As a woman, I’ll be the first to admit, buying gifts for girlfriends is not easy. You want to score big with a thoughtful gift that would impress her, but depending on your relationship with your girlfriend, the ideal gift may be different. More importantly, there are gifts that you should NOT give her. Here’s some general guideline for various levels of relationships, but note that these levels are not linear; you could completely skip a level or straddle between levels. However, it’s unlikely you could go backward.

Girlfriend Level 1: A Little Spark

You started dating her not too long ago. She is really cool to hang out with, or she is really hot. There’s some potential to “upgrade” the relationship, but until then you could be still dating other people. You haven’t met any of her friends yet and she hasn’t met yours. You certainly are not ready to take her home to see your mom. In fact, it might be a little awkward to call her “girlfriend” at this point.

Ideal gifts for girlfriend of “A Little Spark”

Girlfriend Gift IdeasSomething casual is the key here. You don’t know her very well and her expectation is not too high yet. My suggestion is to give gifts that are consumables or of small value. There is no hard and fast rule for how much you should spend. If you are a billionaire, taking her to have lunch in Paris might be a drop in Niagara Falls. But if you are a college student, a box of ramen noodles is an indulgence. Some gift ideas are:

  • Food items—chocolate, wine, candies or a box of her snack to eat in the office
  • Blue ray DVD or a book—if you know a little bit about her taste, then you can choose a title that she would likely enjoy. If you don’t, perhaps you can choose something from YOUR favorite list that she might enjoy. If she thinks what you like is completely stupid, then you can now stop seeing her (you are welcome!)
  • Experiential gift—take her to a slightly nicer dinner than you typically would, or take her to a day concert that is not too expensive

Beware of these gifts for girlfriend of “A Little Spark”

Two things you don’t want to happen—you don’t want to convey the message that you are ready to commit more to the relationship (unless you are), and you don’t want to scare her away. That’s why we want to keep the gifts a bit more casual. These are items that you should stay away from:

  • Jewelries—no matter how cheap the pieces are, girls will interpret that as some level of commitment.  That means no earrings, no necklace, no bracelet, no toe/nose/bellybutton/brow ring and ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NO ring
  • Getaways—even if it’s just a weekend trip to a two-hour away place
  • Personalized gifts—carving your name or hers on any item is a big no no, unless you want to known as the “psychopath who stalks me.” Need I say no tattooing her name on your arm?

Girlfriend Level 2: Warming Up

You met several of her friends and figured that she is still pretty cool (or hot). You are spending most of your free time with her. She might even have a toothbrush at your place and vice-versa. You don’t even miss seeing other women (that much). You are not exactly taking her home to spend Thanksgiving with your folks, but maybe you are. Who knows? Thanksgiving is still couple months away. But you haven’t told her you love her yet.

Ideal gifts for girlfriend of “Warming Up”

At this level of your relationship, you can give her thoughtful gifts and not risk scaring her off. You know more about what she likes, so you have more information to work with. The goal here is to impress her and score big (and you genuinely want to please her too). The best way to show you pay attention is to give her something that is specifically related to her, her hometown, her hobbies or her favorite pastime. Here are some gift ideas:Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband

  • What is her hometown’s specialty? She’s from the Pacific Northwest? Give her a nice basket of salmon, bagel and cream cheese. She’s from Vermont? Give her an excellent Vermont maple syrup. Yes, it requires a little research, but just Google it; it’s not that hard. This idea only works if she is fond of her hometown and she doesn’t live in her hometown right now.
  • Something related to her hobbies—does she like running? Give her a pedometer. Does she like crafts (jewelry-making, sewing, knitting, scrapbooking)? Give her a class at Craftsy.com. Does she like golfing? Give her a pair of golf gloves.
  • Something compliments her belonging—does she have an iPhone? Give her a smartphone case or a portable speaker. This can even combine with something related to her hobbies; for example, an iPhone mount for her bike if she likes cycling.
  • Search for her public wish list—you can cheat a little here; many big online retailers offer wish list and it’s possible your girl has a public wish list. Go check it out at Amazon Find a Wish List.

Beware of these gifts for girlfriend of “Warming Up”

You still need to make sure you are not sending the wrong message. Gifts that are too casual and have no meaning to her won’t get you any points; they may even disappoint her. On the other hand, you still want to work within the commitment level you are comfortable with. Forget about giving her:

  • A general gift card such as Visa or MasterCard gift card that she can use to buy anything. Or any gifts that doesn’t take much thoughts. This is really saying I don’t give a damn and I pay no attention to you.
  • Jewelry of any sort that sits in a small box. It’s OK to give her a big artsy bangle bracelet, but not something that could be mistaken as a ring.

Girlfriend Level 3: Burning Madly

You can’t get enough of her. You want to share what you see, hear, smell and taste with her. You are practically living with her. Your fish at home are all dead because you fail to go home to feed them. You are proud to take her to your high school reunion. Your parents love her and are prepared to pop the question on your behalf if you are not doing it soon. You are working out how you could spend the holiday with both sides of the parents without upsetting anyone.

Ideal gifts for girlfriend of “Burning Madly”

You want to make her happy, surprise her, romance her and hope she loves you as much as you love her. You want a memorable gift that will remind her of you everywhere she goes in the rare moment that you are apart. Personalized items are good ideas. In addition, anything that promotes your togetherness will be great. Some ideas are:

  • A luxurious cashmere scarf monogramed with her initials—tell her you will keep her warm wherever she goes
  • For the fun-loving girlfriend, a custom bobblehead of her or you two
  • For an artsy girlfriend, a Warhol-style pop art portrait of her or you two
  • For the cutesy girlfriend, some time to spend together at Color Me Mine or the like to create pottery together
  • Two bicycles or pairs of rollerblades so you can do outdoor exercise together
  • A weekend getaway trip

Custom Warhol Style-Warhol style couple portrait

Beware of these gifts for girlfriend of “Burning Madly”

Similar to the previous level, you want to avoid gifts that are too casual.

  • A box of generic chocolate or a DVD is not memorable enough, unless they have other meaning behind them, are the prequel of some other more meaningful gifts, or are gifts of “Just Because” (Just because it’s Monday).
  • She might be expecting you to pop the question any time, so any jewelry items might trigger tension and if it’s not a ring, then she will get disappointed. Therefore, just avoid jewelries altogether.

Girlfriend Level 4: Steady Flame

You feel like you have already been married for years. You live together, have a dog and take turns doing each other’s laundry. Except for the designated guys’/girls’ night out, or an occasional crunch in the office or business trip, you spend every evening eating dinner together. You now feel a little awkward to call her your girlfriend and you can sense that she is a little upset when you do so, because she seems like much more than that. So officially, she becomes whatever that is in between of a girlfriend and a wife—maybe that is called a partner.

Ideal gifts for girlfriend of “Steady Flame”

You’ve already given her everything you can think of. Gifts for her now gets more and more expensive because you feel that the only way to show your thoughtfulness is to buy her more expensive stuff. But that’s not necessarily true. At this stage of the relationship, experiential gifts become more important. Studies show that people tend to remember experience much more than tangible things. Some ideas for you are:

  • Taking a class together—cooking, tennis, painting, woodworking, photography or scuba diving, etc.
  • A trip together, whether it’s just a weekend trip or a major vacation
  • Take her to see her favorite band (or even just cover band of her favorite artists)
  • Winetasting
  • Do something you have never done before—ballooning, couple massage or a new cuisine
  • Things that you haven’t done for a long time—take a day off from work to go to the nearby theme park or zoo together
  • Adult toys—just spice up your sex life a little

Beware of these gifts for girlfriend of “Steady Flame”

You can get too familiar here. These are not gifts for any stage of the relationship, especially not the Steady Flame stage:

  • Household items or appliances—even if she has been eyeing the new refrigerator for months, it’s still not an appropriate gift for her, especially not for her birthday, anniversary or Valentine’s Day. You can still buy it, but just don’t present it as a gift to her (after all you are using the fridge together!). By the same token, no lawn mower, dishwasher, mattress or vacuum cleaner either.
  • Anything for the dog or the cat—although she loves her dog/cat, a gift for the animal is not the same as a gift for her

Comments? Any suggestions? Tell us your experience? Do share!