10 Mother's Day gift ideas she'll actually want that cost next to nothing up front

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

Not all mothers want stuff on Mother's Day. You can count me among them. I want time to go to spin class, to putter around in the garden and a nice big brunch to replace all those calories I lost at the gym. 

It's likely you also know a mom who's not feeling like getting flowers and jewelry. Here's a list of things you can gift a somewhat adventurous mother this weekend, no purchase necessary (though it may cost you something down the road).

Recipes:Mother's Day breakfast that will make her forget you didn't make brunch reservations

The opportunity to do absolutely nothing

Your breakfasts in bed are so sweet, but there's probably a giant mess in the kitchen. The crafts the kids made are adorable, but there's glitter all over the floor. Don't make mom clean up on Mother's Day. Set up a nice chair on the porch, provide some shade, a cold mimosa and a stack of magazines, and go clean that stuff up, please. Then feed the kids some lunch and bring her a sandwich, too. I promise this is the way. Let her just sit there like a lump. 

A very clean house

You can skip the chair and drinks if you'd like and get straight to cleaning. We're not talking about wiping down the counters and putting the dishes in the dishwasher. I'm talking full-tilt super clean. Baseboards gleaming, living room Pinterest-worthy, toilets fit for a surprise visit from royalty. Take out all the trash, sweep and mop, and don't forget the windows. 

Not good at this type of stuff? No problem. Present mom with a card that says you'll arrange for a visit from a real, live cleaning professional. Then actually book it, please and thank you. 

Give mom a garden space of her own.

A garden space

If you have a mom who likes to garden, it would be extremely thoughtful to create a garden bed for her. Don't just lead her out to the backyard and wave vaguely in the general direction of a blank piece of grass. Carve out a nice garden bed. Raised beds are even better. Add soil and the appropriate amendments and then send her to the plant store to buy whatever sounds fun, or ask what she wants and offer to get it. 

A day or several at the gym

You might have to be delicate with this one. This is strictly for the woman who's expressed the desire to go to the gym and — this is the kicker — actually enjoys going. This will not work if she equates gym time with throwing herself into the fires of Mordor. That will only come across as slightly body shaming, which is not a good look on Mother's Day.

However, if the gym makes her genuinely happy, promise a day or two where you'll pick up the kids from school, take care of dinner and anything else that needs doing to clear space in her schedule so she can actually go. Bonus points for spin class vouchers or a brand-spanking-new Y membership.

Home improvement, maintenance

Are you handy? Well, god bless you. I bet there's something you can fix, build or improve right now that's been driving the mother in your life insane. I bet there are some pictures, mirrors, curtains, or all of the above she's dying to have hung up. If you're feeling extra ambitious, I bet there's a room she'd love painted, a light fixture she'd love replaced and some planters she'd like installed on the front porch. Just ask. And prepare for an earful.

A reading nook

Does the mom in your life love to read? Or even just to have a place to sit and enjoy just one second of peace? I'm betting yes. Set up a nice cozy spot with a lamp and a side table for tea and/or wine and a nice pillow. Make it pretty. Then give her some space to chill out and read.

A movie night

Hook up the sound, pour a big glass of wine, dim the lights and let her watch literally whatever she wants, whenever she wants. Take the kids and leave for a few hours so she doesn't feel embarrassed by the dumb rom-com she's watching or have to field any requests to put on Encanto. We don't talk about Bruno on Mother's Day. 

A trip alone could be to a far-flung city, a concert, or just in the next town over.

A trip alone

Of everything on this list, this is perhaps the most generous. Trips to the beach with the family are lovely, but it's the mom in the bunch who usually ends up doing the lion's share of the work. A pile of dishes in paradise is still a pile of dishes. The last time I went on a trip alone, I promptly slept for 12 hours, my body's answer to six whole years of sleep deprivation. And then I did it again. 

Trips alone don't have to be to the Bahamas. They don't even have to be out of town. You could book her an Airbnb staycation just about anywhere. Or better yet, ask where she wants to go. If you don't have the cash to book anything right now, give her a card that promises a day or several of family-free time out of the house. 

A clean car

This is my favorite Mother's Day gift. The day that I finally told my husband that I really, truly just want a nicely detailed car every year was a huge relief to both of us, I think. He doesn't have to come up with anything creative, and I get what feels like a new car every year. You can do this yourself if you're short on cash, but I highly recommend leaving this to the professionals, who can gloss up the tires and the headlights like no one's business. There's nothing like it.

A meal subscription

Yes, this one does cost some cash. But hear me out. If you're tackling dinner a few times a week like the enlightened man you are, are you actually cooking something delicious or are you kind of phoning it in? If it's the latter, you might want to try out a meal subscription box where all of the ingredients come packaged and ready, along with recipes. 

I tried a meal subscription box one week and, even though I've got years of line cooking experience under my belt, I learned something. Do you know who learned more? My husband. This is a great gift if you're trying to help lighten the load on your wife and the mother of your kids.

If you'd just like to hook up a meal on your own a few nights a week without the cost burden of a subscription, visit www.southernkitchen.com for loads of recipes for anything from breakfast to multicourse dinners. Cook mom a meal or 20. It's the least you can do. 

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com