Gifts for the man who has (or could buy) everything?
September 7, 2013 9:17 PM   Subscribe

I need birthday and anniversary gifts for the wonderful man I've been dating for nearly a year. Complicating factors: He is extraordinarily practical, but if he wants something, he has the means to buy it, and usually does.

For almost a year now, I've been dating a wonderful man who connects with me on nearly every level. He deals very well with my demanding job, down to making dinner several times a month after long days at work for both of us. He is kind, thoughtful, funny, extremely intelligent. And very difficult to buy gifts for, because he lives well within his means and doesn't want or need very much beyond the essentials. When he wants something, he goes out and buys it for himself. He can't really tell me what he wants. This makes it very difficult to buy him gifts.

Both his birthday and our anniversary are coming up soon. He works in mathematics education, but isn't exactly a math teacher. He likes to run and swim, and we go hiking frequently. He is teaching himself how to cook. He occasionally plays video games (but buys what he wants, and doesn't need much in the way of accessories). He has a guitar that he doesn't play anymore. He dresses well, and doesn't need much assistance in that area.

I would like to buy him things that he doesn't know he needs, or wouldn't buy for himself. The best I've thought up is a Le Creuet Dutch oven (because I think everyone should have one), but this is well outside of my price range, and we're thinking of moving in together in the nearish future, and it would be silly to have two. My price range for either gift is below $150.

Anonymous because my partner-in-crime occasionally lurks on Metafilter and knows my username.
posted by anonymous to Shopping (43 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
How about an experiential gift? A cooking class might be a good fit, and you could get something like a good knife to go with if you wanted something tangible.
posted by Empidonax at 9:21 PM on September 7, 2013 [19 favorites]

I'm one of those people who buys whatever I need and never really wants for anything, and my favorite gift is a reservation at a really nice restaurant or a bottle of very fancy wine/booze. The former is especially good because you can enjoy it together!
posted by joan_holloway at 9:23 PM on September 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding the experiential gift idea because you would be able to enjoy it together and because it's something that he probably wouldn't get for himself. A cooking class sounds like an especially good because both of you will have fun and he'll get to further pursue his interest.
posted by jdgreen at 9:27 PM on September 7, 2013

What if you got him something like New Best Recipe, and for one recipe you pick, any kitchen tools he's lacking and the ingredients. So there's a concrete part and an evening together trying something together.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:32 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're buying for me. Here's what you need to buy: something I would buy...but not for myself.

Find something he enjoys, and get a higher end version of it, than he would buy.

Shaving stuff: badger brush. Taylor of bond street soap

Hiking stuff: watch with GPS and/or HRM. Prolly not if you have the $150 limit.

Video games: $150 gift certificate. Seriously. Otherwise, tell us what games he has, and we'll tell you what to get.

Cooking stuff: stay away, unless you KNOW he wants it. Otherwise, you're basically telling him: oh, you like cooking do ya...well, cook this.

What kind of watch does he wear? Does it need a new bracelet/strap?

Clothing stuff: high end men's accessories. Nice cologne if you know his scent.

Is there anything that is breaking, about to break, or Jerry-rigged? Get him a new one.

High end keyboard/ trackpad/ mouse

What else about this dude?
posted by hal_c_on at 9:35 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another experiential gift choice would be tickets to an event or concert that he would enjoy. If he likes good food, there are often food events that are about $75 per ticket for a night of sampling the area's best restaurants, I have found these to be awesome special occasion gifts.

I'm also a big proponent of gifts that cost very little but are personalized. For example, my husband and I get laughs out of lolcats, so I make my own lolcat graphics featuring our cats for him on special occasions, and I have made things like a mug with the homemade lolcat on it as a gift. Photobooks of your year together make good anniversary gifts in my opinion, and you can also do personalized calendars and tailor the photos for each month to the season. Also, perhaps it's high-school-ish, but I still love homemade mix CDs, especially ones with homemade CD cases. Along the lines of cooking stuff, it's easy but still pretty classy to make him a set of infused olive oils.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:38 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Full grain leather belt
posted by oceanjesse at 9:54 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

If he's that practical, do you need to buy gifts? Do you know he wants gifts? My partner and I don't take much pleasure in giving and receiving gifts, generally, so we don't usually buy them for each other unless something really jumps out at us. We do sometimes decide, for instance at Christmas time, to get something we've both been wanting and call it our gift to each other. But in general we show our love for each other in other ways.
posted by not that girl at 9:54 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

You have essentially described my father as well. I have been dealing with that for probably 30 years. I have always gone one of 3 ways.

1) Items that just remind me of him a lot. I got him a suit valet stand for Christmas because he is always wearing a suit to church on Sunday and then coming home to hang it. I thought it would work well for him to have a place to hang separate from his un-worn suits.

2) Items that have a sentimental connection. For Father's day, I got the desk his father gave him as a child refinished and gave that to him.

3) Items that are just quirky and unique.
Example for your situation might be the Math items on Uncommon Goods or Etsy.
posted by slavlin at 10:03 PM on September 7, 2013

Scottevest pants
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:19 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Re slavlin's number 3, how about a klein bottle? Ordered one for my mathematically oriented dad and he loved it.
posted by Gotanda at 10:33 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perhaps a bespoke pen or mechanical pencil? I get compliments all the time when breaking out a unique writing implement.
posted by HappyHippo at 11:30 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am this guy. I am very difficult to shop for because I buy the things I want, after much obsessing over making sure I'm buying the right one. I tend to optimize my purchasing in that way, so people "surprising" me with art, technology, or attire are usually appreciated, but typically fall short of the mark, just because I'm particular about those things.

Experiences are honestly fantastic, though, for me. You can do things like a Discovery Flight (where he'll go up in a small airplane for about an hour and even get to execute some turns and the like), or a racing experience, more extreme things like skydiving/bungee jumping, or less extreme things like hot air ballooning or cooking classes.

Consider a museum membership if he likes a certain class of art, or even a subscription to an "of the month" club. Zingermans has some fantastic clubs with random deliciousness delivered on a regular basis.

Maybe a subscription to Cook's Illustrated, which is a great periodical by America's Test Kitchen full of really useful content.

These are the sort of things where, for me, you can't go wrong. Experiences are what make life interesting, and they're not something you can "already own" or "have bought for yourself", typically.
posted by disillusioned at 11:32 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Get on ebay and buy a mechanical watch from the 1970s. They are awesome and start at stupidly low prices, although fancy ones can cost thousands.
posted by bystander at 12:31 AM on September 8, 2013

I'm one of those super practical people who are very particular about what they own. It's wonderful of you to respect that! I like to think of gifts as belonging to one or more of these categories:
  • Things that make life easier. Gift vouchers. Subscriptions. Memberships. Household items. Handiwork tools, kitchen gadgets, stationery...
  • Indulgence. Fancy edibles/perishables. Electronic gadgets. Art. Clothes and shoes.
  • New experiences. Exotic food. Experiential gifts. Books. Kits that let you try out new hobbies.
  • Bonding opportunities. Board games. Event tickets. Sports equipment. Holidays. Things that require assembly.
  • Gestures of loyalty. Mix tapes. Scrapbooks. Care packages. Treasure capsules (a selection of small but interesting gifts). Anything home made, imbued with personal meaning, or took a lot of time and effort.
Given your situation, I think you should go for the latter three categories, especially the last one. A treasure capsule full of spices. A framed map with all the routes you've travelled together picked out in ink. A home made rock/plant identification kit (think guidebook, magnifying glasses, tweezers/pick, specimen bottles). Mix and match!
posted by fix at 1:50 AM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

My sweetie is like this. I managed to get him some good gifts over the years. The best ones were, I think:
- A tool that he hadn't heard of and that is very useful.
- A massage at a stressful time. I paid for him to get a massage from a certified massage therapist. He loved that.
- Smart/geeky T-shirts, some of them hand-stencilled by me. (This may or not may be your thing.)
- A book that was a sequel to one that he already had, and loved.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:27 AM on September 8, 2013

In addition to experiential gifts, I wanted to also suggest consumable gifts. Eg, Fancy wine, coffee, cheese (as he cooks) fancy olive oil or vinegar.

Also: A good present is something you wouldn't have been able to get yourself. In childhood, toys. As an adult, sympathy, forgiveness, attention. -- Alain de Botton
posted by sesquipedalian at 2:42 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If he's a technically-minded person who's starting to teach himself to cook, a copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home might be a really great gift. It's fascinating, beautiful, informative, and just a little bit too expensive to be practical.

Do be warned, however, that the author has a reputation a particularly malignant patent troll. If your guy's into copyleft and the like, he probably will not want this.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:47 AM on September 8, 2013

If he's a practical, essentials sort then I'm recommending a browse of Kaufmann Mercantile.
posted by Callicvol at 4:39 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Refresher guitar lessons! From your description, he probably hates that it's sitting around unused.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:58 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If he doesn't alread own them:

Smartwool socks, they are the crack cocaine of the sock world.
Swiss Army Knife, because every man should carry one 24/7.
A Tilley Hat, there is none better.
A Boston Whaler boat, it will not sink (OK, this may be a bit more than you want to spend)
posted by HuronBob at 6:00 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

A gift to a cause that he cares about. Math education for underprivileged kids, perhaps?

If you think that he might like hal_c_on's suggestion about shaving gear, check out Badger and Blade for suggestions and advice.
posted by quidividi at 6:15 AM on September 8, 2013

You two go hiking? Magellann explorist GC is $120 on amazon and a premium membership to is $30 so that's bang in your max. Now you'll have unlimited local and world wide outdoor fun and dates!!
posted by chasles at 6:26 AM on September 8, 2013

I have an iPad2. Have for a few years. I can afford a new one. Won't buy it. Incremental benefit is insufficient and the expenditure is non-essential. Still, a replacement would make a really good gift. My current one, in fact, replaced my adequate-at-the-time iPod Touch and was a gift from my wife... a perceptive, costly (for her) and genuinely unexpected and wonderful, transformational little gadget. With me everywhere now.

Often, for folks who have the means, I think thing underlying reason is this. It's not that we don't think we're worthy, nor special, nor deserving. It's that we are old enough to know that material satisfaction is a fleeting beast and we don't chase the SOB any more.

I'd love a Mac Pro. Have insufficient reasons for ever buying one. No reason is going to pop up in the foreseeable future. No cost/benefit analysis will come up on the right side. I have other financial priorities. A gift would overcome these and it is clearly outrageous.

Another thing that folks like me realize is that we don't know everything there is to know about what is out there. I make a habit of visiting Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools. Reviews of items that work and do their jobs well.

BF, he has something that is adequate. Find him something superlative. If you want to be extravagant, spend money. It is a fact of the process. It isn't necessary, but it opens up your options.

Keep your eyes peeled for problems in his life. Make one go away. Nuisance switch in the bathroom. Paint peeling on the garage. Car detailing. Broken functional resource. All these described well above in other answers. +1.

Classes, seminars, experiences... all good ideas.
posted by FauxScot at 6:47 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm much like your boyfriend - I have a lot of stuff and don't really want more. I tell people that I prefer gifts that are experiences (restaurant/winery tours, hang gliding/sky diving, kayak/whitewater trips, professional massage gift certificates, music or theatre events), consumables (high end balsamic vinegar, whiskey, wine etc. - the sort of stuff that's hard to justify buying if you're a practical person but still enjoy, massage oil), or supporting charities (as he's in education, Donors Choose might be a good one).

That said, if he's just starting to learn cooking and doesn't have an excellent quality chef's knife already, that might be OK.

I also like books that were important to gift givers, particularly if they explain why they were formative to them.
posted by Candleman at 6:56 AM on September 8, 2013

Cashmere sweater? If he is not a sweater sort, cashmere scarf/gloves/hat? Cashmere socks.

Often the key with these sorts is to find something they will need and use anyway, and then buy a nicer one than they would themselves. Luxury pyjamas? A nice robe?

I have 'Modernist Cuisine at Home' and if he would purchase and use a cookbook it definitely fits the 'buy a nicer one than they would themselves' mould. Be warned that there is little one can do with it without having a lot of other things; as is it is great food porn, but to make the recipes equipment and chemicals are needed. Give it with a gift certificate to a supplier maybe?
posted by kmennie at 7:01 AM on September 8, 2013

Might not be practical enough, but here's a thread with a bunch of links to neat math toys. I was pretty impressed by the torofluxus.
posted by Wulfhere at 8:01 AM on September 8, 2013

You could also get something 3d printed from the Shapeways section on mathematical art.
posted by Wulfhere at 8:02 AM on September 8, 2013

Does he have a sense of adventure?

I’ve always wanted someone to do something along the lines of telling me that my birthday gift or whatever lies safe and waiting for me, but somewhere far away, shrouded in mystery.

Trusty sidekick + great stories ahead + small token/MacGuffin = amazing birthday times.
posted by edwardog at 8:14 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Penzey's Spices. Second the cashmere sweater. A great pen-- a Lamy. Fantastic crystal rocks glasses and some good scotch.
posted by oflinkey at 8:19 AM on September 8, 2013

Seconding Kaufmann Mercantile!

Best Made Company is where I usually look for my husband who sounds similar to your boyfriend!
posted by Swisstine at 8:43 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

He sounds a lot like me. If so, buying gifts sounds difficult, but is actually very easy.

Here's why: we don't buy the new thing while the old one works just fine. I still have a CRT television. My macbook pro battery is dead as a doornail so I have to keep it plugged in all the time. I wish my lunchbox/thermos was a little bigger. There are dozens of those things, big and small, that aren't enough of a problem to actually spend money on yet. Sometimes I think about buying one of those things, then I talk myself out of it. Old one still works.

But if someone else bought me a new lunch box, I would love it and pet it and take care of it real good.

So think about his things and what he's expressed mild annoyance about. You don't want to accidentally "replace" something that's old because he loves it so much. That's a different thing.
posted by ctmf at 8:47 AM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Actually, a nice lunch box set/bento box sounds perfect for someone who cooks, and it would make him think of you every day during happy lunch break time.
posted by ctmf at 8:50 AM on September 8, 2013

People are different, so what goes for me may not go for others. But one thing to know is that (at least for me) what makes something special is not whether I could and would have got that something for myself, but the association with the giver.

For example, it does not matter that I have far more expensive designer-label ties, the tie that my sister got me is special because my sister gave it to me, and I remember that whenever I wear it.

Some of the best and most touching gifts are gifts from people that can't afford much and it would be perfectly ok if they gave nothing, but you know they gave you a small present which they carefully picked out because of how much they love you and how much they wanted to give you something.
posted by philipy at 9:04 AM on September 8, 2013

Mr. Fontophilic is similarly difficult to shop for. Here are a few gifts from the "didn't know I needed them but now that I have them, I love them" category that have gone over well.
  • Mechanical skeletonized watch. The kind where you can see the mechanical movements. Kenneth Cole had a line of them last year, most around $150.
  • Badger Brush, Shave soap and a soap mug
  • Pi Cologne for Men by Givenchy. Bonus math-y points.
  • Infrared Thermometer. Great for cooking and generally handy around the house. Might appeal to the quantitatively minded cook. ("This waffle iron is 347°F and cooked the waffle in 3.27 minutes!")
  • Nice leather gloves, maybe more appropriate in a few months.
  • Framed prints, photographs, artwork. This is trickier to shop for, so I keep my eyes peeled all year long. Etsy would be a good place to start.
  • A leatherman with hex screw bit kits for working on computers.
  • A nice wool/cashmere throw blanket
Another idea is to look at what he's got now, and see if you can upgrade something. Maybe an older spinning blade coffee grinder could get upgraded to a burr grinder? A nice leather or canvas bag to replace the woven nylon freebie laptop bag? I think having gifts be upgrades/replacements can be less burdensome. I know the old/crappy version is going out the door, and I don't have to deal with having more stuff that I don't know what to do with.
posted by fontophilic at 9:22 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm this guy. I have enough stuff to be happy, and I've learned through experience that getting more stuff is usually a burden. My favorite gift in the last couple of years was a really excellent Thai cooking class. Concert or theater tickets are good too.
posted by miyabo at 10:06 AM on September 8, 2013

If he doesn't already have a copy, The Flavor Bible might be something he'd like. For anyone who enjoys cooking without a recipe or adapting recipes to better suit their own taste, this is a nice kind of a combo thing-plus-experience gift.
posted by Lexica at 11:29 AM on September 8, 2013

Your guy sounds a bit like me. Sometimes there are things that we'd never even think about buying for ourselves, but then when someone else gifts us with them, it's like "WTF? Why didn't I buy something like this 15 years ago?!?".

- High thread-count bed linen (I've said this several times on ask.mefi) Something you could enjoy too!
- Good cutlery
- A good set of white china (I mean the plates/dishware stuff)
- Does he have tools? A set of quality screwdrivers has made my life much easier, after years of dealing with the random screwdrivers I'd collected along the way from which I could never find the exact fit, and they were just crap and only good for a few uses. (I went with Stanley - not sure how available they are in your country. Maybe just check your local hardware store).
- A voucher to get his car detailed.

Or if you want to go really practical, just a general gift card. I dunno what it's like in your country, but here in Australia, a Coles/Myer gift card can be used to buy groceries, hardware, technology, alcohol, .... or basically anything else. Or a pre-paid credit card.
posted by Diag at 7:00 PM on September 8, 2013

Followup to edwardog, a scavenger hunt. Start with a rhyming clue that leads to another—maybe it's in the house, maybe it's cross-town. Write your clues in chalk on warehouse walls.

Lots of excitement, little expense, highly memorable.
posted by Jesse the K at 7:03 PM on September 8, 2013

Yes to Penzeys -- they are leagues better than other spices, and if he's interested in food he will love them. Donors Choose is a good idea too -- if you donate in his name, about a month or so later he'll get a package of handwritten thank you letters in the mail. Which is surprisingly charming :-)
posted by Susan PG at 9:31 PM on September 8, 2013

I think iam similar in respects and the ones that I enjoy now is an experiential gifts. Events/Adventures rather than stuff. It would be awesome to buy him an activity that you could accompany him and enjoy the time together. Examples like Ziplining, Mountain biking trips, cabin in the woods ; choose based on experience/danger level.
posted by radsqd at 8:25 AM on September 9, 2013

Nthing Penzeys spices - either an interesting set or a gift certificate so he can pick a bunch to try. I've been gifted Penzeys a few times now and it's always a great excuse to branch out and try some crazy thing I've never heard of or wouldn't splurge on for myself.
posted by Rallon at 12:34 PM on September 9, 2013

I made a photobook of our first year together on shutterfly. We are not the type of couple who takes pictures everywhere we go so the book is really mostly a few pictures of me, him, us and fodder (landscape, cars, food, etc) I wrote little anecdotes of things I remembered. I hand wrote a note in sharpie too.

Phone cameras are quite nice these days and photos will print up well. Making a photobook is essentially scrapbooking, without all the cutting, gluing and froofroo. It doesn't even have to be long or big. A small 5 x 7 will do just as well.

To be honest, I actually slightly regret giving him a photobook as the first major present because now every year, I have to figure out how to top it!
posted by p1nkdaisy at 12:35 PM on September 27, 2013

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