Christmas Shopping for Wives: The "Food Group" System

I love to wrap gifts!

I update and post this each year on a couple of forums, hoping to spread a little gift-giving cheer and relief to husbands:

As I've talked to my male friends over the years I've discovered that many men HATE Christmas shopping. In fact, it appears that every year for the entire year, Christmas and gift-giving loom as a dark cloud on the horizon for these men. I see discussions on forums from men who watch Christmas approach with a certain trepidation, then often flounder about trying to find something at the last minute. Even though I love to shop for my wife and she is an easy person to shop for, I, too, used to experience some anxiety during the process of figuring out what to get her, until I developed a system. As a result of a little organization, Christmas shopping has become one of my favorite activities of all.

My wife and I both love Christmas and we both love gift-giving. We aren't a family of means by any means, but we do love to give gifts at Christmastime. We love the experience of sitting around the Christmas tree on Christmas morning and watching each other open gifts. We love the warmth and love these gifts communicate to one another. We love it enough that we typically buy each other several small gifts and maybe one larger one.

The first and biggest step in the process was convincing my wife that it was helpful to give me a gift list early in the season. She wasn't really into lists because she felt asking for things was self-centered of her and frankly she wished I’d come up with ideas myself, but a few discussions pointing out how helpful a list was to me eventually convinced her. The list serves as a springboard for the whole process. It doesn't have to be legally adhered to but it reminds me of her particular desires and her dreams.

Now this is vital: When buying gifts for your wife, the point of the whole affair is to spend time and effort thinking about your wife and applying those thoughts so that she knows you care about her and care enough to work at it. I don't run out at the last minute and grab a bunch of stuff. I'll brainstorm over gift ideas during the year and especially starting with a few days at the beginning of December. I'll develop a list of my own and then take time off from work before Christmas so that I can shop in a leisurely fashion. Of course, Internet commerce has made this both easier and more difficult: easier because the end game is just a few mouse clicks away, and harder because there are even more possibilities for gifts!

Over time I have developed a system to help my lovely wife feel appreciated. I call it the "food groups" system. In order to diversify her gifts, I've assigned types of gifts to "food groups" and usually try to get an item from most of the groups. Any group can contain the big gift for the year. Of course, you'll want to study your own gal and adjust these groups or create groups of your own, but mine are:

THE "SOFT" GROUP: Girls like soft things. My wife LOVES clothes for Christmas. I always try to buy her at least one item of day clothing. Cozy clothes like sweaters are especially welcome.

THE "NOVELTY" GROUP: I look for something inexpensive, fun, and particular to her. For instance, she's a news hound. One year I found a mug with her favorite news company's logo on it that she can sip from while she soaks up the headlines. She's wanted one for years.

THE "COMFORT/COZY/PRACTICAL/TRAIDITIONAL" GROUP: Your bride probably arrived in your relationship with some things that were just traditional to receive at Christmas. For some reason, comfy socks are a part of my wife's Christmas tradition. She likes the funky patterned socks with dogs and flowers and girly things on them. Whenever her leather winter gloves wear out they are a perfect target for this group as well. A nice winter scarf will fit nicely in this group as well.

THE "TASTE" GROUP: Can you think of some packaged food item that your wife thinks is sinfully delicious or is a "comfort food?" I recently track down her favorite fine candies. My wife has food restrictions so I end up having to mount an online expedition every year to find these and order them online. It takes a fair amount of effort and she knows it. I also try to find something tasty that she loves to have with her coffee. I recently tracked down "Walkers Highland Oatcakes" for her on the Internet. Her family is Scots and loves these but she hasn't been able to find them for years because the stores around us don't offer them anymore. She loves them with butter or cheese. One tip: Save bookmarks to the sites where you find these so that next year you can find them easily.

THE "SPARKLY" GROUP: Thanks to crow “Jeremy” (Dom DeLuise) from the 1982 United Artists animated movie, The Secret of Nimh, for the name. Jeremy says, "Girls can’t resist sparklies!" And yes, “sparklies” are jewelry. I try to get something from this group every time, even if it is only costume jewelry. One year it was diamond ear rings. Another year, right at the beginning of December, she lost her “wrap” band (a ring with diamonds that wraps around her solitaire engagement ring) that I had given her for an anniversary. She loved that ring dearly and losing it broke her heart. I took it as a fortuitous opportunity to make her Christmas a special one. I did some research, visited some jewelry shops, and put together a new engagement/wedding band featuring her engagement diamond, her mother’s diamond that she inherited, and some new ones that I selected for her, and thus brought both tradition and something new into it. I brought her into the process just enough to make sure her tastes were taken care of. The gift has turned a horrible situation into a warm, fond memory for her. It is also a daily reminder of my love for her because she regularly gets compliments on the ring.

THE "ROMANTIC" GROUP: Look for something intimate between the two of you that says she's still your one and only girl. My wife loves to curl up at the end of the night in warm PJs so I try to find comfy ones for her. One year I commissioned a seamstress to create a Victorian nightgown and robe set to her measurements and it became her main gift. She loved that set for years.

THE "FUN/TINKER/TECH" GROUP: Here's where you want something she can tinker with over Christmas day. For instance, she loves DVDs or BluRays of her favorite new films or TV series so I try to find them for her. One year I moved her up to an iPhone Plus size to make things easier on her beautiful but farsighted eyes. Appliances that she wants for the kitchen fit here as well. My wife likes kitchen stuff because she loves to cook and does it extremely well. Tools and stuff for her hobbies fit here as well. Does your wife have a pursuit that she loves? My wife loves to collect Royal Doulton bone china figurines. Her collecting has figured into my gift-giving more than once. In one case I spent a year tracking down a particular discontinued figurine.

The beauty of the system is its flexibility: something from any one of those groups could easily become the main gift for the year and the money can be adjusted across the groups as needed. Because we've agreed that the lists we give each other aren't binding, I will often be doing research for something on her list and come across something she might like even better.

In my experience, the system brings a peaceful joy to the whole gift-giving process. Once I've covered the Christmas food groups it is all gravy from there! Remember, the point is to take time and effort to show the most important person in your life that you care about her. On a practical note, keep your receipts in case you misjudge size, fashion, or flavor. Cheerfully offer to return anything and everything.

Oh, and by the way, here's a practice I've adopted that has really helped turn my Christmases into a time of rest: I take extra time off around Christmas every year to help my wife get the house together and to make sure I have plenty of time to shop and wrap. I end up going around to stores with this silly, relaxed, content grin on my face that totally confounds the rest of the harried shoppers.

Over the years I've found that this system has worked really well for me and I hope it will for you, too! Have fun!!!