Peak wedding season is in full swing! As wedding expert Joyce Scardina told Bankrate in “7 Ways to Save on an Off-Season Wedding,” peak wedding season in the U.S. runs from May through October. If the invitations have already been showing up in your mailbox, this is a good time to brush up on your wedding gift giving etiquette.
A Unique Set of ‘Rules’
Just like every couple, every wedding comes with its own unique set of circumstances. The type of gift you give, the cost, and even the way you give it will likely vary depending on the situation. Is it a first marriage for both the bride and groom? Are they just starting out or have they both been living on their own for a while? Are you the bride’s closest friend? Or a distant relative of the groom who only met him once when he was about five years old? Have you been invited to a shower?
All those factors and more can influence the type and cost of an appropriate gift. To help you navigate the complicated (and sometimes confusing) waters of wedding gifting, we’ve rounded up 9 rules from some well-known wedding and etiquette experts.
Wedding gift etiquette rule #1: If you’re invited, give a gift (with one exception).
Even though it may not be spelled out on the wedding invitation, it’s customary that invited guests provide a gift. Skipping the wedding doesn’t get you off the hook – unless you simply aren’t close to the couple. At some point or another, just about everyone has received a wedding invitation from someone they barely know or keep in touch with. Peggy Post, co-author of the 18th Edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, says it’s ok in those cases to skip the wedding without sending a gift.
“If you have been invited by someone you don’t know well or don’t keep in touch with, use your judgment, just be sure to RSVP as soon as you know,” she told Fox News Magazine.
In the same article, etiquette expert Charles Purdy backed up Post’s opinion that sending a gift is customary even if you aren’t going to be in attendance at the wedding. “My advice is actually for the couple getting married,” Purdy explained. “When you send your invitations, only send them to people you truly want to come to your wedding.”
Wedding gift etiquette rule #2: Cash is just fine, thank you.
If you’ve ever worried whether it’s okay to give cash, relax. Post and Purdy both advise that cash is a perfectly fine gift. Some couples actually prefer it especially the ones who already have all the household items they need or who need cash for something bigger on the horizon – like a honeymoon or a down payment on a house.
Wedding gift etiquette rule #3: Buying from their registry is usually preferable to buying some random gift.
If you decide to buy a gift, it’s usually best to choose something from their gift registry. In a survey conducted by TheKnot.com and Kohl’s Bridal Aisle, nearly 85% of 15,000 brides surveyed said they wanted to receive gifts from their wedding registry. What’s more, 98% of brides reported being registered with at least one retailer, either online or in-store.
Buying off the couple’s registry carries distinct advantages.
It eliminates guesswork about what the couple really wants and reduces the possibility of unwanted duplicate gifts. Better still, some retailers offer free shipping and other benefits to the registered couple and gift givers. Crate and Barrel, for example, offers free shipping on eligible bridal registry gift purchases over $99.
Keep in mind, too, that more retailers than ever offer registries – even for items that go beyond the traditional china, linens, and kitchen items. Couples who already have been living on their own for some time may skip registering for traditional items and register for items that reflect their interests – like camping equipment or bikes or electronic gadgets.
All that being said … in the above rule, you’ll note the words “usually preferable.” Even though sticking to the registry makes sense in most cases, that doesn’t mean you have to stick with it 100% of the time. If you know the couple well and have an off-the-registry gift idea that you think will be perfect for them, go for it.
Wedding gift etiquette rule #4: When you’re not sure about whether to give #2 or #3, it’s perfectly okay to ask.
There’s nothing wrong with asking. Turn to the parents, members of the wedding party, or even the happy couple if you need the lowdown on where they’re registered or whether they would really prefer a gift of cash. Chances are they’ll be happy to fill you in; most people would much rather get exactly what they want rather than run the risk of getting something they don’t.
Wedding gift etiquette rule #5: A shower gift doesn’t take the place of a wedding gift.
Springing for a shower gift doesn’t mean you’re off the hook when it comes to a wedding gift. “Shower gifts are not wedding gifts,” Post told Fox News Magazine. “I know some of these shower gifts are expensive, but be smart so you don’t have to break the bank.”
This is where buying off the couple’s gift registry can come in handy. By shopping early while there’s still a good selection of items on the list, you may be able to find a lower-priced item for the shower.
Wedding gift etiquette rule #6: If you’re going to the wedding as someone else’s date or guest, it’s probably not necessary to bring a gift of your own.
Like most other aspects of wedding gift etiquette, this rule has some gray areas. If you’re going as an invited guest’s “plus-one,” Purdy and Post agree that it’s generally not necessary to bring a gift. Jessica Booth of TheBustle.com advises that an invited guest shouldn’t expect their plus-one to chip in on a gift if the plus-one doesn’t know the couple who’s getting married. However, if you’ve been asked to accompany someone as a plus-one and happen to know the couple or their family you may want to consider a gift. Another option may be offering to chip in on the gift your date is giving.
Wedding gift etiquette rule #7: If the opportunity presents itself, embrace the advantages of the group gift.
Have you ever wondered whether a group gift is acceptable? Jodi R.R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, addressed the question in a RealSimple.com article. According to Smith, a group gift is perfectly fine. Going in with a group can help make a small individual spend look like a lot – and group gifts may increase the chances that a couple will receive some of the larger-ticket items on their registry.
Smith offers just one word of caution about group gifts: The more people there are in the group, the more complicated it can get. So just make sure everyone in the group agrees ahead of time on all the particulars – like how much each person’s share will be, who’s collecting the money, and who will buy the gift.
Wedding gift etiquette rule #8: Don’t bring gifts to the wedding or reception.
A wedding and reception have a lot of moving parts. The last thing a couple (or their parents) need is the chore of loading up and moving a mountain of gifts. Have your gift shipped to their home if you can. It’s easier on you, easier on them, and the gift will be more likely to arrive intact. If that’s not an option, drop off your gift sometime before or after the big day.
Wedding gift etiquette rule #9: Send the gift within two months of the wedding.
Opinions on this rule do vary, depending on whom you happen to ask. While some wedding experts stand by the old tradition that any time within one year of the wedding is okay, many others agree that a year is much too long in this day and age. Aim for no longer than two months after the wedding.
A Final Word: How Much to Spend?
Although these 9 rules may be helpful, chances are the rule you’re really looking for is how much to spend on a wedding gift. There’s no rule that will cover every situation. An appropriate spend will vary widely depending on all kinds of factors – including how close you are to the couple, whether you’re a friend or family, where the wedding is taking place, and how much you can afford.
Yahoo Finance says to forget the outdated notion that you should spend at least as much as the cost of your food and entertainment. That shouldn’t be a factor. And although it’s impossible to nail down a fixed spending recommendation due to all the variables, TheKnot.com does offer up some ballpark figures. Based on your relationship to the couple, start with a minimum of $50 for a coworker, distant family friend, or distant relative. The suggested spend is higher for closer relationships or big city weddings. In the end, though, remember that it’s up to you and what you can afford.