Last-minute, thoughtful Mother’s Day gifts that won’t cost you a dime

So you may have left things til, you know... right now. That's OK: Here are some ideas that are actually thoughtful. 


Monica Riese


Published May 11, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 8:16 am CDT

By now, hopefully you’ve noticed that today is Mother’s Day. The Web has been swimming in gift guides for moms this week, all of them claiming to be thoughtful, unique, and prime for the last-minute shopper. This guide isn’t one of them (though, yes, it is last-minute, but that’s sort of on you, too). 

The thing about a “thoughtful” gift is that it actually requires putting a little… you know, thought behind it. Half a dozen different coffee-related accessories might be the way to your particular mom’s heart, or she might go nuts for a Kindle to do her reading on, an iPod for the sewing room… whatever. But, contrary to what a typical tech section might be all about, we’re not going to pimp products for you to hastily throw in a shopping cart and cross your fingers arrive intact. Rather, we’re going to assume that Mom already has the gadgets and gizmos she’s comfortable with, and say she just needs a little help fine-tuning.

(We’re making this assumption because, well, my mom is one of those ladies.)

So here: Dive in to this list of ideas for the almost-tech-savvy mom that won’t cost you a dime and that you can pull off today. 

Teach your mom how to block people on Facebook

In these days of divorces and blended families and ever-changing privacy settings, it can be tough to totally isolate yourself from users whose updates you don’t want to see. The last thing your mom wants is to be inundated by photo updates from her ex’s new wife, so take a few minutes to show her how to tweak what she sees and who sees what of hers. Maybe help her build a list of “important” users (like, you and your siblings), and while you’re at it, do yourself a favor and make sure she’s not getting any updates from your weekend adventures that she’s not supposed to. (That’s a hypothetical, Mom; I’m still an angel.)

Show her how to take better pictures with her camera or on her phone

You’d think with the impressive cameras they’re cramming into smaller and smaller packages, it’d be almost impossible to screw up at this point, but then life is full of surprisingly terrible shots. Spend some time with Mom exploring some settings on her point-and-shoot, or introduce her to your favorite apps for editing shot on your phone.

Build her a Netflix profile on your account

Thanks to my past as an altweekly film editor, my DVD collection includes a pretty wide array of festival favorites and Criterion Collection releases, but it’s just as heavily dominated by Disney classics and timeless chick flicks—the only things my mom will agree to watch with me. But when the old favorites get just a little too old, your mom might crave variety just as much as you. Build a separate profile on your Netflix account (that is, assuming that you’re not already piggybacking on hers) and add a few favorites to the queue to get Mom started with her next marathon.

Help her hook her laptop up to her TV

Between Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, and network sites, most every show can be streamed with ease shortly after its premiere. But sometimes it’s just no fun to hunker down over a 13-inch laptop and squint at Sherlock’s latest victim while you strain to decipher Jonny Lee Miller’s rapid-fire speech. With one little HDMI cable (plus or minus a dongle or two), you can get Mom all set up to watch her favorite shows on the big screen. Bonus points for sorting out the inputs on her TV so they actually are what they say they are.

Make her a playlist

If I had a nickel for every time I looked over at my mom in the car and stared slackjawed as she sang along to one of my “new” favorite songs (that, it turned out, was just a cover of something from her heyday in the ’70s), I’d… probably have enough to buy my mom one of those kitschy coffee cups that I knocked a few paragraphs back.

Your mom might not rock her own Spotify account, but she’d surely appreciate a handmade mixtape—or, easier yet, a playlist you upload to her iPod to liven up her next drive.

Advanced: Set up a Twitter list or RSS feed for people or blogs she might like to follow

My mom’s not hopping on Twitter anytime soon, but if yours is a little more social media-savvy, she might appreciate some new recommendations to follow. Think back to what sorts of things she read in the morning with coffee, or suggest something out of left field that just seems up her alley.

But of course, we can’t do all the work for you. Tailor any of these suggestions to your mom’s tastes, or simply send her an IOU for tech support next time you’re home. She’ll appreciate the time spent together as much as any tchotchke you could pick out on Etsy.

Photo via ninahale/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: May 11, 2014, 8:20 am CDT