Tag Archives: gifts

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 place mats and hand towels and napkin rings were less than $5 each, and some were these great gifts.. 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 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?

Updated August 17, 2015 and originally published May 7, 2012.

Who Is On Your Christmas Shopping List?

This is a guest post by Libby, who writes for Modern Tightwad.

Each year, I start out with a plan, a budget for the holiday season. On my shopping list you’ll find the usual suspects – my kids, my husband, my parents – and then things start to get a little hazy. One by one, I start to evaluate everyone in my life, wondering if I should buy Christmas gifts for them, and whether they’ll be buying something for me.

Just because someone has been nice doesn’t mean there’s room for them on your list. Buy for everyone, and your Christmas budget will haunt you well into the New Year. Limit your list to only your nearest and dearest, and you could be labeled a Scrooge. So what’s a well-meaning shopper to do?

Christmas Gifts for Friends

My friends and I have a policy: friends don’t let friends buy Christmas gifts for each other. The reason is simple. If I buy a gift for Friend A, he will likely feel compelled to buy a gift for me, even if his Christmas budget doesn’t have the room for it. If he listens to his financial instincts and doesn’t buy a reciprocal gift, he may feel guilty about accepting my well-intentioned present. And since guilt leads to bitterness, and bitterness leads to resentment, nothing good would come from the one-sided exchange.

Instead, most of my friends and I made an agreement long ago – in some cases, an unsaid but still very-well understood agreement – that we wouldn’t exchange gifts. Sometimes, there have been exceptions, but in those rare occasions, the other party and I have hashed out the details well in advance of the actual gift-giving.

Christmas Gifts for Colleagues

Christmas shopping for your coworkers is probably one of the most difficult types of shopping around. Sure, you work with these people 40, 50, even 60 hours a week, and you know which kind of K-cup they prefer, but how well do you know them off the job? If the answer is, “Not very well,” then you don’t really need to add them to your shopping list.

Check with your human resources department to see if there’s a written policy about gift giving at work. Some companies actually have a policy against it, for a variety of reasons. Others leave it up to department heads, so check with your manager if you’re unsure. I work from home, so this is a moot point for me, but my husband – who is a sheriff’s deputy – works for a department that puts the kibosh on holiday gift exchanges.

In general, I think it’s absolutely fine to skip Christmas gifts for your colleagues, with these two notable exceptions:

1. If you’re a manager, giving a small gift – even a $10 gift card – can be a symbol of your thanks for a year of hard work; if you’re going to give this type of gift to one of your workers, however, you need to do it for everybody. It’s Christmas, after all, not their annual review.

2. If your office participates in a “White Elephant” or “Dirty Santa”-type gift exchange, you should probably participate. These gift exchanges typically have limits – maybe $20 or less – so they won’t do too much damage to your Christmas budget; plus, if you decline, your coworkers may call you a cheapskate behind your back.

Christmas Gifts for Extended Family

Buying presents for family members you don’t see on a routine basis is one of the most complicated conundrums of the holiday season. One of my friends still buys gifts for all her nieces and nephews – all seven of them – even though they’re all adults now; she’s simply doing it out of habit. I still buy presents for my “baby” cousins… who are now almost all in college.

My rule is this: not all family members – and our relationships with them – are equal. You may have a cousin with whom you are really close, and another cousin whom you only see at family reunions. You shouldn’t feel obligated to buy Christmas gifts for someone with whom you don’t have a personal relationship; this advice holds true for everyone you’d consider shopping for.

Drawing names can help solve this problem. Suggest putting the names of all your relatives into a hat, and have everyone draw out a name. This age-old solution can keep your Christmas budget in check, by letting you buy something for one person instead of the entire family.

What’s your policy on Christmas shopping? Who’s on your list – and who isn’t? Why?

Would You Let Someone Buy You a House?

With all the lottery excitement from the Powerball jackpot reaching a whopping $500 million, it’s been a popular topic for a lot of people. Some are thinking about what they’d do with the money, but the odds are that you aren’t going to win.

However, it’s a lot more likely that someone you know will win. The odds aren’t great, but let’s say you have 500 friends on Facebook? Then the odds are about 500 times more in your favor that you’ll know someone who wins the lottery.

And if you do, do you think you’ll get a piece of that? If it’s merely an acquaintance, definitely not. If it’s a friend, you probably won’t see any cash, but you’ll benefit from some awesome parties and fringe benefits.

If it’s a family member? Jackpot, right? While you aren’t getting hundreds of millions of dollars, you can expect more than just some extra spending much.

But how much would you accept? Would you let someone buy you a house? Pay off all your debt? Put your kids through school?

I recently had this discussion with my brother-in-law, and he said that if I won the lottery, he’d be ok with accepting a down payment on a house, but not the whole thing. Even though I would accept the full price of a house, he said he wouldn’t want to take my manhood away, explaining that he still wants me to feel like I can support my family.

What I had to explain to him is that giving me a house shouldn’t make him feel like he’s taking anything away. Rather, he should only think of it as giving me something!

I definitely would be ok with letting someone pay off my debt. That just makes my life easier without making me feel entitled or not having to work anymore.

And I would absolutely be ok with someone putting my kids through school, education is one of the best gives you can give because it’s not something tangible and it provides the information necessary to be self-sustainable in the future.

Readers, are there limits to how much you would accept as a gift if someone you knew won the lottery?