Weddings are a time of celebration, but what about the gifts? Most guests feel obligated to give a gift no matter how tight their budget is. However, there are ways to be thoughtful without breaking the bank.
Wedding gift etiquette can be difficult to navigate, but don’t worry!
It is tradition to give a wedding gift for all sorts of occasions. But, what are the etiquette rules for giving a wedding gift? Before deciding on which type of gift to buy, the first thing you should do is figure out whose turn it is in your family or friendship circle.
Whether you’re set on giving a gift or not, there are some things that you should know about wedding etiquette. For example, it is customary to give the bride and groom a token of your appreciation for their friendship with you.
Gifts can range from small items like mugs or frames to larger gifts such as appliances, furniture pieces, etc. There are no right or wrong gifts; be sure that the couples don’t already have what you’re planning on gifting them.
In this article, we’ll cover everything from what type of gifts are appropriate to when it’s okay to send a thank-you card. We’ll also tackle questions like “How much should I spend on my wedding gift?” and “What should I do if I’m not invited.”
Here’s some helpful advice on wedding gift etiquette.
1. How much should I spend on a wedding gift?
According to a study from the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, the average amount that a guest was projected to spend on a wedding gift was $99—but that’s if you’re a friend of the couple. Family members are projected to spend at least $127.
Even if you aren’t close to the couple, it’s not very considerate to spend less than $50 on a gift. However, if you’re a coworker or a distant friend, the minimum wedding gift amount you can get away with is $50 to $75.
2. What’s your personal budget or current financial situation?
First and foremost, you should never spend more than you can afford on a wedding gift. If money is tight, adjust your gift budget accordingly. The couple is (hopefully!) more concerned about your presence than your present.
What’s the etiquette for a wedding gift in terms of how much to spend? The answer to this common question has evolved over the years. And, believe it or not, there’s no magic number that dictates how much you should spend on a wedding gift.
According to our data, guests generally spend about $120 on a wedding gift, though some say they spend more on close friends and family members. Ultimately, though, you should spend what you’re able to afford on a wedding gift comfortably.
If you’re not in a comfortable financial space, it doesn’t matter what anyone suggests regarding how much to spend. There is no need to overextend yourself financially to keep up with social norms.
If you have several weddings to attend in a short time, particularly if you’re acting as a bridesmaid or groomsman in any of them, be sure to take that into account as well. You don’t want to rack up major credit card debt to be there.
Use your relationship as a guide—while you might want to spend more on a gift for your best friend, it’s completely okay to spend a little less on someone you’re not as close with, like a coworker or a distant relative.
Plus, if you have a busy wedding season full of events or you’re also a member of the wedding party, it’s perfectly fine to lower your budget. Consider looking into gifts that fall in the range of $50-$200+, and use your personal budget to find gifts that fit what you can reasonably afford.
And if you’re really in a tough spot financially — like a grad student on a shoestring budget — you have a few options: Give what you’re able to give, chip in a smaller amount towards one of the pricier items on the couple’s registry or write the couple a heartfelt card expressing your congratulations. But, of course, you can also get creative and do something thoughtful that won’t break the bank.
If you are on a tight budget, a simple card is absolutely acceptable. Otherwise, you can, perhaps, download some photos from their social media page and give them one picture in a nice frame or create a photo booklet from an online resource.
3. How close are you to the couple?
The closer you are to a bride or groom, the more you may want to spend on their gift. That probably means giving a bit more to a longtime best friend or close family member and perhaps a bit less to a coworker or distant cousin.
If you have known the couple for a long time and or are very close to them, it makes sense that you would lean into a larger gift. However, if you have known them for a shorter time, we think you could get away with a lower-priced gift.
4. Contribute to a Cash Fund
In addition to registering for traditional wedding presents, some couples also set up cash funds or honeymoon funds, allowing you to contribute to something special beyond a traditional registry item.
So, if you’d rather put your wedding gift budget to something a little more personal than common registry gifts like pots and pans or a new duvet set, consider donating to the cash funds on their wish list. We promise your generosity will be greatly appreciated.
5. Is it okay to give a group wedding gift?
When it comes to wedding gift etiquette, group gifts are always acceptable—in fact, we encourage them. In addition, couples will likely add a few big-ticket items to their wedding registry, which are perfect candidates for group gifts.
If the to-be-weds registered for something that’s out of range for just one person to afford, ask some other guests to go in on it with you. Your generosity will touch the couple, and you might even be able to save some money, depending on how big your group is.
Just be sure that everyone who chips into the gift signs their name on the card. This wedding gift etiquette rule is essential because it’s the only way the couple will know exactly who to thank for it in their thank-you cards.
If the only items left on the registry are well over your budget or you really want to gift the couple a big-ticket item you know, they’ll love, join forces with a group of friends.
And for bridesmaids and groomsmen who have already spent quite a bit of money on the bridesmaid dress, bachelor party, and shower, this is a particularly wise way to gift—the couple will receive a thoughtful big-ticket present from the wedding party, and each person can usually get away with spending a bit less individually.
6. Have you given gifts for other wedding-related celebrations, like an engagement party or bridal shower?
Experts recommend using the 60-20-20 rule to allocate your gift budget if you’re attending multiple events leading up to one wedding, such as the engagement party or bridal shower. That means 60% of your budget goes toward the wedding gift, 20% goes toward the shower gift, and 20% goes toward the engagement gift, though that last one is optional.
7. Check Their Wedding Website for Gift Clues
While the couple’s registry is the best place to look for wedding gift inspiration, you can also find clues on their wedding website.
Not only is their custom site a hub for all relevant wedding details, like the date, time, location, dress code and transportation logistics, it may also include extra information about their registry picks.
Plus, some couples use their website to share their love story, which can help spark great gift ideas for you.
If they wrote that their first date was over Italian food, you might consider getting them something sentimental, like a pasta maker or a gift card to their favourite local restaurant.
But, of course, you never know exactly what you’ll find on a couple’s wedding website, which is why we encourage guests to take a peek before deciding on a gift.
8. Should I give a wedding gift that matches the price per head?
The formality of the wedding impacts several elements, including time of day and dress, but there is no tie into the cost of the gift.
What you gift the couple should be exclusively dependent on your relationship to the happy couple, as well as your own means. No guest should feel as though they need to overextend themselves with the gift because they are expected to wear a black tie.
Similarly, just because your BFF had a 10-person wedding in their backyard doesn’t mean you should give them an inexpensive gift.
Also, if you happen to be attending multiple events for the couple, consider this as well: you can use the 60-20-20 rule, which means spending 20 per cent of your total budget on an engagement party gift, 20 per cent on a gift for the bridal shower, and 60 per cent for the actual wedding gift.
9. Is it okay to give cash as a wedding gift?
Different cultures and generations have diverging opinions about whether giving cash as a wedding gift is appropriate. These days, it’s becoming more and more common, and many etiquette experts agree it’s totally acceptable — especially in a time when many couples live together before getting married. They may already have all the Dutch ovens and champagne flutes they need.
There’s nothing wrong with gifting cash. According to the aforementioned American Express study, one-third of respondents prefer to give some money as a wedding gift. In fact, as most millennials are getting married later in life and already have well-stocked homes, they prefer cash to put toward savings over registry items.
If you are giving cash (or a check), send it ahead of time rather than bringing it to the wedding—it’s too easy for things to get misplaced in the chaos of the day.
Some couples may even register for cash to go directly into their bank accounts through sites like Tendr, which allows guests to give money virtually, along with a sentimental note they can personally write on a digital card.
Weddings are expensive, and couples will always appreciate cash. So honestly, do the couple a favour and skip the obligatory wedding registry and slide them some money.
When giving cash, be sure to put it inside a handwritten card (and consider sending it before the wedding, so it doesn’t get misplaced in the big day chaos).
If you’re writing a check, be careful about how you fill it out so that the couple doesn’t run into trouble cashing it if they haven’t changed their last names yet or don’t plan to.
10. Do I have to buy a wedding gift for a destination wedding?
While there are no hard and fast rules, there is a general understanding that their presence at the wedding can absolutely be their gift.
You have to remember that your guests are presumably taking time off from work and arranging childcare, so they’ve already invested quite a bit. With that being said, if an attendee chooses to gift them in addition to being there, then that’s absolutely fine.
If you do want to get them a wedding gift, but you’re strapped for cash right after spending on the flights and hotels, you can always wait until later (up to a year) to get them a wedding gift. Whatever the timing, they’ll always appreciate it.
11. How far are you travelling for the wedding?
Between flights and hotels and other assorted expenses, attending a destination wedding can get pricey. Some etiquette experts say it’s okay to skip the gift for a destination wedding if your budget needs to, but it’s better to give something if you can.
A gift is not expected, but we suggest getting one anyhow. And since it’s not expected, you could spend less and be thoughtful. Having travelled and bought hotel and airfare is a lot, and the couple knows that.
Incurring travel expenses to get to a wedding is not a ‘get out of giving a gift’ card. Your decision to spend money to travel to the big event should be made independently of the considerations above.
12. Should I buy a gift if I can’t attend the wedding?
Emily Post has always attested to the fact that you should always send a gift if invited unless you’ve truly been out of touch for a considerable length of time.
However, we’d like to think that there is absolutely an understanding that if you decline the invitation and are not in a financial position to send a gift, then you don’t, and that’s okay. Instead, send your warm wishes with a handwritten note.
If you’re a couple’s close friend, it’s probably best to send a wedding gift. If, on the other hand, your distant cousin invited 300 people to her wedding and you feel like you were invited number 299, a sweet note of congratulations on the RSVP card is sufficient.
If you do decide to send a gift, feel free to spend less than you might spend if you were attending—that $30 wine opener is still a lovely token of congratulations that the couple will surely appreciate.
13. Should my wedding gift amount increase if I have a plus one?
There’s no rule in the wedding gift etiquette handbook that would suggest your wedding gift amount go up if you bring a date. So while it may make sense to spend a bit more because you are bringing two mouths to feed, there is no expectation that you need to do so.
If you’re bringing a date or your kids to the wedding (please make sure they’re invited first!), you may want to increase your gift budget.
The more people invited [with you], the more you should spend on the gift.
14. How long do I have after the wedding to get the couple a wedding gift?
Traditionally, you have up to one year to get the couple a wedding gift. That being said, etiquette experts agree that the sooner you can give the present, the better. Everyone wants to unwrap their wedding gifts when they’re still radiating with that newlywed glow.
Punctuality plays a large role in proper wedding gift etiquette. Ideally, gifts should be sent to the couple before the wedding. According to various etiquette experts, though, guests should do their best to send a gift within two months after the wedding date at the very latest.
While this is a recommendation, it is a nice gesture to send your gift promptly. And, while you can bring something on the big day, online registries streamline the shopping process by allowing you to shop online and ship the gift to the couple’s address.
Not only is this the most convenient option for couples, but it also helps guests by eliminating extra shipping hassles. When it comes to knowing the proper etiquette for wedding gifts, giving what you can is a kind gesture—but doing so promptly will make your present that much sweeter.
15. How do I address a check to the couple?
If you plan on giving a check to the happy couple, make sure you avoid writing their new surname in the “to” field.
It may seem counterintuitive after having just watched them tie the knot, but when it comes to cashing checks after the big day, the bank will sometimes not accept checks that don’t have the registered account name. So to be safe, it’s best to write the check out to one person and write a happy note in the memo field.
16. Should I ship a gift directly or bring it to the wedding?
The preferred method for gifting is to send it to the couple’s home versus bringing it with you on the wedding day.
There are just so many things to keep track of on the day of the event that it’s appreciated if you can make it a bit easier on the newlyweds. Luckily, it’s practically a given that you’ll be able to ship your gift with relative ease, thanks to registries.
Bringing a physical gift to the wedding is typically reserved when someone goes off the registry to purchase a wedding gift. When in doubt, follow the instructions on the registry website and avoid the headache of wrapping the present yourself!
17. Use the Couple’s Registry
This rule is wedding gift etiquette 101. When it comes to gifting, most guests will take all the help they can get—and that’s exactly why you should take advantage of the couple’s wedding registry. Browsing the internet for wedding gifts can feel overwhelming at first, especially if you’re not sure exactly what the couple wants.
And, while we’ve curated this roundup of great wedding gifts, every couple has different needs and preferences, which is why we recommend checking their registry first. Their curated wish list will include plenty of wedding gift ideas at a variety of price ranges, giving you tons of flexibility when it comes to picking something they’ll love.
If you try shopping off-registry, you run the risk of getting the happy couple something they already have or something they don’t need (or have space for). Save yourself from potential shopping stress by using all of the resources available to you.
And, if you plan on buying multiple presents in addition to the actual wedding gift, guests are encouraged to use the couple’s wedding registry to find an engagement gift, a bridal shower gift, and a beach party gift.
18. Is it okay to buy gifts that aren’t on the wedding registry?
Gifting items that aren’t included on the registry isn’t a violation of wedding gift etiquette. If, however, you choose an off-registry item, make sure it’s something you know the couple will absolutely love.
A couple has taken the time to select items they need, so it makes perfect sense most of the time to fall in line with their wishes. With that being said, if you are close to the couple and are 100 per cent sure that your off-registry item fits the bill, then, by all means, do it.
If you’d prefer not to give money for whatever reason, items on the couple’s registry are always a sure bet because you know it’s stuff they want or need.
Just get to the registry early so you can give something meaningful, which will remind them of you every time they use it, such as an espresso machine, as opposed to having to gather the remaining scraps on the registry — a spatula, one tumbler, a doormat and a pillowcase — to assemble a meaningful monetary amount.
19. Are you RSVPing “no” to the wedding?
If you’re close with the couple and you can’t make it to their weddings, it’s considerate to send a gift anyway ― although some experts say you don’t need to. If you’re not financially able to buy a present, sending a heartfelt card will do.
If you are going to send a gift, it’s okay to spend a little less than you might if you were attending.
20. Should I purchase a gift for a wedding I didn’t attend that was either cancelled or downsized for reasons relating to the pandemic?
As the pandemic is truly unprecedented, there’s not a rule of thumb for these situations. This also means the couple has no expectations for a gift, either. Was the cancelled wedding far enough along that you received information on their wedding registry?
If so, it would be a nice gesture to send a gift. The couple may not be treating you to dinner and drinks, but sending a little something is a sweet way to celebrate their love. If there’s a chance the wedding may be postponed, it’s okay to wait for further details from the couple.
What if the couple opted to host a micro-wedding with immediate family only? In this case, chances are, there’s no wedding registry or expectation of a wedding gift, but if your budget allows, it’s recommended to mail them a little something. Again, a handwritten note and a thoughtful gift will go a long way.