Mother’s Day: What’s Money Got to Do With It?
Life + Money

Mother’s Day: What’s Money Got to Do With It?

Getty Images/Kent Nishimura-Pool

Maybe it’s another indication that the economy is coming back — or maybe it’s just plain love.  But consumers who tightened their belts for Mother’s Day gifts in 2008 and 2009 are spending like crazy this year.

For retailers, this Sunday’s Mother’s Day is a cash cow — the fourth most lucrative holiday after Christmas, Thanksgiving and Valentines’ Day. This year’s sales are projected at almost $15 billion (that’s with a “B”), a 4.2 percent increase over last year’s numbers, according to IBISWorld Inc., a Los Angeles-based retail research company.  Break that number down and you get $2.43 billion each for jewelry and “special outings” like dinners and brunch, $2.16 billion for flowers,  $1.36 billion for clothing, $880 million for greeting cards, and $690 million for candy. And that doesn’t include the estimated 122.5 million phone calls to Mom, making Mother’s Day the busiest phone day of the year, according to Happy Worker Inc.

But that’s not all. Sons, daughters and husbands are returning to high-end department stores in lieu of discount retailers, a sure sign that the economy is coming back, according to Toon Van Beeck, a senior analyst at IBISWorld.

Spending Overload?

Though people will spend an average of $126.90 on Mother’s Day gifts this year, adults ages 25-34 will spend the most, averaging $156.84, according to The National Retail Federation. Young adults ages 18-24 are not far behind, and are expected to average $155.52 per person. Which makes you wonder where they get the money, since people ages 16-29 are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as the average person, according to March Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Judy Coffey, a mother of three grown daughters from Evanston, Ill., laughed when she heard those figures. “I don’t know where they get that kind of money — probably from their mother!” she said.

Coffey, a human resources consultant, said a thoughtful card in the mail would really make her happy this year, since she wouldn’t be imposing a financial burden on her daughters who live out of town. “It’s much better for my husband and me if our kids don’t get themselves into a situation where they will have to come back to us for financial support, so I’d much rather they put that $156 dollars into a savings account, toward things they actually need or toward increasing their 401(k). As far as spending any money, we’ve got everything we need. In my mind, we aren’t looking for material things from our kids,” she said.

Jane Adams, a psychologist and expert on parent- and adult-child relationships, says, “I think that for ones who have the money, it’s a way of showing how successful they are to give their mother something extravagant. But regardless of earnings, when it boils down to it, parents rarely measure their relationships with their kids or their kids’ success levels based on how much they spend.”

Commercial Free Mother’s Day

The holiday’s very roots had nothing to do with feeding the economy.  It all began in 1905 when Anna Jarvis, a Philadelphia resident, vowed at her mother’s gravesite to honor her mother’s lifelong wish that a day to recognize mothers be established. She gave up her job as a teacher to lead a letter-writing campaign and lobbied for almost ten years for churches to hold Mother’s Day services, until 1914, when Congress passed a law declaring the second Sunday in May Mother’s Day.

A simple, commercial-free day is exactly what Paula Farrell, a mother of two from Olney, Md., is looking forward to.  Her idea of being honored? A bagel breakfast at home with her children, Megan, 23, and Patrick, 28, both of whom live at home.

For those starved for both cash and inspiration, see the sidebar below for nine quick, low- or no-cost gift alternatives:

Channel your inner four-year-old and visit your local ceramics studio to paint your mom something cute, useful or just plain ridiculous-looking.
Cook a cost-effective dinner. This can be made even cheaper by rounding up siblings and splitting the costs
Take her to a department store to get her makeup done (it’s free!).
Write a poem or a rap about her to the tune of a popular song. Bonus points for handing out song sheets to the entire family to sing along!
Offer to clean her house.
Offer to pull the weeds or do the gardening.
Write a story about a special memory you have of her.
Breakfast in bed. Enough said.
Plan a low-cost adventure for you and your mom for a day of her choosing. Take her to the park for a picnic, go for a run or walk together, volunteer together, or challenge her to a game of tennis.