Gift giving can be treacherous ground but you'll have far greater success if, before you whip out your credit card, you ask yourself these questions:
Does your sweetheart prefer things or experiences? I could surprise my sweetheart with a Porsche and he'd say, "Why? I already have a car." Never mind that his car is old and boring-it runs and that's enough for him. He would, however, be ecstatic with tickets for an African safari. My guy isn't about stuff. But he'll jump at the chance to take in the opera, sky dive, white water raft, see a mountain for the first time, experience a new restaurant, climb a glacier, or float in a hot air balloon. Some people prefer things they can touch and see long after the gift was received; others prefer memories.
Is your sweetheart sentimental (and romantic) or practical (and not so romantic)? I have a girlfriend who thinks flowers are a waste of money and is tickled pink with a new toaster oven. My uncle thinks the latest and greatest screwdriver is the coolest gift ever. Others would be crushed to receive a toaster oven or a screwdriver no matter how needed or state-of-the art it may be.
What are your sweetheart's special interests? My friend Larry loves everything trains. I love photography. My sweetheart is a classical musician and history buff. My daughter is a volleyball fanatic. I have a friend who has knitting needles in her hands 90% of her waking hours; her husband is into extreme sports. Just about everybody has something they're especially interested in or enjoy doing.
What's the occasion? Is it an "us" occasion such as an anniversary? Just because? A red letter day for your sweetheart? Regardless, every gift should be relevant and proportionate to the occasion (but always within your budget). Here are some examples:
* It's your girlfriend's birthday. She prefers experiences. She's sentimental. Plan an experience that will have sentimental value that, if possible, incorporates her interests: a trip to her hometown to see family she's missing and have a family portrait made...tickets to the opera, and a corsage she can press and save...dinner with friends where she can show off the birthstone ring you slip on her finger as you're walking out the door. If it's a decade birthday, step it up and go the extra mile to make it an event that she will remember and cherish forever.
* Your husband hit a career milestone. He prefers things, is practical, and enjoys modern art. Memorialize the event in a tangible way: have a congratulatory ad published in the local newspaper and have it framed...select a piece of art for his office and attach a congratulatory note on the back...buy him a new suit and take him to the newest exhibit at the local art museum. If it's a really BIG milestone, make it the Muse d'Orsay in Paris!
* It's the anniversary of your wedding, first date, or other special day. The best "us" gift is something you will both enjoy doing and/or having. If you have different preferences, you'll need to be a little more creative. For example, you might select a martini shaker, glasses and a book of martini recipes. There's something tangible for the "thing" person and for the "experience" person there's the fun of working your way from Apple Martini to Wasabi Martini or, perhaps, a martini party with good friends. Again, if this is a significant anniversary, step it up and make it truly memorable.
* You feel like doing something special for your sweetie. By now you've got the drill down. All I'll say about "just because" gifts is that small is often the best, just a simple reminder that you're thinking about the one you love.
Bottom line: the perfect gift shows you gave it more than passing thought because it reflects who and what your sweetie is all about.