What to get for the person who doesn't like anything?
December 17, 2013 9:50 AM   Subscribe

My mom is so hard to shop for: she doesn't really have any interests, she doesn't really do anything, she doesn't appreciate nice things, and she is very set in her ways. Past years' presents have fallen pretty flat. Help?

She basically watches TV and surfs the web (Facebook and CNN primarily, it seems). She sleeps on the couch as often as she sleeps in her bed. She has a dog. She drinks coffee, but she has her own routine which includes warming up yesterday's pourover in the microwave. She eats instant oatmeal. She is on a very low, fixed budget.

I got her a new microwave last year, because the one she had before that was from 1982. That went over OK, but other years' presents haven't, including handkerchiefs (she has allergies and uses a lot of tissues, but she did not want to make the switch), a teakettle, and jewelry. I have gotten her a quilt pretty recently too.

The only thing I can think of is upgrading her from her flip phone to a smartphone, but that is more than I would like to spend. She's not great with tech in general, and doesn't really read, so a Kindle would be right out. I am having such a hard time thinking of a good gift.

I'd like to spend $50 or less. What should I get her? Bonus if it's available via Amazon Prime.
posted by rabbitrabbit to Shopping (45 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Give her the $50 in cash.
posted by jamaro at 9:51 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Food? Even people who don't like anything need to eat to sustain life.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:52 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

If she watches a lot of TV, perhaps a Roku? A DVR? Hulu subscription? Gift card to a Red Box? Netflix subscription?
posted by HeyAllie at 9:53 AM on December 17, 2013 [12 favorites]

Gift card to a favorite store? Or take her out for dinner somewhere?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:54 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:54 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

A letter. Specifically, a letter that's at least one page long and tells her all the reasons you love her, the special memories she made possible for you, a recognition of the sacrifices she made for you, and so on.
posted by Houstonian at 9:55 AM on December 17, 2013 [14 favorites]

Seconding food. And something for the dog.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:57 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Down-blend comforter to keep on the couch?
posted by jabes at 9:58 AM on December 17, 2013

A new TV. Some fancy coffee. A new coffee machine.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:59 AM on December 17, 2013

I got my parents a Netflix subscription one year- they wound up not only renewing it, but also buying a device that would let them watch the streaming stuff on TV. They use it ALL the time.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:00 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you done the digital picture frame route? We bought one for my parents which has an email address. As part of the present, we scanned all of our old photo albums and uploaded them to the frame, and now whenever we take nice pictures we email them to the frame. It went over like a charm -- it's cool and techy and new, but doesn't require a lot of effort. Plus, moms love photos.
posted by AmandaA at 10:02 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some fancy coffee. A new coffee machine.

Since she is okay with yesterday's pour overs, I'm guessing that she isn't super into fancy coffee... however, she might like a Keurig which can make a variety of pleasant, but not super-fancy coffees with a minimum of fuss. It doesn't fit your <$50 requirement, though
posted by baniak at 10:05 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

A nice potted plant maybe? Make sure it's dog-safe.
posted by Mizu at 10:07 AM on December 17, 2013

If she likes TV and popular websites like CNN, she might like a magazine subscription. Magazines feel like a treat.
posted by xo at 10:09 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd stock up her pantry and present it in a big, fun box.

Start looking for loss leaders at the supermarket now, so your $50 will go as far as possible. Use coupons too!

Toilet Paper
Instant Oatmeal
Canned Soup
Dog Food

Wrap it all up in a huge box.

When I was living hand-to-mouth it was a real comfort for me to know that I had some staples on hand. Also, for a lot of older folks, the idea of accumulating stuff is annoying. "I'm staring at this dumb Hummel figurine and I'm out of toilet paper. That's a hell of a thing."

Or, present your Mom with a $50 gift card at her local supermarket. I'd then prepare a coupon organizer with pre-clipped coupons for stuff she shops for regularly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:09 AM on December 17, 2013 [18 favorites]

I would get her a set of nice pajamas and some warm slippers.
posted by something something at 10:10 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

This sounds kind of off the wall, but does she have nice/new curtains or blinds?

Nobody ever wants to throw down $50 on something like (thermal? blackout?) curtains or a blind, but a good window covering really does keep the room warmer and darker, and can make it look much nicer, too.

Is the window small enough in the room her couch is in (living room? den?) that you could get her a new window treatment for it?
posted by rue72 at 10:11 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

More of whatever she already has and likes.
If you can find out the type of coffee she drinks, get her a few packs of that or even better a monthly Amazon subscription to it so she doesn't have to buy it herself.

Netflix or Chrome tv would be a great present for a tv watcher. Or both! And you should help her set it up.

Could you ask her what types of things she would want to buy if she wasn't on a fixed income and get some of those?
Upgrades of food she already likes (good cheese, nice bread) might make a good basket.
posted by rmless at 10:12 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Along the lines of Ruthless Bunny, when I've been at a loss for presents for my own parents, I put together a "care basket" and sent it over. You can pick some kind of theme if you like but things I included previously: tea, chocolates, cozy socks, small candle, magazines, chocolate-covered espresso beans, mug, tin of sardines (my dad), etc.
posted by amanda at 10:12 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I thought of slippers, too. Along the same lines, if you're in a cold climate, what about a heated throw blanket? Target has them for $30, and if she doesn't use it, the dog probably would.

Or a gift card to her grocery store or Target if she goes there. I'd suggest the gift card over the actual food b/c she may have strong preferences for brands etc.

Also, does she use hand soap or dish soap? Target has the seasonal Mrs. Myers scents, and the orange clove is especially nice.

Are there any other infrastructure items like the microwave that could stand to be replaced? (Not the cell phone -- smartphones are $$$ monthly if she doesn't want to change providers.)
posted by pie ninja at 10:13 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe things are what she wants/needs/appreciates. What about giving her a nice dinner out? if she is low on funds that might be a nice treat. Is she a "time with family is lovely" kind of person? not everyone is, but if she does like having visitors/family around then create an opportunity for that.

If she ISN'T someone who likes visitors then some of her favourite junk food, maybe a couple dvds/bluray of movies or tv series. Do more of the things she already likes to do.

Or an electric blanket. Fucking love those things. Makes any tv watching experience even better.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:14 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you live in a snowy place? If so

- A microwaveable hot pouch for bedtime

- Wool socks

- Is her snow removal taken care of? Because maybe you could hire someone
posted by winterportage at 10:18 AM on December 17, 2013

How about an electric blanket? It would make her time watching TV on the couch really cozy and I bet her dog would like it too.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:25 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Gift card to her usual grocery store (or Target or Wal Mart), wherever she shops the most.
posted by elizeh at 10:27 AM on December 17, 2013

Thanks guys. A K-cup brewer had occurred to me too, but I thought they were too expensive. But I found one for $59.99 from Amazon Prime, hooray! I also got one of the $10 reusable filters so she can use her own coffee. Eh, a little outside of my price range, but hopefully she'll really like it and not prefer her old pourover....

I'll probably revisit this thread next year, so if you've got any other ideas I'd still love to have them.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:28 AM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

I agree with the hodgepodge of grocery/pantry items: fun-flavored mints, microwave pocorn in flavors, protein bars, small chocolates, interesting grocery items (Trader Joes is great for this). Other routes I have taken include boxes of frozen food (like microwave burgers) from Costco, bags of more unusual food items that are novelty-like such as bags of unusual flavors of chips and salsas, or the most subversive is just giving up and buying them what I think they should have and not caring whether they like it such as nice shirts or a nice purse (I do include the gift receipt). Good luck!
posted by RoadScholar at 10:28 AM on December 17, 2013

There's a style of gift I categorize as "the nicer-than." I think of something the recipient uses often, then get them an especially nice example of that everyday item. The Mrs. Myers' soap mentioned above is a good example of this.

- Does she like hand soap or lotion? Get her a few different, slightly expensive or unusual kinds.

- Does she like chocolate? or nuts? or cheese? Put together a small assortment of them.

Another version of "the nicer-than" is the add-onto, where you think of something the recipient uses and (you see where this is going) add onto it.

- Does she like ice cream? Put together a banana split kit: a jar of fudge sauce, a jar of butterscotch sauce, toasted nuts, sprinkles, toasted coconut, and a small bunch of bananas.

- She likes oatmeal. Does she add things to it? You could give her a basket of dried fruits, nuts, honey, and a roll or jar of homemade compound butter.

These ideas aren't necessary the gift you'll choose, but it's a way of thinking about gifts that helps me come up with ideas for hard-to-give-to people.

If you decide to go with a grocery gift card as several people suggest, wrapping it up with a small goodie or two that you select can make it feel more festive and especially thoughtful: you're giving her both something you thought of for her and the ability to go splurge a bit on herself.

On preview: That seems like such a nice present! I hope she likes it, and even if she doesn't express it clearly, sometimes that's just how family is. Good going, you!
posted by Elsa at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

November the 1st 2014. Mark it in your diary. On this date next year, and every year after you will surreptitiously engage your mom in a version of this conversation:

"I was just given a $30 bonus at work mom! they said spend it on what you want...
... what would you get?"

Then let it simmer. She'll forget. Get gift.
Added bonus of being "so thoughtful to remember!"

I'm a lazy man, no worries.
posted by 0 answers at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2013 [15 favorites]

SubScription to TV guide?
posted by bq at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2013

Get something for the dog. Watching the dog enjoy whatever it is will give her happiness, and dogs are lots easier to please than people.
posted by amtho at 10:34 AM on December 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

Make sure to let her know that her coffee machine should also work pretty well for making instant oatmeal -- just run it without a K-cup. It may need a cycle to flush out coffee taste, but mine never has.
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:40 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I used to make my grandparents gift baskets based on themes. So everything you need to make tacos (mix, shells, salsas, churros, etc). Or "instant dinners" - canned soups, chilis, stews and so on, along with a new can opener. Or ice cream sundaes - sauces, sprinkles, nuts, maraschino cherries and a new ice cream scoop and a gift card for ice cream from the supermarket. Nothing super gourmet. Just regular stuff I could get at the store, because they weren't interested in vodka cream sauce or $8 crackers. It didn't create clutter, they could eat it by the next occasion, and I could be certain they had enough food and other things on hand, without making it obvious. I have also given recipes in a jar - cocoa mix, brownies and so on.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:04 AM on December 17, 2013

I first read that as a $500 limit and was going to suggest a new couch since she seems to use the heck out of it, but at $50, I would go with a sweater or something to wear around the house. Maybe a nice pair of slippers or down booties?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:08 AM on December 17, 2013

Movie-watching gift basket? A couple of DVDs, a box of microwave popcorn, a few movie-size boxes of whatever her perennial movie favorites are (milk duds, whoppers, skittles, Mike&Ike)
posted by aimedwander at 11:09 AM on December 17, 2013

I guess it might not be an exciting gift, but you said she's got lots of allergies, so a HEPA filter might be something she would like.
posted by inertia at 11:17 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't get the single-cup coffee machine. If she's as set in her ways as you suggest, I don't think she'll use it.
posted by crazy with stars at 12:00 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

What about an experience gift? I've spent most of the last year on a very fixed, tight budget, and this has made things like Starbucks/restaurant gift cards, or gift cards to a big movie chain feel like a real treat.

Is there a local restaurant or takeout place she likes a lot? Does she have a salon she goes to? Does she like to go out to movies or any other entertainment/cultural stuff? What about a museum membership?

You mention several times in your question that she's not tech savvy and is very set in her ways around daily routine type stuff. Which makes me think a Kuerig is not really going to be up her alley. A gift should be about something the recipient would actually want, and it shouldn't feel like a chore on their part.
posted by Sara C. at 12:24 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fluffy towels? Even people who don't normally like nice things might appreciate a pair of extra fluffy towels.
posted by asphericalcow at 12:26 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it kind of sounds like maybe she's not interested in things that change parts of her routine or that might seem frivolous. I think, especially since she's on a low budget, the gift basket suggestions above sound like a really nice idea. And you could use 0 answer's method and sound out her feelings about a coffee machine for next year.

Other than a gift basket, maybe something practical that she'll definitely need sooner or later: a pair of winter gloves, nice socks, new shoes if she always wears a specific kind... even a bunch of energy-saving light bulbs (you might want to ask her about that one).

I've done no research on this so I'm not sure how practical it is: could you set her up with Amazon Prime and/or a recurring delivery subscription to some product she uses regularly? Not sure how much that would cost, but if someone did that for me when I was on a low budget that would be amazing.

Finally, there's always the "hey, I want to get you something you'd like but I'm split between an A and a B and just can't decide... what do you think?" approach.
posted by egg drop at 2:31 PM on December 17, 2013

What about getting something for the dog?

If your budget was higher I'd suggest the Roku and a Netflix subscription. My mom already had Netflix with the DVDs but never used the streaming, so I got her the Roku for her birthday and she is obsessed.
posted by radioamy at 3:32 PM on December 17, 2013

It sounds like she rarely leaves the house, so maybe buy her an experience with you?

And later in the year, buy her a copy of Feeling Good. She sounds depressed.
posted by ravioli at 3:42 PM on December 17, 2013

Does she live near a cinema? Movie tickets.
posted by kjs4 at 4:08 PM on December 17, 2013

One thing no one mentioned here is really comfy throw pillows for the couch. Maybe down, or memory foam, or shaped in a variety of ways so that she can really position herself perfectly (lumbar roll, wedge, etc).
posted by lollusc at 4:36 PM on December 17, 2013

I spend most of my time at the computer just like your Mom - I'm not able to do much else, so I just muck about online. If it were me, I'd like new, fluffy towels or a new set of pretty sheets very much. I would also suggest a lamp - if you've hear her complain about there "not being enough light around here" (common gripe in my group of friends my age). Does she have someone help her with her laundry and/or housework? I broke down a few years ago and hired a lady who comes every two weeks for a few hours and does my laundry, vacuums, cleans the tub, changes the bed, etc. - stuff that's just too hard for me to do anymore. If you notice your Mom's surroundings getting a bit rough around the edges, she might welcome a housekeeper's help once in awhile - even a one-time Merry Maids might be appreciated.

I enjoy my two magazine subscriptions more than I thought I would - mine are political, but there are still magazines available for everyone's taste and you can get a nice one for $30 a year. How about a dog-grooming session paid for in advance and a hair salon appointment paid for in advance? $35 haircuts are the pits when you're on a fixed income. I love yummy new pajamas or a summer nightgown and wool socks are delightful in the winter; if she wears a robe and slippers, those would be nice, but I have robes in my closet - I just don't wear them. I drink day-old coffee too, and like it - I personally wouldn't want to fool with a one-cup-at-a-time coffeemaker, but that's just me. How about some ink for her printer? Or a couple of new games from BigFish or someplace similar? I love hidden object games and buy them occasionally. Also, if she likes jigsaw puzzles, PuzzleMaster is absolutely terrific and cheap; you can pick any picture you want off the internet and make a jigsaw puzzle out of it, any size, any difficulty level - endless fun if you like that sort of thing.

Now if I could just figure out what to get my kids ....
posted by aryma at 10:15 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Honestly, you do get to a point in your adult life when you just do not need Any More Shit. For the past few years, our inter-parental gift exchanges have all been consumable-based. Really nice soaps. Swanky salt. Amazing balsamic. Lovely olive oil. Coffee subscriptions. Cookie subscriptions. Dinner candles. Mrs Meyers cleaning stuff. Etc. You can package it into gift baskets.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:01 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

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