WEDDING GIFTS ARE
big business billions of dollars big. According to research firm The Wedding Report, this year alone guests will spend $6.9 billion on wedding gifts.
Each time an invitation arrives in the mail, wedding guests face a common and sometimes frustrating dilemma: What should I buy the bride and groom, and how much should I spend? Depending on the couple, where they live and their culture, giving cash is either considered apropos or gauche. And then there's always the quandary over the registry, especially when the only two options left are a $200 waffle maker and a $5 garlic press. After all, there's a fine line between breaking the bank to buy a generous gift and looking like a cheapskate.
The idea behind a wedding gift, according to etiquette doyenne Peggy Post, is indeed a noble one: "It is a tangible representation of love and support, a generous offering to help married couples get a head start in their lives together."
It sounds lovely, but for guests who don't know the bride and groom well enough to conjure up such a representation or are on a tight budget, here's a gift etiquette primer to get you through wedding season:
1. How much should I spend on a gift?
The amount you should spend on a gift is one of those gray areas that vary based on the wedding location, your age and your budget. A typical amount, says Betsy Goldberg, features editor at Modern Bride magazine, is $75. If you bring a date, expect to spend twice that amount. Don't be afraid to ask other attendees how much they plan to spend to get a better sense of what people within your social circle are giving, she says.
Though the gift amount is somewhat arbitrary, Summer Krecke, deputy editor of WeddingChannel.com, offers a few guidelines based on the guest's relationship to the bride or groom: If it's a co-worker's wedding, you should spend $75 to $100; a relative or friend, $100-$125; and if it's a close friend or close relative, anywhere from $100 to $150 or more is acceptable.
2. What if I can't afford the $120 five-speed blender because I have four other weddings this month?
Most brides and grooms don't want you to go broke as a result of their wedding. Therefore, guests should always consider their budget constraints. If you've been invited to five weddings that take place within three months of one another, you'll need to take into account expenses for all those events (not just the gifts, but any required travel and lodging, as well). At destination weddings, for example, most couples understand that the $500 you shelled out to attend their Bahamas beach wedding doesn't leave you much to spend on a big-ticket gift. "They appreciate that people go so far to be with them for their wedding," says Goldberg.
Also keep in mind that your gift obligations don't start and end with the wedding. Factor in surrounding celebrations, like the bridal shower, bachelor/bachelorette party and engagement party. Tally it up and you'll probably feel like you need a second job to afford your loved ones' nuptials, making it all the more important you don't break the bank on one gift.
3. Should the amount I give depend on the price per dinner plate or how posh the venue is?
Quite simply, no. "Never think about it in those terms," says Martha Woodham, author of "The Bride Did What?! Etiquette for the Wedding Impaired." Instead, think about it this way: You're not expected to pay for your meal at a friend's dinner party, so why should you be expected to pay for a night of dinner and dancing at a wedding? A gift is separate from the party itself and should not be considered "the admission price to the wedding," says Woodham.
4. If I can't make it to the wedding, do I still give a gift?
Yes. Ideally, says Woodham, guests give gifts to help the couple commemorate the occasion and start their new life together and that should be the case whether a guest partakes in the wedding festivities or not. "If you care about the couple, you send a gift not just because you were invited to the wedding," she says.
5. Is it always best to get a gift from the registry?
The great thing about wedding registries and the reason why they're such a big business is there's little risk involved. Brides and grooms tell you what they want, so you don't spend an afternoon shopping for the perfect espresso machine only to find out later that neither of them drinks coffee. With a registry item, "you know when they get it, they'll be happy and excited about it," says Woodham.
Since registry gifts veer toward the impersonal, Goldberg suggests including a note with the gift to make it less so. If you buy a couple that loves to entertain a cheese board, include a note that says something along the lines of: "We love coming over for your parties and thought this would be useful to you," says Goldberg. One bit of advice when buying from the registry: Shop early to make sure you have various price points to choose from.
6. Is it in poor taste to hand an envelope containing a check to the bride or groom during the reception?
Generally, a gift of cash or a check is acceptable and, for the most part, welcomed. "I don't know of any bride or groom turning down a check," says Krecke. Most couples will put either the best man or a parent in charge of receiving and holding onto checks at the wedding.
What is> inappropriate, however, is bringing a gift to the wedding especially if it's a cumbersome 10-pound rice cooker. Many couples don't get married in their hometowns, so you make it more difficult for them to haul the gifts home post-wedding. Instead, send the gift directly to the couple's home address or to one of their parents several weeks before the wedding, says Krecke.
7. I can send them a gift later, right?
While it's fine to celebrate the special day with the couple and send a gift later don't wait until well after the bride's written all her thank-you notes. Some people think "you can wait up to a year to give a gift," says Krecke. "We generally say anything more than six months is poor etiquette."
At the Wedding: Cash Customs
Next time you go to a wedding, don't forget to bring your checkbook or some $5 dollar bills you may be asked to tie money to a tree or stuff a check in a birdcage. While some guests consider cash-giving customsde rigueur>
, others think they're as tacky as a cash bar at the reception. Some even condemn them as downright extortion. But no matter what size, shape or denomination they come in, these traditions are meant to help the new couple get started in their lives together. Here are some examples of where custom might come into conflict with politesse:
The "dollar dance" or "money dance": The concept behind this Polish tradition is that male guests pay for the privilege of dancing with the bride. Guests deposit (usually monetary) gifts in a purse attached to the bride's dress or pin it directly to her gown. Nowadays, the groom participates too, and collects donations from female guests for a dance.
Money tree: This is an actual tree with clips or bows attached so that guests can clip or tie on money for the newlyweds. The tradition started in the northern states, but has spread across the country as people moved around, says Woodham. "If this is a tradition that has not been in the bride or groom's family, I would advise against [the couple having one]," she says.
Birdcage: The birdcage is a more common option when it comes to handing over monetary gifts. This accessory often ornately decorated with ribbon or flowers is usually stationed in the reception area for guests to deposit their cards or checks.
Money art: Cold hard cash doesn't have to be boring. As a creative gift option, guests can hire an origami artist to fashion dollar bills into a dozen roses or a tuxedo shirt and tie. You're giving the couple money but in this case it's all in the presentation. "You give the impression of spending more when you put effort into your gift," says Sharon Naylor, wedding expert and author of "The Essential Guide to Wedding Etiquette."
Expect to pay a premium, though: One origami artist we found charges $10 to create a single rose out of five greenbacks. Assuming they're one dollar bills, a dozen roses will cost $180 to make, but leaves the couple with just $60.