This just in: Buying gifts for spouses sucks. I know, I know, shock to the nation, but it's just so true it has to be said. I should clarify a bit, or specify. I mean buying obligatory and expected gifts. Birthday, anniversary, Valentine's, etc. Spontaneous presents are a blast, but expected ones ... ugh.
There are a number of problems buying presents when you're married.
First, there's the whole shared income thing. Anything that your spouse can buy you, or you can buy them, that they really really want, and that you can afford, they probably already bought. And since you're sharing income, if they bought it it's like you bought it. On the other hand, if you buy them something that they didn't buy because they couldn't afford it then you can't afford it and they're probably not going to be happy with you for spending so much money.
Next, there's the familiarity thing. After a few years there are a handful of things you know your spouse likes. And they know you know. And you know they know you know. So you can't surprise them. Not if you get them something you know they'll like. "Oh, another True Crime book, you shouldn't have," "Yes, this amber ring looks almost as good as the last one you got me." The only way out of that is to get them something really Big that they like, but then you're back to spending too much of your/their money (see above). The other solution is to buy them something they don't want, on the off chance that they didn't want it solely because they didn't know it existed or didn't realize how cool it is. This is akin to trying to shoot a mosquito with a machine gun. You can shoot a lot of bullets at it buy you're unlikely to hit the little bugger. My wife, bless her heart, goes with this approach. And sometimes I get a pleasant surprise. And other times it's just a surprise. But to be honest, the effort she puts into it is probably worth more than another DVD. I think one reason she does that is that if she gets me something she knows I'll like, I'll guess what it is about 2 seconds after she buys it. She hates that.
So I'm more of the "buy it off the list of what's known to be liked" kind of guy. I think you can tell a lot about a person by what kind of present-for-spouse shopper they are. Some of us are Vegas shoppers - taking a shot at long odds for a big pay off. And some of us are, well, non-Vegas shoppers. I ran out of metaphors there. But those of us who are non-Vegas play it safe but boring. That's me. My poor wife.