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May 9, 2019

Have a Happy Mother’s Day on the Cheap

By Sarah Netter

Six gift ideas under $50 will show mom you care.

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My very first Mother’s Day will forever be my favorite. My son was just 8 months old, so he needed a bit of help in the gift department.

My own mother picked out a silver bangle bracelet for my son to give to me and had it engraved with the phrase “Love Made Me Yours.” It was a lovely gesture and I treasure the bracelet. But what made that day so special was not what was in the box with a bow, but how we spent our day.

It was the first year I was celebrating my mom and being celebrated as a mom. We spent the day—a bright, clear and sunny Sunday—lazily walking around Manhattan’s Upper West Side. We stopped for brunch at a mouth-watering Italian restaurant. My son was happy and babbling and giving me drooly kisses. My mom beamed, proud of being both a mother and a grandmother. It was the perfect day … all for the cost of brunch.

And it was all I needed. Not fancy gifts, just that brunch with my two favorite people.

U.S. consumers are expected to celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend by spending a record $25 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, up from just over $23 billion in 2018.

While television and Internet ads are on an endless loop of promotions for new cars, expensive jewelry, and kitchen appliances, most people prefer to give—and receive—Mother’s Day gifts that are easy on the wallet.

The top five most popular gifts according to the NRF survey are all under $50:

Popular GiftAverage CostTotal
Greeting Cards$6.64$843 million
Flowers$20.31$2.6 billion
Special Outing$36.41$4.6 billion
Gift cards/certificates$20.65$2.6 billion
Clothing/accessories$18.07$2.3 billion

I asked moms across the country what they want most for their Mother’s Day and they all came back with wish lists that are uniquely their own, but with one common thread—celebrations that are big on meaning, not on cash.

Virginia mom Amina Sarraf wants her 7-year-old boy to carry on the Mother’s Day tradition that was started when he was just a baby.

“I have a blank book where, every year, my son wishes happy Mother’s Day to me,” she says. When her son was very young, his father put the baby’s handprints in the book. Now, he can write his own messages and create drawings for her. And it’s become one of her most valued possessions. “If my house was on fire, I’d grab it,” she says.

Total cost for a blank hardcover book: $3 to $10 at Michaels.

For her first Mother’s Day, Jenna Jonaitis, a Michigan mom of a 6-month-old son, would like something “simple, yet meaningful that I can use daily to remind me of the joy it is to be a mother, like a photo mug from with a candid of me and my son.”

The idea already a proven winner, she added. She got her own mother a mug last year for Mother’s Day featuring favorite family photos.

“She cried so much,” Jonaitis said. “She absolutely loved it and uses it almost every day.”

Photo mug cost: starting at just $16.99 (but currently on sale for less than that!) at

Mugs are a great Mother’s Day gift, if done with love … and humor. “A painted coffee mug would be nice because I love having coffee cups,” says Whitney Sandoval, a Kansas mother of a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old boy. “And when I look at the poorly painted thing I would smile and remember I love them.”

Total cost for quick-dry paint pens: $19.99 on Amazon … pick up the coffee mug at a dollar store.

Heidi Kronenberg, a mother of a 22-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter in upstate New York, is hoping her children come through with vegetable seeds, a bag of garden soil and some gardening gloves to use in her backyard.

“[It’s] basically a gift that feeds your family all summer and you can do with the kids,” she says.

Total cost for a variety of seeds, soil, and gloves: $25-$30 at Home Depot

Carol Heffernan, a Wisconsin mother of a 10-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son, is hoping her husband will help her children gift her the cookbook, Merriman’s Hawai’i, after a recent trip to Maui where they ate at Peter Merriman’s restaurant Monkeypod.

“I saw it for sale on the way out of the restaurant, but didn’t want to haul it back on the plane,” she says. “Plus, it’s a little pricey and I’d hesitate to spend that much on a book — makes it the perfect gift!”

Cookbook cost: $39.95 on Amazon

Staci Hopkin, a mom of six kids between the ages of 8 and 18 in Massachusetts, wants not for herself but for other moms who may not be able to celebrate with their children.

“My kids know what is important to me—donating to a fund to help asylum-seeking mothers who are being jailed without their children, that’s all I’d want,” she says.

Cost of donation: as much or as little as you can afford at the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, or another charity of your choice

I asked my own mother what she wanted for Mother’s Day this year, something that would be meaningful, and make her smile.

Her pick? A nice picture frame for a photo of her holding me when I was a baby.

“It would be very significant and you can easily get a frame for $5,” she says. “And then on the back of the frame you could write about how you feel about having that person for your mother all these years.”

Challenge accepted, mom. Challenge accepted.

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Written by

Sarah Netter

Sarah Netter is a is a freelance contributor for Stash Learn, based in New Orleans. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and ABC News.


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