Out of all the wedding traditions, deciding how much to spend on the gift appears to be the biggest source of confusion for guests.
According to a recent study from Bankrate.com, people ages 18 to 29 were both the most likely to go the inexpensive route—one in four spent less than $50 on a gift for a close friend of family member—and most likely to splurge and spend more than $200 on a gift for a close friend or family member.
I spoke to wedding etiquette experts, financial planners, serial wedding guests and even a friendship expert and found these guidelines to buy by:
There is no established amount a guest is expected to spend on the happy couple. Rather, each guest should decide how much to spend based on their own budget, not the budget of the couple getting married.
Your attendance is more important than what you give. Really, experts say, being there is actually the biggest gift—and that’s not just a cheesy cliche.
And if a couple says no gifts? Please, take them at their word. Jen Doll, freelance writer and author of “Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest,” says she follows that guidance—or she’ll make the bride something personal to commemorate their friendship.
The notion of “paying for your plate” doesn’t apply anymore. This idea, which is somewhat old-fashioned, came out of a generous thought: That weddings are expensive to throw, so the guests should give back. But Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of etiquette expert Emily Post, says this rule is long dead.
Rather, Post notes, the host is saying: I’m having this monumental moment in my life. Please come celebrate with me.
“The guests are going to want to say thank you for that party; that thank you can be in words,” Post says.
Even for a very modest wedding, guests don’t have to limit themselves to what the hosts might have paid for their plates, says Post, co-president of the Post Institute and co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast. “If you throw a potluck wedding, that doesn’t mean you’re relegated to a woodcarving gift,” Post adds. “Someone could still buy you a sterling silver tea set.”
Set a range for what you will give—which can vary based on how close you are with each couple. Not all relationships are created equal, so not all gifts will be the same size, either. Her range for wedding gifts is $25 to $100, and the financial planners I spoke with also suggested organizing your gifting in this way.
If buying off the registry, buy early. Andrew Damcevski, a single, 25-year-old financial planner in Cincinnati, suggests that cost-conscious guests buy their gifts when they get the “save the date” so they can find something on the registry in their price point rather than waiting until right before the big day, Damcevski says. Single guests might also combine forces with other guests to buy something larger as a group.
But you don’t have to buy off the registry. Post “almost never” shops on the registry, preferring to give sentimental gifts. Or she’ll give to a Honeyfund, which allows guests to help couples pay for their honeymoon, but prefers when the couple sets it up so that it’s “buyer’s choice.”
It’s also a good idea to go off-registry when everything on it is out of your price range. “It really depends on the couple,” Doll says. “If they’re 22 years old and they really need to set up a house, then they really need pots and pans.” But just because someone decided they want Hermes plates, Doll isn’t going to go along with it—she’s going to stick to her budget.
—Lisa Bonos | The Washington Post