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Mother’s Day on the Cheap

Mother’s Day was not invented by greeting card companies, restaurants, florists or jewelers. It only seems that way.

Julia Ward Howe, a peace activist, originated the idea in 1872 when she promoted “Mother’s Day For Peace” as a statement against the wars being fought all over the world, including the just-concluded Civil War in the United States. A year later, mothers in 18 U.S. cities joined the protest against war and the ball was rolling.

Anna Jarvis picked it up in 1907, establishing a “Mother’s Day” celebration in West Virginia and by 1912, there were 45 states with official declarations for Mother’s Day. Two years later, President Woodrow Wilson made it a national celebration.

How Much Will You Spend?

That’s when the florists, jewelers restaurants and greeting card companies jumped in and re-directed the focus from protesting against wars to spending money to prove you love Mom.

The National Retail Federation projects that Americans will shell out $21 billion on Mother’s Day material, or about $172 per shopper. Jewelry ($4.8 billion), eating out ($3.8 billion) and flowers ($2.4 billion) account for most of the activity. Eighty-percent of people will send Mom a greeting card, but that’s only $860 million in spending.

Howe and Jarvis saw this coming and spoke out against commercializing Mother’s Day, but to no avail. Jarvis was arrested for protesting the sale of flowers and the creation of a Mother’s Day stamp. The peace movement couldn’t stop commercial interests.

5 Ways To Make Her Happy

That doesn’t mean you have to go into debt to honor Mom. Here are some peaceful and inexpensive ways to show your love.

  • Mom for a day: It’s estimated that if you paid Moms for what they do on a daily basis, their annual salary would be $65,284, or $179 a day. Save $179 and give her the day off. Do everything Mom usually does, meaning prepare meals, wash/dry/fold/put away clothes, clean dishes, counters and floors, make beds and settle family arguments. Even if you only make one meal, do one load of laundry, clean one room and stop one argument, she’ll appreciate the fact that now you know how hard and valuable her job is.
  • Mom’s Personal Biography Book: Find a hard-covered book (preferably spiral) with 25-50 blank pages between the covers. Select pictures from various stages of life for you and your siblings and put one on each page. Draw as many lines as you can fit on the space available below the picture and ask Mom to write her memories of that scene or time in your life. Use the same pictures and lines for a book you write about your memories of the photos. Exchange your book with Mom next Mother’s Day. You get Mom’s self-written biography and she gets her child’s view of growing up in the family. That’s a fair swap for both sides.
  • Digital Photo Library: Take your best photos – even black and whites from the ‘50s and ‘60s – and scan them into a digital photo frame so you have a lifetime of memories flashing daily in Mom’s living room or bedroom. You can buy an 18-inch digital frame and spend $200 if you like, but an 8-inch frame for $35 does the same thing: Remind Mom of a fun time and place.
  • Musical playlist: Mom’s taste in music often collides with those of her kids. Do her a favor: Download her favorite CDs to your computer and upload them to her smartphone. Give her a playlist of 300-to-400 songs divided by category. The Pew Research Center says 64 percent of American adults own smartphones, a 35 percent jump in just four years. That means Mom already has, or soon will have access to music she will listen to while exercising, cleaning, or just laying down for a nap. She’ll think of you every time the music plays.
  • Plant some plants: Instead of buying flowers that might last a week, buy a few plants that can flower all year. More importantly, ask Mom where she’d like them planted, dig the hole, plant the flower and mulch the site. When they bloom, cut them, give them to her in a nice vase and it’s Mother’s Day all over again.


Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].

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