Flowers, chocolates, and jewelry can all make fine Mother's Day gifts. But let's face it: Some moms aren't big fans of any of the above—especially when they're purchased out of a sense of obligation—and some kids and spouses may not have time or the budget to make mom's dream gift a reality. (Sorry moms, one of those brand-new luxury cars with a giant bow on top is just not going to happen.)
If you're reading this now, you're probably seriously crunched for time. You may very well feel desperate. Still, it's not too late to throw together a Mother's Day gift that, hopefully, won't seem desperately thrown together at the last minute. Here are some genuinely thoughtful ideas that almost anyone can pull off with minimal effort and expense.
Clean her car inside and out. This one is especially good for mothers of younger children, whose once-spotless vehicles have inevitably been infiltrated with Legos, juice spills, banana gunk, Cheerios dust, balled-up used tissues, and worse. For scoring extra points with mom, dads and kids should make her car spick and span right in the driveway, so she can see her loved ones toiling away in her honor and truly appreciate the gesture. And hey, there's nothing wrong with taking your shirt off while hosing down the Honda—give mom "tickets to the gun show" as a little extra bonus.
Give a gift card that's actually thoughtful. Gift cards can and often do come off as thoughtless and impersonal—they're a "crime against Christmas" and the true spirit of giving, as one MONEY staffer put it memorably. Yet there's a way for a gift card to be thoughtful. Specifically, if there's a retailer your mom really likes but tends to avoid because it's so expensive or full of complete inessentials, then consider buying her a gift card there. It's a way of spoiling her in a way she wouldn't spoil herself.
Digitize her non-digital photos. Odds are, somewhere in your mom's house there are stacks of faded old photographs or negatives stuffed into envelopes. They might be pictures of her as a child, or her mother, or her mother's mother, and they deserve to be appreciated once again. Put a smile on your mother's face by unearthing these family gems and bringing them into the 21st century. Scan and upload a bunch of images, so that there are digital copies of them that can easily be shared and printed.
Load up her Kindle with e-books she'll like. If you know your mom's favorite author, or a genre she favors, grab hold of her e-reader and download digital copies of a couple of new books she'd like. (You might have to stealthily inquire about whether she's read them already, but you're smooth like that.) If you don't know what she likes to read, here are some Mother's Day book suggestions from New York magazine to get you started. And if you want to be really cheap—hey, some frugal moms might appreciate this approach, which shows you've learned from her example—you might even just borrow digital copies from the library. In all cases, these books can be downloaded to a Kindle or other e-reader in seconds. In other words, you can pull off this gift idea even on Mother's Day itself, if you're a slacker who hasn't done anything ahead of time.
Arrange an activity or outing that's right up her alley. If your mother has a history of asking her children to partake in a favorite activity that they only submit to begrudgingly, well, here's your opportunity to make her happy by asking her to join you in said activity. As a Mother's Day gift, you'll spend an afternoon crafting, having tea, playing tennis, or going to the movies (her choice, of course), and you better have a smile on your face the whole time.
Plan a family game night. Assuming your mom is the type who loves this sorta thing, leave all of the screens behind and have an old-fashioned game night. Play charades, Monopoly, Pictionary, or another fun, interactive game. For presentation purposes, choose a selection of card games and board games and place them in a basket with a card, and perhaps a bottle of wine and some nice snacks. Wa-la! You've got a nice game night package to present to her on Mother's Day.
Serve breakfast in bed. This is a classic for a reason. But beware that some moms hate breakfast in bed because it can be messy and stressful, what with toast crumbs and hot coffee and kids who can't help themselves from jumping on the mattress. Bear all of this in mind when choosing what to serve. Or maybe better yet, just let her sleep in and have a delicious breakfast waiting in the kitchen when she arises from her slumber.
Sign up for a class together. Maybe you've heard your mom talking about wanting to sign up for a class on pottery, or baking bread, or … hey, she's your mom, you should know! Here's your chance to give her a nudge into doing it, with you in a supporting role as her classmate.
List the reasons you love her. Among the DIY Mother's Day gifts suggested by Today.com is a decorated mason jar stuffed full of adorable and funny messages about why mom is the greatest. For example: "You give the best hugs," or "You don't snore as loud as dad." The idea is that mom can open up the jar each day or whenever she needs a pick-me-up, and get a reminder about how amazing she is, and how much all of you appreciate her.
Happy Mother's Day!