Wedding Gift Etiquette – Buy A Gift or Write A Check?

Wedding Gift Etiquette“So what do you want for a wedding gift?”

I remember peopled asked me this a ton right before our wedding, and I’m sure all engaged couples get this question.When people pose it, they’re looking for a simple answer. “Please buy me four Egyptian cotton towels in mushroom from Bed, Bath, and Beyond,” they’d like me to tell them. Or, “We really like the copper pots from Williams-Sonoma,” they want me to say.

But most people don’t say that.

First of all, if they really wanted to know, they shouldn’t be asking the guy in the first place. They should ask the woman instead. My wife would have the perfect answer. She’d be able to tell them exactly what we (read: she) wants, exactly where to find it, and exactly how much it costs. It was the same with our engagement gifts. I usually replied with a generic, “Oh, I’m sure we’ll love whatever you get! We’re just thrilled you’ll be there to celebrate with us.” Why? Because wedding gift etiquette makes me cringe. The gifts aren’t the reason we’re getting married, so asking what I want makes me uncomfortable.

How Much Should I Spend On A Wedding Gift?

This is my main apprehension to doling out any truly useful wedding gift advice. I don’t know how much my fiancée’s friends from college can afford to spend, and it’s downright tacky to ask. In many cases, our friends are young(ish) professionals, just finding their professional footing. I’d hate to tell them that a $60 waffle iron was what we were eyeing, only to find out later that the money spent on the gift severely stretched their budget. In other cases, I have a general idea of what someone can afford – say, family members like aunts, uncles, or cousins. I know my cousin, a lawyer, is doing well in his career, but that doesn’t mean I should take advantage of it.

The answer to the question, “How much should I spend on a wedding gift?” is inherently personal – and, inherently intangible. A 2009 article from CBS News broke down suggested wedding gift expenses this way:

Co-worker and/or distant family friend or relative: $50-$75 Relative or friend: $75-100 Close relative or close friend: $100-$150

That’s the average, though. According to proper wedding gift etiquette, the scale of the affair is not supposed to factor into the gift-giving decision. That is to say, if one of your co-workers has a five-course, sit-down dinner at a country club while another has a buffet reception at the local VFW hall, but you’re equally close with each, it shouldn’t affect what you buy (ie, you don’t have to “pay for your plate”). However, the cost of living is far higher in Washington, DC, than it is in Roanoke, Virginia – meaning the same $75 gift may look thrifty in the Capitol and simultaneously luxurious three hours to the south.

Buy A Gift

Another question I’m getting a lot these days has to do with exactly what type of gift my fiancée and I want to receive. Namely, do we want a physical gift or just money?

The easiest answer is to simply point guests to the wedding registry. After all, that’s what it’s there for. Months ago, we spent a painful (don’t tell my fiancée I said that) afternoon using one of those barcode-scanner-things to load up our registry. Now, while I can’t say I paid all that much attention to what my fiancée actually scanned, I can tell you – with certainty – that there’s a lot on that registry. Some of the items were cheap; things like placemats and hand towels and napkin rings were less than $5 each. Other items, like our bedding set and cutlery, were far pricier. Some of my friends who have gotten married have even registered for furniture or their honeymoon, allowing guests to donate an amount they’re comfortable with to the newlyweds.

That’s what makes registries so ideal. They’re kind of like a matchmaker, a gift middle-man, ensuring that the bride and groom get exactly what they want while giving the guest the opportunity to select the ultimate price tag without broaching wedding gift etiquette.

Write A Check

The fact is, the decision to buy a gift isn’t for everyone. For one, guests traveling from out of town may be encumbered by a bulky gift. For others, like a cousin with a new baby, it’s just another thing to add to an already busy to-do list. And – don’t tell this to my fiancée – but I realize that other than to me and her, this isn’t the biggest day in world.

That’s where giving money as a gift comes in to play. A friend of mine let it be known through word of mouth that she and her husband-to-be wanted cash for a wedding present. When it was all said and done, their extensive guest list of more than 200 had given them a whopping $15,000 in cold, hard cash (and slightly less-cold, less-hard personal checks). A college buddy and his wife intentionally created a small bridal registry, so their wedding guests would have no alternative but to hand over a check.

Some wedding guests don’t like giving money as a gift because it feels impersonal, sterile, antiseptic. Likewise, many engaged couples don’t like asking for money because it’s perceived as tacky, uncouth, and greedy. The bottom line, however, is that for many couples, cash is king. For a couple starting their lives together heavily in debt, it can be far more freeing than a food processor ever could be. For a couple looking to buy a house, the windfall of several thousand dollars in wedding gifts can mean the difference between a loan approval or denial – unless, of course, banks are now accepting bone china as part of an acceptable down payment.

Readers, what are your rules for giving wedding gifts? Do you follow a specific formula?

11 Responses to Wedding Gift Etiquette – Buy A Gift or Write A Check?

  1. It does seem that the whole wedding gift decision is quite tricky. I think a lot depends on the circumstances of the couple. If they have been living together for a while, they likely already have a lot of the personal possessions they really need. If the couple is fairly young, they may need more stuff around the home. Cash definitely is the more convenient option, but does make it more impersonal and may not sit well with everyone. I like the idea of a small gift registry for those who prefer to buy a gift, but also hint that cash would be very much appreciated instead.

  2. I try to buy my favorite thing off the registry, but I saw at my friend’s wedding someone did something really cool. They gave three gift cards with menus for a paid date. I might think about doing that with local weddings and with away ones, maybe just sending “treats from Oregon” — that seems really fun. Would you and/or fiancee appreciate something like that or does that seem like a burden?

  3. This Aggie Saves says:

    I try to go in with someone else to buy a bigger item off of the registry.

  4. John @ Married (with Debt) says:

    I just went to a wedding this weekend for a coworker and this topic was discussed a lot before the wedding. It was pretty well agreed that since we are now in our 30s that $100 is the going amount. If they are not a close friend, maybe would go $50.

    • Daniel says:

      @John @ Married (with Debt), Definitely depends on the individual situation, and how close you are with the couple, but that’s not a bad guideline.

  5. I have a friend who got married and made it very clear she strongly preferred cash for her wedding gift. Great. I don’t have to spend time driving to the store, printing out your registry, finding the gift…If someone wants cash instead of a “personal” gift (that they specifically tell you to buy), I happily give them cash. It’s what they want. The gift is for their benefit not mine. I should be satisfied knowing I gave them something they really wanted.

    • Daniel says:

      @Shawanda @ You Have More Than You Think, I think people love cash, it’s just so impersonal. I don’t think about the time aspect, you can do everything online in 3 minutes anyway, but if you’re trying to make the person happy, cash might not be a bad idea.

  6. Evan says:

    Pure Cash. It is what every newlywed needs. May be a NY mindset though

    • Daniel says:

      @Evan, so true, but you don’t go around and think “that was so generous of Aunt Suzie” like you would a set of pots and pans or something.

  7. Interesting. When going to a wedding, I feel bad about giving money, and would rather go off the registry. Personally, I liked getting money though :)