smart spending

Shop smart for 6 popular Mother's Day gifts

Be a good kid and a shrewd shopper
Be a good kid and a shrewd shopper

You love your mom. And in case you didn’t remember, Mother’s Day is mere days away.

But before you splurge on a gift -- such as a day at a spa, a gift certificate to her favorite restaurant, a box of those dark chocolates she loves or even a coveted gadget such as an e-reader -- make sure you know exactly what you're buying.

"It's important to do research on the gift so that your mom won't be disappointed with poor service or a product that doesn't arrive on time," suggests Katherine Hutt, spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau.

Here are some Mother's Day ideas your mom might appreciate -- and smart shopping tips to make sure the gift will make her day.

Spa gifts: Don't rub Mom the wrong way
Spa gifts: Don't rub Mom the wrong way

Could Mom use a little pampering? A perfect gift might be a spa certificate. You could buy one either locally, for a specific spa or through an online service such as SpaFinder.com, which offers certificates accepted at spas nationwide.

Make sure the spa is exactly what she'd want and expect, warns Hutt.

"There's a day spa in our area where everyone walks around in the nude. That may not be an atmosphere your mother wants," Hutt says. She suggests you get recommendations from your mom's friends, or try the spa yourself.

Spa gift certificates can be for a monetary amount (such as $100 for any spa service) or for a particular service (a facial or half-hour Swedish massage). Remember, Mom will need cash for the tip, which is rarely included in the certificate.

As in all gift certificates, note whether there's an expiration date. "Moms will often put off getting pampered, and sadly sometimes the gift certificate can expire before it gets used," says Hutt.

And if the spa goes out of business, your mother may be out of luck. "She'll have to wait in line with all the other creditors to get the money," Hutt notes.

The dish on restaurant cards, certificates
The dish on restaurant cards, certificates

A gift card or gift certificate to Mom's favorite restaurant can be a delicious Mother's Day surprise.

Plastic gift cards are typically issued by large chain restaurants in whatever amount you choose. They're not allowed to expire for at least five years from purchase, under a Federal Trade Commission rule.

Paper gift certificates are typically for local restaurants and may be offered through online services such as Restaurant.com. Gift certificates sold online often mean big discounts such as a $25 certificate that costs only $10.

But the certificates may be no good on holidays -- including Mother's Day -- and Mom might have to make a minimum purchase at the restaurant or cough up a mandatory tip. "You don't want (your mom) to have to pay this … after presenting the card," notes online shopping expert Frank DeBlasi, co-founder of deals site HooplaDoopla.com.

Don't buy a restaurant gift certificate unless you know your mom will use it, adds Jodi Furman, owner and blogger at upscale-living-on-a-budget website LivefabuLESS.com. "She might get far more mileage and enjoyment out of a Starbucks or more 'everyday' restaurant than a fancy French restaurant where the number of forks intimidates her."

Be knowledgeable when buying Mom a gizmo
Be knowledgeable when buying Mom a gizmo

Why should Dad get all the cool toys? Mom might love an electronic gadget such as a Nook, Kindle Fire or an iPad. While a high-tech device might seem like an impersonal gift, you can warm it up by having her initials or name engraved on it, or by buying her a monogrammed case.

Most large retail stores will give deep discounts on mom-centric electronics in the days and weeks prior to Mother's Day, says Furman. So check around now. Expect big retailers to match their competitors' prices. "Just bring in the competitor's ad, and get a price match," she says.

When shopping for electronics online, make sure it's a reputable site, says Hutt. "There are a lot of look-alike sites that mimic larger websites … they even put a BBB logo on it to fool people," she says.

Warning signs of a fake site are spelling and grammatical errors, prices that seem too good to be true, an email address that doesn't match up to the URL of the website, or a lack of toll-free numbers. "Some of these sites don't have goods at all, they are just trying to get your credit card number," says Hutt.

Chocolates? Flowers?
Chocolates? Flowers?

Two very traditional Mother's Day gifts are chocolates and flowers. But today's calorie-conscious moms might tell you to save your money on the sweets. "I certainly don't want a 2-pound box of chocolates!" says Hutt.

So, you could give your mother just a few of the best chocolates you can afford, and couple the gift with a nice bouquet of flowers.

If you do choose flowers, stay away from the "petal pushers," Hutt's name for flower sellers who sprout up around holidays then quickly fade away.

"These flowers may look expensive, and they may even cost a lot, but they are second- or third-rate," she says, meaning they will not last very long in a vase.

Instead, order directly from a local florist or nursery, or use a major delivery service such as FTD, 1-800-Flowers.com or Teleflora. Look for free-shipping deals these companies may offer for Mother's Day, advises DeBlasi.

"Most important, watch the deadlines on these deals," he says. "Although (flowers) make great last-minute gift ideas, last-minute rushed shipping can be costly to get it to the recipient."

Fruit baskets: Only Mom should be spoiled
Fruit baskets: Only Mom should be spoiled

Better for the waistline than chocolates are fruit gift baskets. For a personal touch -- and to save money -- put together a basket yourself with the freshest fruits and berries from a farmers market or high-quality organic or natural grocery store. If you're short on time, you could order a basket online.

"With fruit baskets, you get what you pay for," says Hutt. To ensure the fruit is fresh, she suggests ordering from places with solid reputations in gift baskets such as Harry & David or Edible Arrangements.

Get discounts by scouting around for online coupon codes from these companies, says Furman, who also suggests shopping Amazon.com for fruit-basket deals. But she says the big, national florists may not be your best option when buying fruit. Their offerings can be expensive and can come with a lot of fees.

Mother's Day is this Sunday, so you'll want to make sure your fruit gift basket is delivered Friday or Saturday. Place your order as early as you can, Hutt says. "A lot of complaints for holiday purchases have to do with things being delivered late."

 

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