooms right around Christmastime. Its glossy green branches grow up to 36 inches, with up to 3-inch blooms that vary in color, from white to purple. This pet-safe plant thrives with humid air and indirect light.
- English Ivy. This trailing plant looks good in a variety of settings. It comes in several varieties, with solid green or variegated leaves.
- Jade Plant. An excellent choice for the absent-minded, this African succulent goes dormant if it doesn’t get enough water. Just make sure it has good drainage.
- Kalanchoe. This compact succulent produces bell-shaped flowers that bloom for weeks. It can handle temperature swings, full or partial sunlight, and long stretches without water.
- Peace Lily. If your sweetheart tends to kill plants by overwatering, get her a peace lily, which can soak up tons of water. It’s also great for filtering toxins from indoor air.
- Peperomia. Unlike desert succulents, this waxy plant can stand up to humid air and even thrive under fluorescent light. And it’s nontoxic to both dogs and cats.
- Spider Plant. This pet-safe plant needs no care but good light and weekly watering. You can pinch off and re-pot its small shoots to produce lots of baby plants.
Use caution if your girlfriend has any pets. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals warns many plants are toxic to cats, dogs, or both. To be safe, stick to the ones described as pet-friendly.
When a room smells good, it’s just a more pleasant place to be. Retailers know this and exploit it, using pleasant scents to manipulate shoppers into buying more. Take advantage of it by getting your girlfriend an essential oil diffuser and a bottle of essential oil in her favorite fragrance. In tests of oil diffusers at Reviewed.com, the inexpensive InnoGear was the top performer, beating out models more than five times its price.
Alternatively, pick out a candle in one of her favorite scents. You can find scented candles in a variety of types and sizes, from tiny tea lights to big jar candles. Along with their fragrance, their flickering flames help create a cozy hygge atmosphere.
Retailers often market scented oils and candles as “aromatherapy.” The idea is that inhaling the fragrances of these plant-based oils relieves specific health problems, such as pain disorders and arthritis. The manufacturers tout specific scents for specific purposes, such as:
- Clary sage or lavender for reducing stress
- Lemongrass for aiding sleep
- Peppermint for relieving sinus congestion
- Sweet orange oil as a natural mood booster
According to the Mayo Clinic, the evidence that scents have curative powers is limited. There have been a few studies suggesting aromatherapy can relieve depression and anxiety, improve sleep, and help people deal with chronic illnesses, but the data is scanty. Still, many oils appear to be safe when used as directed, so even if they do no good, they do no harm. And if your girlfriend happens to like a particular fragrance, does it matter if it’s therapeutic or just for fun?
4. A Coffee Treat
Believe it or not, one of the nicest presents I ever got from my husband was a $10 Starbucks card. I love mochas and Frappuccinos, but I’m too cheap to buy them regularly. With this inexpensive gift, he gave me permission to treat myself.
And I’m not the only woman who feels this way. One respondent in the College Magazine survey said she loved it when her boyfriend took the time to pick up her favorite coffee drink for her. A gift card is nice, but you’ll get extra brownie points for swinging by the coffee shop yourself, picking up her exact order, and surprising her with it.
If your lady friend prefers to make her own coffee, you can still treat her to something special. Pick up a pound of high-quality coffee beans in her favorite roast, such as Koffee Kult dark roast. Or grab a bottle of her favorite flavored syrup so she can give her home-brewed java that coffeehouse touch.
5. A Good Book
Nothing tells your gal you get her like a book she’s really into. If she’s hooked on a particular series, such as “Harry Potter” or “Sookie Stackhouse” – the series the characters in “True Blood” were based on – your job is easy. Just get her the next book in the series. If she’s already read them all, delight her with another book by the same author or a well-reviewed book in the same genre. Check out Amazon or GoodReads for recommendations.
If she isn’t a fan of any particular series or author, choose a book based on her interests. Whatever her passion is, from baseball to quilting, search through books on that topic and pick out one that gets top ratings from reviewers.
6. Cute Socks
Socks don’t seem like a very exciting gift – and if you’re talking about generic sweat socks, they’re not. But a pair of fashionable socks is a different story. If most of the socks in her drawer are dull and a bit worn, cozy new socks in a bright color or spiffy pattern are a treat that can brighten up her morning every time she puts them on.
There are plenty of places to buy snazzy socks, both in stores and online. You can often find bundles in assorted patterns at discount stores like Burlington or Marshalls for bargain prices. The Socksmith store on Amazon carries socks in a variety of whimsical designs, from dogs to portraits of William Shakespeare and Frieda Kahlo. Just think about your girlfriend’s interests, and pick out a pair that suits her style.
7. A Handmade Gift
As much as I liked my Starbucks gift card, it still wasn’t the best present my husband ever gave me. That honor belongs to a picture he drew for me as a birthday gift before we were even dating. It was a big, elaborate, surreal image featuring real and imaginary creatures jamming on real and invented instruments. Seeing how much work he’d put into creating something special just for me completely won my heart.
If you want to melt your gal’s heart just as effectively, a handmade gift is the way to go. Don’t worry if you can’t draw. Your gift can be anything you make yourself using whatever skills you have.
For instance, if you’re a woodworker, build her something useful, like a knife block, or something decorative, like a picture frame. If you have sewing skills, stitch her a pair of cozy slippers from an old sweater. You can find lots more ideas for DIY gifts at sites like DIY Joy. Even if your project doesn’t look perfect, the time and effort you put into it will speak volumes about how much you care for her.
8. A Memory Box
Many of the girlfriends interviewed by College Magazine said they’d love a sentimental gift that commemorates the special moments in their relationship. So fill a shadow box with mementos of your time together. It’s a one-of-a-kind gift that says you were thinking about her.
Items you could tuck in your shadow box include:
- Notes you’ve sent to each other
- Ticket stubs from movies or concerts you’ve seen together
- Tickets or boarding passes from a trip you took as a couple
- Seashells you collected on a trip to the beach
- Bottle caps from the drinks you shared on your first date
Arrange them artistically in the box, and you’ve got a portrait of your entire relationship she can hang on her wall.
9. Your Thoughts About Her
There’s one meaningful gift you can give your girlfriend that doesn’t cost a penny. In the words of Billy Joel, “Tell her about it!” Simply write something – a poem, a song, a doodle of the two of you together – that expresses your feelings about her.
If you’re not good at expressing yourself, borrowing someone else’s words can help. Just search for “love quotes” online. There’s a wealth of wise sayings about love and romance, from Nicholas Sparks’ “You are, and always have been, my dream” to Zelda Fitzgerald’s “Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.”
Find the saying that expresses your feelings, and write it down. Don’t try to pretend you made it up yourself. That will backfire if she knows or finds out where the line originally came from. Just go ahead and present it as a quotation along with the author’s name. Then personalize it by adding just a few words of your own, like “I never understood this until I met you.”
Gifts From $21 – $50
With a budget of $21 to $50, you can treat your lady to something special. Take your sentimental gift-giving to the next level or branch out into practical, pampering, or entertaining gifts.
In the 21st century, photos have become something you mainly share and view online. It’s so routine there’s no real romance in it. To make those special moments from your relationship stand out, select your favorite photos, and print them on actual paper to display. That turns them from digital files floating around with all the other junk on your social media feed to something she can physically hold and cherish.
To display all those great memories from your relationship, select a charming photo album or scrapbook. Seeing them all laid out on the pages will show your girlfriend you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about her and what you’ve shared. One romantic option for storing your photos is the Forever It Will Stay album, which holds up to 72 snapshots. The custom wooden cover displays your names and the quotation, “I wrote your name in my heart and forever it will stay.”
If you’d prefer to highlight just one important photo of the two of you, look for a unique picture frame instead. If her tastes run toward the shiny and sparkly, Kate Spade makes a glittery silver-plated frame for a 4-by-6-inch photo. For a more casual, rustic style, find a frame made from reclaimed wood in a distressed finish, which holds a picture up to 8 1/2 by 11 inches.
11. A Year Planner
If your girlfriend is the ultra-organized type who plans out all her work assignments and social engagements in detail, she’ll love a stylish year planner to keep them all together. Unlike a smartphone calendar, it shows her a whole month at a glance. And there’s actual research, such as this study published in Psychological Science in 2014, to show people remember facts better when they write them down by hand.
There are lots of snazzy planners to choose from. For instance, the Ban.do planner from Anthropologie sports a glittery gold cover and includes decorative stickers, a coloring page, and even a page of 3-D images with 3-D glasses to view them. The Kate Spade 12-month planner comes in a choice of three cover patterns, from a simple colorblock to a whimsical floral, and includes a complete list of holidays, a sheet of metallic planner stickers, and a pocket page for loose papers.
12. Good Chocolates
Along with flowers, chocolates are a traditional gift to offer your lady love. However, just like flowers, chocolates are a much more thoughtful gift if they’re chocolates she loves. Make a point of finding out which kind is her favorite, then get her a high-quality box of that brand or flavor. For instance, Shari’s Berries offers exquisite hand-dipped strawberries, while Godiva earns a nod from Business Insider for its filled chocolates.
If your girlfriend is the adventurous type, look for a chocolate offering that’s a little more unusual. For instance, the Chocolate Covered Company serves up a set of jalapeño peppers dipped in Belgian chocolate. Exotic truffle assortments from Vosges Chocolates include such far-out ingredients as wasabi, curry, and green olives.
13. A Home Spa Experience
On a budget of $21 to $50, you still can’t afford to treat your lady to a day at the spa. However, you can pamper her with products that give her a taste of the spa experience at home. Some options include:
- Facial Treatments. One common spa treatment is a facial to renew and refresh the skin. She can get the same experience at home with products like Era Organics Revive facial scrub and a Celavi skin mask. For an extra pampering touch, add a jade roller that provides a soothing facial massage.
- Body Treatments. Spas also provide treatments for the body, such as body scrubs and masks. At-home versions include pureScrubs Dead Sea salt body scrub, Tessa Naturals Dead Sea mud mask, and Philosophy Body Soufflé.
- Bath Products. A hot soak in a tub is also part of the spa experience. Turn her home bathtub into a spa tub with luxurious bath salts from San Francisco Salt Company or a milk bath soak from Charli Jo and Company.
- A Great Showerhead. Instead of giving your girlfriend a pampering treatment to enjoy just once, add a touch of luxury to her daily shower with a new showerhead. A rainfall showerhead like the SparkPod provides a broad, gentle stream, while a high-pressure showerhead like Aqua Elegante delivers a powerful stream, even with low water flow. There are also handheld models like the AquaDance with multiple settings, from a gentle mist to a pulsing massage. Bonus points if you install it for her yourself.
14. A Board Game
If you and your girlfriend are spending too many evenings just watching television, shake up your routine by giving her a board or card game you can play together. A roundup at Apartment Therapy lists several games that work well for two players, including:
- Carcassonne. Take turns drawing and placing landscape tiles and claiming features like farms, roads, and cities on the board.
- Ticket to Ride. Compete to complete railway routes to different U.S. cities.
- Hive. A chesslike strategy game in which your goal is to surround your opponent’s queen bee.
- Pandemic. A cooperative game in which you and your partner play scientists racing to stamp out disease outbreaks all over the world.
- Guillotine. A macabre card game set during the French Revolution in which your goal is to assemble the best collection of severed heads.
- Scrabble. The classic word game in which you score points for the words you add to a crosswordlike grid.
If you’d like to get some of your friends in on the fun, consider party games that play well with a crowd. Some amusing adults-only options include Cards Against Humanity, Drawing Without Dignity, and What Do You Meme?
Gifts From $51 – $100
If you can afford to spend up to $100, you have the option of giving your sweetheart the gift of a memorable experience. According to happiness economists, this type of present is likely to bring her more satisfaction than a physical gift. She can look forward to her special day ahead of time, take pleasure in recalling it afterward, and share the story with friends.
However, that doesn’t mean physical presents are off the table at this price point. A budget of $50 to $100 gives you plenty of options for special gifts, from jewelry to cozy pajamas.
15. A Great Date With You
Several respondents in the College Magazine survey said the gift they’d like best is a meaningful date or trip – one that appeals to them on a personal level. They mentioned several ideas for romantic dates, such as:
- Tickets to Her Favorite Show. One college junior said her ultimate dream date would be “reservations at the chef’s table in the Hell’s Kitchen dining room during taping.” If your girlfriend has a favorite TV show, tickets to a filming make a thoughtful gift for her. For many shows, the tickets themselves are free, but you’ll have to get to the city they film in, typically Los Angeles or New York. If you’re close enough, you can drive there or take a bus or train. If not, see if you can find a cheap flight. If you do fly, make sure you sign up for a free two-month trial of CLEAR. It will help you move through airport security quickly.
- A Home-Cooked Meal. Another junior said she likes it when her boyfriend cooks for her and they spend the evening together. By doing the cooking yourself, you can treat your girlfriend to a real gourmet meal, complete with candles and wine, while comfortably staying within your $50 to $100 budget. If you’re not much of a cook, Cosmopolitan has suggestions for romantic meals anyone can make. It includes such treats as pasta carbonara, pan-fried steak, and Thai curried shrimp.
- A Trip to Your Hometown. One first-year student said she’d love to have her boyfriend take her on a trip to his hometown. She could meet his family and his old friends and see all the spots that were important to him growing up. You can give your girlfriend the same experience for just the cost of transportation. Opening up your childhood to her is a way to show her what an important part of your life she is now.
As you can see, women have all kinds of different ideas about what makes a great date. To plan the perfect date for your girlfriend, think about her tastes. If she’s the outdoorsy type, plan a hike with a picnic lunch in a beautiful setting. If she’s a theater lover, look for a pair of affordable tickets to a show through StubHub. Just keep her interests in mind as you do your planning.
16. A Great Day on Her Own
No matter how much your girlfriend loves you, sometimes, she needs a little time to herself. Treating her to a fabulous experience she can enjoy on her own shows you don’t begrudge her this downtime.
Ideas for “me” time gifts include:
- A Salon Manicure. Treat your girlfriend to a deluxe manicure – or even a mani-pedi – at an upscale salon or spa. Either take her there yourself or pick up a gift certificate. If your budget stretches far enough, get one for yourself too, and give her the gift of a well-groomed partner.
- A Spa Treatment. Even a $100 budget isn’t enough to pay for a full spa day. However, it can probably cover the cost of one luxurious treatment, such as a massage, facial, or body wrap.
- A Thrilling Experience. If your girlfriend is the adventurous type and you’re not, let her know you’re OK with her having adventures on her own. Search Cloud 9 Living to find ideas for exciting things to do, such as skydiving or bungee jumping, in your area. Then on your next date, she can tell you all about her thrilling time.
17. A Sentimental Keepsake
Expressing your thoughts about your girlfriend doesn’t have to cost much money – or any at all. But if you’ve got a bigger budget to work with, why not spend it to express those same thoughts in a more polished form? For $50 to $100, you can create a sentimental keepsake for her that captures and preserves your feelings.
One product that serves this purpose is the LoveBook. It’s a customized book in which you share with your partner “all the little reasons why” she’s so special to you. It’s illustrated with cartoon characters you can design to look like you and her. The site walks you through the process of selecting pages and customizing them to tell your personal love story.
If the stylized drawings in the LoveBook aren’t your style, consider a more realistic portrait of the two of you. Etsy store Printable Wisdom sells a customized couple portrait complete with your names or a saying of your choice. If you have kids or pets, you can include them in the picture as well. The portraits come in a variety of sizes and formats, including digital images, art prints, and canvas prints.
Giving your girlfriend jewelry isn’t as simple as going to a store and picking something out of a case at random. Don’t give her a sparkly toy that looks like you could give it to just any woman. Pick out something just for her – something that says she’s your one and only.
To choose an appropriate piece, start by taking a good look at the jewelry your girlfriend already owns. If every piece she owns is silver, she probably wouldn’t appreciate something in gold. Likewise, her collection will likely reveal a preference for certain types and colors of stones and simple versus ornate styles. Whatever you give her should look like it fits in with what she already has.
One way to make your jewelry gift personal is to get her a couple ring that combines your birthstone with hers. This sends the clear message the two of you belong together. Another alternative is a customized charm bracelet with beads and charms that reflect her interests. You could even make it an ongoing Christmas tradition to select a new charm for her bracelet each year.
Sexy lingerie may sound like a fabulous gift idea. But let’s face it – for many women, that’s a present for you, not for her. What she’d probably appreciate more, especially in the middle of the winter, is some cozy loungewear to cuddle up on the couch in. A cushy bathrobe, like the plush CozyChic robe from Barefoot Dreams, will give her a warm feeling – literally – every time she wears it. Plus, you don’t have to ask for her measurements to get the right size.
If she’s already got a comfy robe, how about a warm pair of slippers to go with it? Both Esquire and USA Today name the Scuffette II slipper from Ugg one of the best gifts for women. They’re a slip-on style with water-resistant suede on the outside and warm, soft shearling fleece on the inside. If your girlfriend’s an ethical vegetarian who won’t wear leather, choose an equally cozy leather-free alternative, such as the faux-fur-lined Chinchilla bootie from Acorn.
20. A Luxurious Pillow
According to Smithsonian magazine, a 2018 study in the journal Sleep found that nearly 30% of Americans get fewer than six hours of sleep per night. And that’s a problem. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep for optimal health. The Smithsonian also reports that those who don’t sleep enough can have problems with mood, memory, and concentration in the short term and a higher risk for diabetes and heart disease in the long term.
The National Sleep Foundation says a comfortable pillow can improve sleep quality. So by treating your girlfriend to a first-rate pillow for the holidays, you’re not just giving her the gift of comfort. You could also be making a big difference to her overall health. And as one interviewee in the College Magazine survey notes, an exceptional pillow is something most people could use, but very few would think to buy for themselves.
Many people swear by memory foam pillows like the Coop Home Goods pillow. It contains a mixture of fiberfill and shredded memory foam, so your girlfriend can add or remove stuffing and adjust its density to her preference. However, if she decides within 100 nights it’s not for her, she can return it for a refund.
The important thing to remember about the gift ideas in this article is that they’re just ideas. Even if the list doesn’t contain the perfect gift for your girlfriend, it can help you come up with your own ideas for the perfect gift. So customize these suggestions to fit your significant other’s interests. For instance, you can give her fancy tea instead of coffee, marzipan fruits instead of chocolates, or any inexpensive luxury she’s expressed a desire for.
If you’ve looked at the whole list, and you’re still stumped, consider this: In many cases, the best gift you can give your girlfriend is the one she asks for. If she’s told you what she wants, take her seriously. No, a gift she asked for won’t come as a surprise, but surprises aren’t always pleasant. Having her holiday wish come true, on the other hand, is guaranteed to please her – especially because she’ll know you were really listening to her.
Even if she hasn’t asked for a specific gift, there are all kinds of hints you can follow up on to figure out what she’d like. Try checking her social media profiles to see what kind of pics she’s been pinning lately, or ask her best friends for suggestions. Think about her career, hobbies, and passions and all the quirky things that made you fall for her. With all this information, you can give the best kind of gift – one that was clearly chosen for this woman, not just for any woman.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever given a girlfriend? What made it so special?