Wedding Gifts: A Guide

During your 20′s and 30′s, it’s safe to assume that you’ll attend anywhere from ten to thirty weddings. Maybe more, maybe less, and sometimes, two for one person over the course of a decade.

But the etiquette for gift buying — how much to spend, to use the registry or not to use the registry, what about destination weddings? — never gets completely clear.

Well, I aim to change all that. Here are a few tips about buying a wedding present, how much to spend and what to look for:

Don’t break the bank. This rule hinges on one key fact: breaking the bank means very different things to different people. For some, dropping $500 is no biggie. For others, spending more than $20 would leave them with no money for food. So don’t worry about how much your friends are spending, and get something in your price range.

If the newlyweds are even remotely decent people, they just want you to come to their wedding and have fun, and would be mortified to know that you went way out of your price range for them. Think of overspending on a wedding gift as a lose-lose.

At the same time…

Don’t be cheap. For most weddings, a gift within the $50 to $100 rage is probably the most you’ll want to spend. If you can afford it, go for it. I know it’s tempting to buy the one dishrag at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $6.99 and claim poverty, but leave that for your friend who’s been unemployed for a year and a half.

It’s equally acceptable to buy something on or off the registry. The registry is full of things that the people getting married want and need. Buying them something from it doesn’t mean that you love them any less, that your relationship isn’t special, or that you’re lazy. It means that you bought them something they want. This holds true no matter what your relationship is to them — even if they’re immediate family.

Then again, if there’s something special that’s not on the registry you’d really like to get them, sally forth and do it.

Yes, you can send a gift up to a year after the wedding, but try to avoid doing it. I tell you this from the vantage point of experience. It’s really, really awkward to see friends after you’ve attended their wedding and not given them a gift. And it only gets more awkward with time. Do yourself a favor and get it over with.

Destination weddings: In this scenario, you’ve already spent a shit-ton of money to get to their wedding, and you’re wondering if you still need to get them a gift. The answer is yes, but rule #1 still applies: it’s safe to assume that at this point, your budget is significantly smaller than it would be if you hadn’t just dropped $1,000 to fly somewhere and book a hotel. Buy accordingly. Maybe now is the time for that dishrag.

The bottom line here is this: buying a wedding gift shouldn’t cause you too much stress, and it shouldn’t leave you poor. If you’re made to feel any differently than that, whoever’s making you feel that way is the asshole, not you. You can direct them to this post so that they know.

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    • Lilit Marcus

      Two of my friends had one of those registries where you could chip in for their honeymoon expenses. I thought it was a really cool idea, and I liked the idea of getting them an experience instead of stuff.

    • Corporate Tool

      While I think in general it’s very sweet to get things that weren’t on the registry, you should consider where your friends live. If they are in a shoebox-sized NYC apartment, maybe they don’t want a huge, delicate serving platter.

    • CurlySarah29

      I’ve always heard that if you’re invited to and attending the destination wedding, no gift is required – but your article contradicts this? And I read somewhere – a wedding etiquette book – that when you’re the bridesmaid and you’re throwing showers/bachelorette parties, you also are not required to buy a wedding gift – being in the wedding, buying the dress, throwing the parties and buying those gifts is considered enough. I’d agree with that, as a bridesmaid, though I always do buy wedding gifts. Anyone else ever hear of that?

      • Jessica Pauline Ogilvie

        Interesting — I’ve been a bridesmaid five times and I and the other bridesmaids have always bought a gift. No one has ever suggested that we don’t. But maybe I’ve been wrong, in which case I want my $600 back.

      • Jessica Pauline Ogilvie

        OK, probably closer to $400. Whatever.

    • M

      I know some people want/need stuff but it depends on the couple too. One of my best friends got married last year, and she and her now-husband had been living together for years so they already had a well-stocked household containing all the usual wedding-presenty things. We’re still in our early/mid-twenties so we’re not exactly rolling in the dough and their car needed new front brakes [pads and rotors] so I did that as the wedding present, saving them hundreds of dollars and helping me avoid having to figure out what I could get for them while staying within my means, especially since I was also a bridesmaid [with associated costs]. Our friend was her bridesman [aka the other half of the bridal party] and he and the groomsman chipped in to help pay for the wedding costs as their gifts. I suppose we aren’t the most traditional bunch, but I think it worked out pretty well for all of us. And the SUV still stops and doesn’t squeal anymore, so they continue to be happy with their wedding brakes. :)