As a Ph.D. student, I know firsthand what it’s like to struggle through heavy gifting seasons on a tight budget. Graduate stipends are low, and in an expensive city like the Bay Area, this can be a challenge. As someone who loves giving gifts, I’ve had to get creative in coming up with gift ideas for the special people in my life.
With Mother’s Day right around the corner, it’s time to start brainstorming gift ideas for Mom (and the other motherly figures in my life). Through trial and error, I’ve come up with this foolproof set of ideas for when you’re in that weird in-between period where you can’t yet afford extravagant gifts, but you’re beyond the days of just handing her a “Best Mom” card and giving a big hug. This listicle will provide some tips for how to make Mom smile for $20 or less.
Organize a wine pairings night
Wine tasting can be super fun, but it can also be super expensive! Instead of going out, try wine pairings at home. At the grocery or liquor store, you can find bottles for as low as $3! I know my mom loves a dry rosé, so I started with that in mind and asked the store clerk for recommendations. Simply grab a couple of bottles, some cheese or dark chocolate, and enjoy your tasty combos. To take it to the next level, do some research on wine pairings beforehand.
If you want to impress Mom even further, take notes during your tasting, then afterward, draw up a profile of which pairings tickled your fancy so she can use it as a guide in the future.
Schedule a fashion consulting session
If fashion is your thing, give Mom a complimentary style session! You can discuss her personal style, set goals for branching out, and show her how to resurrect forgotten pieces in the back of her wardrobe. She will appreciate an opportunity to revamp her look and play dress-up for a day. To go the extra mile, you can ask her to set a budget she is comfortable with and take her shopping! She may be open to spending a little on herself if you are willing to do all of the heavy lifting. This idea can be done in-person if you live nearby/can plan a visit, or, if you are at a distance, can work virtually!
While I have yet to try this one on my mom, my older sister loved her style session! She’s a busy professional and appreciated the opportunity to “shop without having to do anything.” A gift like this is great for someone who is less comfortable shopping for themself.
Send a personal newsletter
Each month, send Mom a short newsletter with tips for staying motivated, where to find the best cup of coffee in town, or how to rock her new red lipstick! She will appreciate the lasting effect of this gift, especially if you live far apart. I gave this gift to my mom last Christmas and have enjoyed every minute of providing tips, updates on my life, and jokes to make her smile each month. Make it easy for yourself by using a template (Google Docs and Microsoft Word have great ones). All you have to do is pop Mom’s favorite color scheme in and get to writing!
Curate new meal-prep ideas
Does Mom love to cook? Do some research on fun and delicious recipes and send her a personally curated recipe book or meal-prep plan so that she can get to cooking without the hassle of planning. If she has recently become an empty-nester, she may appreciate guidance on how to cook for a household of one or two.
Since I started living on my own, I have made it a point to beef up my cooking skills — no more boxed mac and cheese for this gal — and thus, I have spent much more time trying out others’ recipes and creating my own. My mom continues to rave about the yummy new recipes she’s trying.
Set up a photoshoot
You can take this one in a number of ways: If your budget is super tight, create a backdrop using a plain bed sheet and take pics of mom on your own; if you’re able to spend a little, you can hire a local young person, perhaps a budding photography student for a low price and have them snapshots. If you know Mom is willing, you could do all the leg work of finding a professional photographer, or you could offer to coordinate the next family photo, a session with her best friend, or anyone she wishes!
My mom loves a good photoshoot and she takes our annual family photo quite seriously. With this gift, she has appreciated my commitment to ensuring these photos come out nicely; with that, I have also promised no more bunny ears on baby sis!
Originally published May 5, 2020