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Wedding Gifts: What’s Proper and What’s Not?

If it’s been awhile since you’ve attended a wedding, or if you’re a young adult whose friends are just starting to tie the knot, you may feel clueless about buying wedding gifts. You’re not alone: giving gifts for big life occasions can be tricky for anyone.

The traditional guideline for wedding gifts is that if you’re invited, you should send a gift whether or not you attend. There is no “correct” amount of money to spend on a wedding gift. The amount should be guided by your closeness to the couple, and your budget. Here is some guidance for choosing and giving wedding gifts.

The “Cover Your Plate” Guideline

You’ve probably heard this “rule.” When people don’t know how much to spend, they may gauge it based on how much the couple is spending per guest. This is not a hard and fast rule, so don’t be intimidated if you’re invited to an upscale wedding. You don’t buy birthday gifts based on the value of the cake you expect, and it’s not your job to match your gift to the bride and groom’s wedding budget. Choose the most generous gift you can afford that you will feel comfortable giving.

Dollar Figures

Here are some rough guidelines for how much to spend on wedding gifts, but keep in mind that there are exceptions:

  • Wedding of a close relative or close friend: $100 to $200
  • Wedding of the typical friend or relative: around $100
  • Wedding of a work colleague or boss: $75 to $100
  • Wedding of a neighbor or acquaintance: $50 to $75

Think of these figures as a starting point, and use other factors to fine-tune your wedding gift budget.

Registries

When a registry consists of a range of gifts in a range of prices, it makes your job as a wedding guest much easier. Registering online is a common practice now, and that simplifies things further. If you need gift ideas, start with the registry. Couples today register at retailers ranging from Walmart to Tiffany & Co., so you’ll have plenty of choices and will worry less about gift duplication. You don’t have to use the gift registry, but if you want to go off-registry, it’s still a good idea to look over the sites the couple is registered on for ideas.

Giving Money

There’s nothing wrong with giving money as a wedding gift. As with gifts, how much you give depends on your relationship with the couple and your budget. You can use the gift guideline dollar figures above as a starting point. If you’re bringing a “plus one” to the wedding, consider bumping up the dollar figure a bit.

Typically, you’ll want to hand cash gifts to a close family member, such as a parent of the bride or groom. And it’s perfectly acceptable to mail a check directly to the couple rather than bringing it to the wedding.

Gifts for Destination Weddings

If you’re spending serious money getting to a destination wedding, it is acceptable to give a somewhat less expensive gift than you would otherwise. However, you’re not relieved of your obligation to give a gift. Destination weddings can be expensive for guests, and most couples understand that you’ve already spent a lot getting there. Spending $50 to $100 on a gift for a destination wedding is appropriate.

When You’re Broke

It can be hard to get into the spirit when everyone is giving lavish wedding gifts while you’re on a constrained budget. But you’re not obligated to blow your budget just to buy a wedding gift. If you can spend $50, do so. If that amount is out of your reach, you can still give a nice gift if you get creative. Here are some ideas:

  • A selection of kitchen gadgets or gourmet ingredients
  • Their wedding invitation framed in a nice, matted frame
  • A bottle of wine
  • A DVD of a romantic movie, microwave popcorn, and a festive popcorn bowl

When You’re in the Wedding

When you’re a member of the wedding party, by the time the wedding day arrives, you’ve already spent a lot and bought several presents. Close friends won’t want you to go broke because of their wedding. Choosing a personal, or creative gift is absolutely appropriate, as is going in together with other bridal party members on one larger gift.

Whether you’re looking for a wedding gift or you’re the one getting hitched, using a great budget app like Mint will help you keep your budget in line. You can create custom line items and easily track progress of your financial goals. Mint can help you make your wedding expense dollars work their hardest.

Mary Hiers is a personal finance writer who helps people earn more and spend less.