3 Things You Absolutely Shouldn't Buy Around Mother's Day

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Woman giving mother bouquet of flowers
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By Jason Notte

NEW YORK -- Mother's Day blends love and guilt so seamlessly that the resulting, potent cocktail can fuel a spate of drunken overspending. Don't do it.

If this message has reached you too late, don't worry: You aren't alone in your Mother's Day misery. According to market research firm IBISWorld, Mother's Day ranks fourth on the holiday spending list behind Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. It accounts for roughly 6.5 percent of holiday spending overall and adds up to roughly $18.1 billion in total.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-If you still haven't bought mom that perfect present, consider avoiding the traditional.%According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers planned to spend $225.87 on Mother's Day last year. That was down $30 from the year before, however, indicating that some Mother's Day shoppers are finally understanding that there are ways to recognize and thank their mothers without being gouged.

"If you still haven't bought mom that perfect present, consider avoiding the traditional," says Lindsay Sakraida, features editor at consumer site DealNews.

As May begins and Mother's Day shopping enters its final minutes, steering clear of those items everybody scrambles for each Mother's Day is just about the best plan you can make. In fact, IBISWorld found that just three items account for more than 50 percent of all Mother's Day spending. With help from IBISWorld, the National Retail Federation, DealNews and consumer site LifeHacker, we take a look at some of the more costly Mother's Day offerings and find reasons to avoid each around this time of year:


Flowers are a trap laid for well-intentioned children and spouses. A whole lot of mothers like getting them on Mother's Day, and there's no way to buy them in advance and make them less costly.

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans planned to spend $2.3 billion on flowers alone last Mother's Day. IBISWorld notes that the cost of flowers is the third-highest among Mother's Day presents, with total spending on flowers increasing by more than 20 percent since 2010. The Society of American Florists, meanwhile, points out that Mother's Day accounts for 24 percent of all holiday flower transactions and 25 percent of all flower revenue, just edging out Valentine's Day and trailing only Christmas.

So how do you minimize the damage? Zig when the others zag. The Society of American Florists notes that 69 percent of consumers buy fresh flowers on Mother's Day while only 26 percent go for flowering houseplants. Considering that the latter tends to be less expensive and is more likely to still be around by next Mother's Day, it's a solid option.


It isn't as if jewelry is exactly dirt cheap at any other time of the year, but LifeHacker's Whitson Gordon notes that there are good and bad times to buy:

"Jewelry is best bought on Wednesdays, when most people tend to shop for it," he says. "However, stay away from gift-giving months like Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Christmas."

Just how foolish is shopping for jewelry for Mother's Day or any time in May? IBISWorld says jewelry alone cost Mother's Day shoppers $3.08 billion last year, making it the single most-expensive item on the Mother's Day shopping list. The National Retail Federation put average per-person spending on jewelry at $47 last year, making it the most-expensive item on their list by nearly 20 percent above anything else.

There's no rule that states when you have to buy that perfect bauble for mom, though. In fact, picking retail dark months such as January or March to go jewelry shopping will give you a far better deal than you'd get by joining every other holiday shopper in December, February or May.

A 'Special Outing'

Let's pretend for a moment that this doesn't mean standing in line outside an IHOP on a Sunday morning with the rest of your town.

That special outing of food, movies, Broadway shows, Big Hero 6 On Ice, etc., accounted for $2.98 billion in spending last year, according to IBISWorld. The NRF says Americans spent an average $37 taking their mothers to places that were supposedly nice. But unless mom's a vegan, DealNews points out that you just took her out for a brunch or dinner with meat -- whose price continues to rise thanks to drought conditions and the increased cost of raising a herd. Great.

There is no good way to do this. All the inexpensive places including IHOP, Denny's, Waffle House or your local diner are going to be packed. All the nicer and somewhat more costly places will be switching to "special" Mother's Day breakfast, brunch and dinner menus that reduce options and make it easy to turn tables.

The easy way out of this one? Cook. Not only does it cost less, but it actually requires that extra effort that mom's been expecting out of you for all these years.

-Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Oregon, for MainStreet.
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