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A guy's guide to holiday shopping

Attention men! Are you searching for that perfect gift? “Today” financial editor Jean Chatzky offers tips on what to look for.

You can feel it in the air — the holidays are here. And that means you are spending more time than usual shopping. For some, the exercise in trying to gauge just what everyone on your list might like best is fun. But for others — particularly for men — some new research has shown, it's stressful.

A new BizRate poll conducted for the comparison shopping web site Shopzilla found that for 48 percent of men, holiday shopping brings on feelings of inadequacy, confusion and anxiety. More than 56 percent of women, on the other hand, say they're actually excited about buying holiday gifts.

So this week, I decided to do all of you men (and more than a few of you women) a favor. This week's column is a little lesson in how to buy for us things we will not only use or like, but things that will make us tingle all the way down to the tips of our toes. The end result? We'll appreciate you even more.

  • Do your research. Usually this advice coming from me means head to the Internet, the Kelly Blue Book, the library.
    In this case, it means talk to her friends. The woman in her life has a tight circle of insiders. They know what's on her list. They know in what color. They know in what size. Heck, they may even know when it's going on sale at 50 percent off.
    If you don't trust them to keep your inquiries to themselves, use the other clues she leaves lying around the house, suggests Janet Davies, founder of and author of “Darling, You Shouldn't Have: What Women Really Want and How To Get It Right Every Time” (Arima Publishing). If a woman keeps a catalog or a magazine, chances are pretty good she likes something inside it. The page may even be dog-earred.
  • Pay attention. We drag you on extended shopping trips as often as you'll allow it and each time we admire at least a few things. If we point out something in March, we'll be tres impressed if you remember to buy it for us in December. If you know you're not going to remember — the BizRate research found that only 22 percent of men do their holiday shopping throughout the year — make a point of writing it down when you get home.
  • Try shopping online. In the early days of Internet shopping, men dominated the marketplaces. Women have since taken over (no surprise, I suppose, we make 80 percent of all household purchases in other places.)
    If your gal is a consistent online shopper, you've got a roadmap of where she's been most often: her computer's history. If she isn't, stick to familiar web sites and brands, particularly when making expensive purchases like jewelry. The best part of the deal Almost every online retailer will wrap your present for you, making you look like a champ when it comes time to swap or place it under the tree.
  • Avoid utility. We may need a kitchen appliance, a microwave, a hand-held blender or a new vacuum. If you bought us one on a Sunday afternoon, just because, we'd rave about how unbelievably thoughtful we thought you were.
    But on the holidays? No thanks. Similarly, we don't want anything that we have to put together. (Spending two hours watching you scowl and curse as you put it together for us is no fun either. If assembly is required, please do it before hand out of our purview, or hire out.)
    Interestingly, we'd rather you not overlook electronics. You may think we'll think they're not romantic or personal enough, but that little MP3 player is in fact pretty sexy (especially if you load it up with special tunes). If we spend a lot of time in our cars, a satellite radio subscription and receiver might be a good idea. If we throw a lot of parties a new stereo or surround sound system might be in order. As long as you have good reason — and therefore put sufficient thought — into the gift, you'll be safe in this category.
    “Men are good at shopping for electronics and they often enjoy the technology side, so giving technological gifts can really balance gender differences,” says Helen Malani, chief shopping expert for Shopzilla.
  • No gift cards. Not today. Not ever. That thought thing is the reason for my personal ban on gift cards of all sorts. Yes, I know they're failsafe. But these days, when pretty much every supermarket has a rack of gift cards (Home Depot, Starbucks, iTunes, whatever you want, chances are it's there) these little pieces of plastic spell cop-out to me.
  • Finally, no pouting if we return something. Here's the bottom line: we'd love you to buy us something that we truly love, that we want to wear tonight, use tomorrow, put on and never take off. But if you miss, understand we will do our best to give you ample credit for trying. A guilt trip for a misstep — “I'm never buying you another handbag again!” — takes all the fun out of the scenario for both you and for us. Chalk it up to practice makes perfect. And know that if you need to take back the leather jacket we spent time and effort picking out for you, we'll understand. Really. We will.