My policy about gifts is the one my mother practices until this day: "Tell him what you want, leave no room for disappointing surprises." Notice I said him, that's because most of the time, my mother used that strategy with my father. She was all for surprises at the beginning of their relationship. They were high school sweethearts, after all. I'm not sure when it all changed but, from a young age, I knew why she had to tell him what she wanted. I was a victim of my father's last minute shopping for my mom.
December 24th, 3:00PM
"Quick, Ana Maria, come with me to the Mall to see what the heck I can buy your mother."
In that hell whole that is any mall on the afternoon before Christmas Day, the result of that frantic shopping was often expensive and awful. A perfume that smelled like an old lady or a hooker, plus the body lotion and whatever samples we could score at the make up counter. A gaudy necklace with loud rhinestones that my mother would cringe at the mere sight of it and scream in terror when she, who paid all the credit card bills, saw how much it cost. We still call that necklace: "el collar de la discordia" ("the necklace of discord"). Come to think of it, that's when Mami gave up on Papi, I mean, changed her policy.
Right after that, my mother would pick out her gift, pay for it, have it wrapped and gave it to my father to give it to her for whatever occasion. He was in charge of getting the lovely card. As the years when by, she would allow him to buy it himself after telling him where to go, a result of him earning her trust back and her softening with old age. When she couldn't figure out what she wanted, Mami, a stay at home mother, would say "just write me a check. I'm saving it for something I really want."
I know it sounds harsh but my parents have had a pretty love filled marriage for over 50 years. Mami knows her husbands weak points and chose to not suffer because of them. She also tells my brother and I what she wants us to get her, always within our price range and easy to get. It really makes our life a lot easier.
After 10 year of marriage and too many dainty silver necklaces from the nice store with the blue boxes, I follow that rule in my own marriage. Not all the time, because my husband is much better than my father at picking gifts, but I do ruin plenty of surprises for myself.
Case in point:
Me: "Steve, I'd like a gift certificate for a massage for Mother's Day."
Steve: "I hate you, I already called to find out how much it was. Why do you always do that?"
I'm totally fine with that; I'm getting my massage. He is in charge of getting the sweet card and telling me what an awesome mother I am. Ay Mama!