12 Inexpensive and Thoughtful Mother’s Day Gifts

Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend and, for a lot of us, it’s an event that won’t be like normal. The possibility of many Mother’s Day traditions, like a nice dinner at a restaurant, isn’t even possible in many areas, and social distancing closes the door on many ideas, whether it’s enforced in your area or not.

So, what options are there for Mother’s Day that don’t involve just ordering a gift online somewhere and having it shipped to her house?

Here are 12 inexpensive and thoughtful ways to commemorate Mother’s Day without simply clicking a few times on the first item you see on Amazon. (I might be using one or two of these, though I won’t mention which ones.)

For some, reading this article might be the first time Mother’s Day has been on their radar. If that’s you, just choose one of these projects and dive in — most of them can easily be accomplished in a few days if you give some hours to them, and many can wait until Mother’s Day itself.

1. Spend Mother’s Day doing some outdoor chores for your mother.

While social distancing may actually keep you from visiting her, you can still go to her house and take care of a lot of yard chores. Give your mother a call a day or two before Mother’s Day and ask what kind of state her yard is in and what kind of things she’d like to see there, then spend Mother’s Day taking care of those things.

You might paint her front railing, stain her deck, mow the yard for her, plant some things for her, weed her garden, trim some trees and bushes, clean out and organize a shed or fix a broken downspout.

These are all things you can do on the outside of her home without stepping foot inside and violating any social distancing mandates.

You might also consider ending the day by leaving another one of the items on this list on her front step, too.

2. Detail her car, getting it incredibly clean inside and out.

Again, this involves traveling to her house and spending a few hours in her car with some cleaning supplies. Take a small vacuum and some cleaning supplies with you so that you can give both the inside and outside of her car a good cleaning.

You could vacuum out the car entirely and remove any trash that you find, wipe down the dashboard and all of the panels until they’re clean, clean all of the windows with a window cleaner, wash and wax the entire outside of the car and clean the tires and hubcaps to leave them sparkling.

Again, as with the yard work, you could finish these tasks by leaving a small additional item on her front step, perhaps one of the other items on this list.

3. Make a big batch of her favorite snacks or other foods and ship them to her or deliver them.

If your mother has a particular treat that she really likes that you know how to make well, just make a big batch of that treat and deliver it to her in some fashion.

For example, if your mother really loves homemade bread, make a few loaves of it and put it on her front step. If your mother really loves cookies, wrap up a box of them really carefully and send them to her. Maybe your mother is a big fan of peanut butter or hazelnut butter (Nutella) — make some yourself, put it in a jar, and drop it on her front step (here’s a guide).

The key here is to think carefully about what your mother likes and then prepare that item to the best of your ability. Right now is a perfect opportunity to invest some time in making that item from scratch so that it’s an amazing treat for your mom.

4. Make a collection of digital photos, touched up a little, and put them on a memory stick so she can use them as a screensaver.

Spend some time going through your collection of digital photos, choosing ones that you think your mother would appreciate and value, and touch them up a bit digitally if you have the tools for doing so (I like TouchRetouch on iOS or Android).

Then, move all of those images to a memory stick using your computer so that they can easily be shared with your mom and put on her desktop computer or laptop with ease. (If you don’t have a memory stick, you can get one easily from many stores via curbside pickup.)

Then, simply send that stick (or deliver it) to your mother, along with some basic instructions for doing so if your mom isn’t the most technically inclined person. Your mom will soon have a slide show for her screensaver that’s full of meaningful pictures.

You could also throw in a fresh image or two with you and/or your own children holding up signs that say “Happy Mother’s Day!”

5. Have a “DIY” movie night with your mother.

How can you do this remotely?

First of all, identify a movie that you and your mother both love and have watched many times. Figure out a way so that you can watch it at the same time in your respective homes. So, for example, if it’s a movie you both have on DVD or Blu-ray, that’s perfect. If it’s available on a streaming service you both have, then you’re good to go. If needed, you could purchase a month of that streaming service for your mother, of course, or ship her a copy of that DVD.

Then, either ship her or drop off for her a microwaveable popcorn bag and some seasoning and/or her favorite theater treats. You might be able to easily do this if a grocery store delivers in her area, or Amazon may have the goods. In either case, this won’t be too expensive.

Then, set up a time with her where you’ll both sit down and watch the movie at the same time in your respective homes, but while you’re watching, you can talk to each other on the phone or turn on FaceTime or Zoom (you may have to play with the audio settings a bit). You can talk to each other while the movie’s on, commenting on the movie itself or getting lost in conversation.

6. Put together a personalized recipe box for her.

Go through all of your recipes and identify ones that your mom has particularly enjoyed in the past. Maybe you’ve made some memorable meals for her, or perhaps she really loves the cookies and bars you make for desserts.

Make a recipe card with the full recipe for that treat, then on the back of the card, write about how you remember that she really enjoyed these bars, or that you remember making this for her and her really liking it. The more personal and specific the memory, the better.

Make a little bundle of these cards, put them in a box together, and send them to her (or drop them off on her front step).

7. Deliver a meal to her.

You might not actually be able to enjoy dinner together because of social distancing and concern for health, but there’s nothing keeping you from making a nice meal for her and delivering it so that she can enjoy it on her own. (This might be a good year to deliver meals that simply require one final step of cooking, to maximize food safety.)

You might deliver a pan of homemade lasagna fully cooked, or with instructions to pop it in the oven for 30 minutes. You might deliver a slow cooker full of her favorite soup that she can plug in and let run for an hour or so and eat at her convenience. If your mother really likes pasta, make a bunch of fresh pasta that she can boil for dinner.

The key here is that you obtained all of the ingredients in a meal that she loves and assembled that meal for her so that she doesn’t have to cook it for herself.

Another nice touch is to prepare the same meal for yourself at home, if you live reasonably close by, and then enjoy it together via FaceTime or Zoom. So, let’s say you live 45 minutes away from your mother and you drop off a pan of uncooked lasagna ready for the oven. Just tell her to put it in the oven in 45 minutes, then when you get home, you pop your own lasagna in the oven. Then, when your lasagna is almost done, give her a video call, then you can enjoy your lasagna together, even at a distance.

8. Make an assortment of bath bombs for her using mostly things you have around the house.

If your mom is the type who’s really missing her spa days, make some bath bombs so she can enjoy a bit of the experience at home. The actual recipe for bath bombs is pretty simple, using mostly stuff you have at home along with a few things you can probably get with a curbside pickup from a craft store. (Hint: if you have any plastic Easter egg shells, they work pretty well as molds for this, as do muffin tins.)

The key is to think about what kinds of aromas and colors would particularly appeal to your mother, then make a variety of bombs using those colors and scents.

If your mother likes greens and blues, use green and blue food coloring. If she likes pinks and purples, use red and purple food coloring. If she likes the smell of chamomile, use a bit of dried chamomile right in the bath bomb. Just think about things that she likes and try to use those elements in the bombs.

9. Plant a small garden for her in a pot.

One nice move that you can do yourself for Mother’s Day, particularly if you have a small pot or two and some good soil, is to plant a few easy-to-care-for vegetables or herbs in small pots and deliver them to her front step.

I recently wrote a detailed guide to vegetable and herb gardening with just a pot, but the core of the advice is simple: just plant the seeds of a simple vegetable (like lettuce, carrots or herbs) in a small pot, water them regularly,and harvest. If you take care of the “planting in a small pot” part, all your mom has to do is sit the pot in the sunshine, give it some water, and she’ll have some super-fresh vegetables or herbs very soon.

If she’s not an avid gardener, don’t overwhelm her. Just get a couple of small pots with seeds planted for vegetables and herbs that she’ll love, with easy instructions for watering them sent via text to help her out.

10. Read aloud a short story, a novella, or a short novel.

If your mother loves stories but struggles to be able to read, one of the best Mother’s Day gifts you can give to her is to find a short story, a novella, or even a short novel by one of her favorite writers and read it aloud to her yourself.

You can do this at home by recording your reading using your phone. Do it in sessions over the next few days, then stitch the audio together using your audio recording tool (Voice Record Pro does a good job for this kind of task). You can then send it to her by email, where she can easily play the audio on her phone.

You can also record a personal introduction and conclusion, where you tell your mom how much she means to you and why you chose to read this story or book to her.

As long as you’re not publishing or selling your recording, it falls completely under fair use, if you’re concerned about the legality of this.

For example, if your mother loves mysteries, you could spend a few hours recording a reading of an Agatha Christie novel in your own voice over a few sessions, then turn that into a single audio file and send it to her by email. Not only will she enjoy the story, but it’s also a way for her to hear your voice reading it to her.

11. Write her a handwritten letter of appreciation.

Many people give their mother a greeting card for Mother’s Day, but right now, simply going to a store and hanging around lots of other people picking out a card might not seem like the wisest choice.

Rather, this is a perfect year to start a new tradition: instead of a Mother’s Day card, write her a Mother’s Day letter.

Just find a sheet of paper in your home — or a blank card, if you have any — and simply write a letter to your mom in your own handwriting thanking her for what she’s done for you over the years.

If you don’t know how to write it, start by making a separate list of the five or so most important specific things you can remember her doing for you during your life. Then, use that list as the backbone for your letter. Describe how you remember those things she did and what they meant for you and the impact that they had.

The writing and the word choice doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to sound like you and be in your own handwriting. That’s what will make it perfect.

This can be an amazing Mother’s Day gift all on its own, or it can be paired with one of the other gifts on this list.

12. Make a Mother’s Day video.

What if you like the idea of a letter, but you’re not a particularly “wordy” person? Another option is to record a Mother’s Day video that captures many of the same sentiments.

If you go this route, consider putting some real time into it. Record it in bits from a number of locations, then use some basic editing software (like iMovie) to edit the segments a bit (like cutting out the parts where you’re starting and stopping recording) and stitch them together.

For example, you might record one bit in a comfortable chair in your home, then another on the balcony, then another while on a walk, and maybe yet another somewhere on a hiking trail, with each different location centered around telling a memorable story about your mom and how it impacted you. If you can choose locations relevant to the story, even better.

You can stick that video on YouTube and set it to “private” or, if you feel like it, leave it public, and then send her the link to the video on Mother’s Day.

This is a year to lean into the “personal” when it comes to Mother’s Day.

For many of us, the last few months have seen some serious life disruptions, likely resulting in some social distance and some challenging life choices and arrangements. If there’s ever a year where you should really lean into a more “personal” handmade gift, like one of the suggestions in this article, this is the year to do it.

It’s especially true considering that quite a lot of people are spending much of their free time at home right now, giving them ample time to put together one of these projects in the coming days.

Lean into that. Use your time and energy and a little bit of heart to make this Mother’s Day a little bit special, within the constraints of the day. Most of these projects cost very little money, but they do require a little time and thought and care. Give that time and thought and care this week and see if you can do something that makes Mother’s Day a little more special.

Good luck.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.