Don't know what to get him? Don't trust a survey

Children giving Father's Day gift
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There is a reason that your dad has so many ugly ties.

Americans have a hard time shopping for their fathers, and when Father's Day comes around, they can't just buy flowers at the last minute like many people do for Mother's Day.

Luckily, there are all kinds of surveys out there that purport to help us figure out what our dads really want. Like many surveys, the ones for Father's Day gifts often tell you more about the group doing the survey than about what fathers are seeking.

According to a survey by a meat company, 86 percent of fathers would prefer to be given a thick-cut T-bone steak—if their only choices are steak or another tie. Or maybe most fathers want "a pen holder with a paperclip magnet," according to a survey by a trinket liquidator. Somehow, tech companies always discover that our fathers really just want gadgets.

CNBC took a look at this year's batch of Father's Day gift surveys and tried to determine what—if anything—we can learn about what our dads actually want.


These three surveys released before Father's Day 2015 don't have much in common. Dad might want a greeting card, or a gift card, or a case of his favorite beer. Several years of surveys seem to tell us only one thing: he doesn't want a tie. Surveys also seem to indicate that fathers would prefer a personalized gift or experience over a store-bought present.

According to the National Retail Federation's yearly survey, Americans are expected to spend $12.7 billion on Father's Day presents this year. That's about $116 per person, compared with $173 per person for Mother's Day.

What do they buy, given all the conflicting information out there? In terms of spending, it's pretty close to RetailMeNot's survey results, and hasn't changed much in the last few years.

Greeting cards (non-hand-drawn) are the most common gift reported—Americans will buy about $780 million worth of cards this Father's Day. The most money spent goes into special experiences for dad, like a meal out with the family or tickets to a baseball game.

Books and CDs make the list of most common gifts, yet don't show up in any of the survey results. It could be that fathers like spending their time reading and listening to music, but no one thought to ask them about those gifts in a survey. Books and CDs are also some of the least expensive gifts out there, with buyers spending only about $23 each.

So what does your dad want for Father's Day this year? Maybe you should just ask him.