Making a good impression with the gift you choose for your mother-in-law's birthday is crucial. Skip the one-size-fits-all type of gift, and focus on gifts that show her you've done your homework and value the person she is as well as your relationship with her.
Consider your mother-in-law's hobbies before buying a gift. If she's a gardener, buy her a gift token to a nursery, some new hand tools or some exotic seeds she's been wanting. If she likes to play the stock market, pay for her to have a consultation with a financial adviser, or do a little research and buy her a few shares from a promising young company. If she's into cooking -- and you want to learn as well -- sign both of you up for a special cooking class such as one that focuses on international cuisine.
Fill an electronic picture frame with photos of you and her son or daughter (show her how to change the pictures). If she's a bookworm, an e-reader could make the perfect gift to help eliminate clutter and cut book costs. If she owns a computer, buy her some useful or interesting software -- accounting software to help with taxes, for example, or photo-editing software if she enjoys photography.
Trips and Activities
Pay for a spa day for your mother-in-law and a friend, then take them to lunch. Plan a surprise birthday party or dinner. If your mother-in-law is elderly or doesn't get out much, take her out for a full day of fun -- shopping, a boat ride, manicures, lunch and a show in the evening. If she has grandchildren, plan and pay for her to spend an afternoon with each of them doing whatever they choose. Or make dinner reservations and buy theatre tickets for her and your husband to have a mother-son date.
Turn your mother-in-law's dining room into a romantic restaurant, and let her "go on a date" with your father-in-law. Use an online movie rental service to select some DVDs, then cook dinner for your in-laws at their house for a relaxing, at-home dinner-and-a-movie date. You could also knit her a new winter hat or scarf, create a photo collage of you and your spouse or create a pretty watercolour painting for her wall.