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Affordable Christmas Gifts for a Mother-in-Law

Updated on July 14, 2015
Chris Telden profile image

For Chris, choosing gifts is like writing a story: By matching the character to the gift, you learn more about people and what they value.

If you're reading this, you need to pick out a Christmas present for your mother-in-law. Disaster looms. I know. I've been there. Many times.

You're probably remembering last year when you gave her that fancy necklace you've never seen her wear. This time, you're swearing you won't waste money like that again. You absolutely must not get her anything that she:

  • is allergic to
  • already has
  • despises
  • will re-gift to her niece in Boise.

These ideas are for you. You who, like me, are not independently wealthy. Who really likes giving gifts but gets super-stressed over it.

I can't guarantee your mom-in-law will adore everything on this list, but she will get a clue that you're trying. That really is most of the battle.

First, the Obvious - a Christmas Gift Basket - You Can Do It!

I think it's in the manual that every mother-in-law must ooh and ahh at receiving a gift basket. So that's the easy part. The question is, what to put in it that won't break the bank?

First, get the basket. If you don't have a stray basket lying around, repurpose a "container with character" around your place, go to a secondhand shop, or just get a gift bag at the dollar store. That's the second easy part.

As for the contents....

Here is my mother-in-law gift basket formula:

  • Bake a batch of cookies. The buttery kind that melt in your mouth. See below for recipe. Wrap them individually in wax paper or candy foil.
  • Put in something spa-like, like a bar or two of scented glycerin soap in an inoffensive scent, like vanilla.
  • For basket bulk and color, pick out the plumpest fruits in the produce section you can find. Hint: Oranges might still be good this time of year. Or try some dried apricots, dried figs, or dried dates. Think big and colorful.
  • If there are dietary limitations that forbid sugar, substitute for the sweets a jar of cashew butter and another jar of Castelvetrano olives. (Ever tried these? Bet she hasn't - they're perfect not just for olive-lovers, but also for people who reject olives because they are too salty or strong-tasting.)


1 cup salted butter creamed with 1/2 cup powdered sugar and then mixed with a blend of 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 cups white flour, and 1/4 cup cornstarch or tapioca starch. Pat into a 9 x 9 pan, perforate with a fork, and bake until golden at 325 degrees - about 30-40 minutes. When you take it out, slice it right away, then let it cool in the pan. Very tender and buttery.

Polish Pottery

I gave my mother-in-law a Polish Pottery mug last year. She loved it so much, she returned the favor by giving me some Polish Pottery of my own this year. See how that works? (I'm hoping this will become a family tradition.)

If you haven't been introduced to Polish Pottery, you may not want to be, especially if you cook a lot in the kitchen. It's addictive.

In a nutshell, it's sturdy, beautiful, functional, dishwasher-safe, oven-safe, freezer-safe, scratch-resistant, lead-free, cadmium free dishware. There is no fault to be found with it. Good luck to her if she tries.

Polish Pottery 8½-inch Dessert Plate (Summer Bouquet Theme) Signature UNIKAT + Certificate of Authenticity
Polish Pottery 8½-inch Dessert Plate (Summer Bouquet Theme) Signature UNIKAT + Certificate of Authenticity
I have the larger version of this plate in this pattern, dinner size (see the photo below). It is gorgeous. It's part of the Manufaktura line of Polish Pottery and very durable. Your mother can stick it in a cabinet, use it daily for meals, or even hock it if she ever gets short of cash - honestly! Even the broken pieces of this pottery are worth money. But it's not likely to break, because it's relatively shatter-resistant, too, compared to most dishware.
Dinner Plate, Manufaktura, Polish Pottery
Dinner Plate, Manufaktura, Polish Pottery | Source

Pearl Necklace for Your Mother-in-Law - No, Seriously!

Jewelry can make an impressive gift, especially now that prices for gemstones have fallen (as I learned in my former life as a jewelry designer.) Gold and fine gems are expensive these days, but you don't need to buy gold to get your mother-in-law a classy gift.

Study her taste. Stereotypes don't always fit. I was a jewelry designer a few years ago. I designed an emo-style custom pearl and garnet jewelry set commissioned by a daughter for her mother as a birthday gift. The mother's taste was eclectic - she liked the rustic goth look.

After selling to customers all over the world, I've come to the conclusion that although taste is important in jewelry, women almost never dislike pearls. Never reject them. Even "pearl snobs" who are all about saltwater pearls love the freshwater variety if they're unusual enough.

Witness the necklace below - the pendant is a blister pearl. I made earrings out of such blister pearls for a very picky family member, who loved them. I also made blister pearl jewelry for an elderly woman of 90 who picked them from a selection of other items. For some reason, pearls really do strike the right note with many women.

I made my sister-in-law, who has some very classy jewelry, some earrings with blister pearls like the pendant in this necklace (which also has gold coral and lapis lazul).. She still wears the simple earrings years later. Pearls are magic!
I made my sister-in-law, who has some very classy jewelry, some earrings with blister pearls like the pendant in this necklace (which also has gold coral and lapis lazul).. She still wears the simple earrings years later. Pearls are magic! | Source

So why exactly are pearls the perfect mother-in-law Christmas gift? Three reasons:

  • They're cheap - comparable in price to plastic imitations. Yup, I'm serious. Because of the new ways pearls are cultured, they've come down a lot in cost in recent years.
  • Freshwater pearls can accommodate a wide variety of tastes in jewelry styles, from elegant and formal to the rustic, organic look. In other words, they go with formal dresses and jeans equally.
  • No matter what you paid for them, pearls have the feel of luxury, especially for earlier generations.

And here's another tip: Pretty much the same can be said of amber. This natural organic golden-colored "gemstone" is loved by everyone and prices have gone way down over the past few years. Give eBay a shot. You'll be surprised.

The Final Clue

Lastly, the biggest clue you can use in figuring out what to get her is looking to what she has gotten you in the past. People often give gifts they would like, themselves. My own mother-in-law has given me:

  • Cashmere scarf
  • Books about health
  • Belly dancing kit
  • Polish Pottery
  • Gourmet salad dressing

See what I mean? The clues are there. Go wild.


See the author's disclosure statement regarding compensation for this article.


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