MONEY
12/19/2014 12:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017
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Here's What People Actually Spend On Their Significant Other's Holiday Gifts

So you’ve finally managed to convince someone to spend significant amounts of time with you during the holidays -- congratulations! -- but now comes the real challenge. You’re going to have to decide how much to spend on their presents.

(We bet Santa doesn’t even put this much thought into gift-giving.)

For couples young and old struggling with how much to spend on your bae, don’t stress: we’ve got you covered like a holiday casserole in Grandma’s oven. We partnered with Discover Card to cut through the hype and find out what people actually spend on their significant others -- whether they’ve been dating 15 minutes or 15 years. And, because money isn’t everything, we also talked to a relationship expert about how to pick that perfect present, no matter what stage of the relationship.

BY THE NUMBERS:
Determining what amount to spend on your partner can feel a little like the “Price Is Right.” Sometimes you’ll guess right (and run up and down the aisles ecstatically), but most of the time you’ll be cluelessly over or under. Cue the deflated losing horn.

But how much are people really spending? Do married folks spend more or less? How do your gifts compare? We tracked the spending habits of those in the Santa’s Workshop of media: The Huffington Post and AOL offices.

THE EXPERT TAKE:
The holidays, though, are not just about the amount of money spent. Dr. Terri “The Love Doctor” Orbuch, a relationship specialist, University of Michigan professor and author of several books on romance, warns not to solely look at the average when judging your present haul. The Love Doctor gave us a list of things you should think about before stepping out to buy your S.O.’s gift.

The Length Of The Relationship Matters
Our informal survey revealed the following about holiday spending: on average, couples expected to spend $21 more per year of their relationship. Dr. Orbuch agrees that how long a pair has been together is “very important” and the first factor to look for when selecting a gift -- but it’s not the only factor.

“If you’re in the middle range of a relationship,” she says, “the kind of gift should be more significant. Sometimes that includes how much money you spend [on it.]” She insists, however, that money is less of a factor in the earlier and later stages of a relationship. “The longer you are together, the more you want other kinds of factors in the gift -- you want someone to write your own card, to discover what’s really important to you.”

Full disclosure: Dr. Orbuch said that the best holiday gift she received from her husband was a handwritten sonnet.

The Newer The Relationship, The Less You Should Spend
Our holiday guinea pigs in the earlier stages of a relationship had vastly different ideas about how much should be spent: some expressed horror at the idea of spending anything in the first few months, while other said they would gladly drop $100 or more. (The majority of Canadians, in the only survey we could find, believed that a person should spend at least $75 after six months of a relationship.)

Dr. Orbuch agrees with those who say “bah, humbug” to big gifts in the beginning of the relationship. If you’ve only been on a few dates, or if you’re still uncomfortable referring to yourselves in the collective “we,” it may be too early for an expensive present. Rather, Dr. Orbuch advises beginning couples to transfer the money that would have gone to a gift onto something experiential, like a dinner or a movie.

She warns: “A gift has a meaning that will be read into. If you’re not sure, or if you don’t know, spend the money on concert tickets.”

Don’t Be Afraid To Make A List
You don’t need to make everything a secret around the holidays. Dr. Orbuch urges couples not to keep silent. “There’s a myth or misconception that talking about gifts can reduce surprise, excitement, or specialness,” she says, “but that’s not the case.”

Spending rules, limits and full-on Christmas lists can combat what Orbuch calls the biggest problem in relationship gift-giving: the mismatched gift. As any Mom that has received a copy of Marvel’s “The Avengers” on Blu-Ray disc can tell you (our poor mothers), people give gifts based on what they themselves want.

“That,” says Dr. Orbuch grimly, “is a mistake.”

Rather, the good doctor suggests asking yourself a list of questions before you buy: “If you put yourself in your partner’s shoes, what would you say they wanted? What is meaningful for them? Is this something they wouldn’t get but would want to have?” These questions can help you get the right gift, no matter what you choose to spend.

Whatever You Buy, Manage Expectations
Again and again, our survey respondents sought to manage our expectations when we were asking them how much they were spending this year -- even though we were really nice about it. “I spent a lot of money last year on a bike for my husband,” one explained apologetically. “The thing you have to understand about this year,” said another, “is that we’re saving up for our honeymoon.”

The good news is that managing expectations is a great habit to get into. If unchecked, cautions Dr. Orbuch, expectations can easily lead to frustration for both recipient and giver.

“The holidays are tied to past family traditions,” she says, “and in some families they won’t be big, they won’t be about spending a lot of money.” A gift-giver who drops a lot of money on a gift might not understand and be frustrated when their partner would prefer something handmade. But all these habits start early.

The solution, according to the “Love Doctor,” is to talk it out. She recommends that “new and long term partners sit down and have a very direct, but relaxed, conversation about what they want to spend on presents. It’ll avoid issues later.”

Don’t let the gift giving season hang over your head. With Discover Card you can redeem your Cashback Bonus® for any amount any time. So at least paying for the gift is one less thing to worry about.

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