Wedding Gift Etiquette: The New Rules of What’s Acceptable

Weddings involve a lot of emotion and surprisingly, financial etiquette. I struggle to think of an event more laced with emotional landmines than a wedding. Not only is wedding gift etiquette in today's increasingly digital and cash-less world a challenge, there are new rules for the day of and what should happen afterward. Enjoy this quick-and-dirty Financial Best Life guide to surviving wedding season with your relationships, wallet, and sanity in tact!

Wedding Gift Etiquette: FAQ's

What Is the Minimum Amount to Gift?

If you're looking for a hard-and-fast guideline the old rule of “Gift what it cost for your plate at dinner” is a good place to start. Typically, plates per person go from $30-40. So if you go solo, that can be your gift, or double that if you bring a date.

An unofficial poll of 10 of my closest girlfriends revealed they typically spend $50-100 dollars on a wedding gift if there is no travel involved and they are only a guest and not participating in the wedding ceremony at all.

Can I Give More?

Absolutely. Wedding gifts are a discretionary expense and you should only gift something that you can comfortably fit into your budget. With that being said, I know plenty of couple friends who received thousands in cash from all of their middle-aged family members.

As a young person getting your start, (unless you just make piles of cash and are feeling generous) you shouldn't feel obligated to spend like the Joneses.

Feel free to pass it forward in thirty years when your niece, nephew, whoever gets married.

What about If I have to travel?

This one is tricky, as traveling for weddings (especially multiple ones in a season) can get damn expensive.

If it is in your budget then I say, sure, gift a little something, but I know many couples who are simply happy with “the gift of someone's presence.”

With that being said, I generally do gift more in dollar amount to those friends whose weddings are local.

Are Gift Cards Ok?

Heck yes! I like gift cards because they are easy to both give and receive. And if you're traveling, they obviously pack very easily. I think this is a perfectly acceptable practice (although I've had someone disagree with me...) so I'm going to say feel free to give all the gift cards, cash, and checks you like.

Just put them in a nice card and write a sweet note.

Can I go “Off Registry?”

Sure. I would recommend this if you have a super thoughtful gift you'd like to get the couple and you know them fairly well. Sometimes the most thoughtful gifts come from off-registry purchases.

With that said…most couples took time and energy to create their registries.

And it's the easiest way to assure you have a no-fail gift.

I almost always do an AmEx gift card, or a gift card to one of the stores on their registry. They're always well received!

What About if I am In the Bridal Party?

Yes, always get them at least a small something. You know you'd feel slighted if the shoe were on the other foot. I know it can get expensive being a part of someone's big day, but the thought here is really what matters.

What if I am engaged and we receive presents and then call off the wedding?

I don't think anyone would expect you to, but traditionally you are to return the gifts if you haven't opened or used them yet. Besides, why would you want that karma around your house?

Do I have to Bring a Gift to Both the Shower and the Wedding?

I have brought my gift to the shower instead of the wedding, although some consider this tacky. So for those of you who hate showing up anywhere empty-handed, I'd suggest splitting your gift budget in two for both the wedding and the shower. I'd rather have one nice gift than two small ones, but that is just me.

If I receive a gift, how long do I have to write a thank you note?

Three months, according to Real Simple. Typically though, I've received thank you notes as early as TWO DAYS after the wedding, and as late as about four weeks. But please, always do send a thank you note.

I'd like to end all of this by saying that you are under no obligation to gift a couple anything, at any time, although many consider this the right thing to do. Many do it to show happiness and acceptance of a couple's decision to marry. Either way, do what is right and best for you.

I’m here to walk you through what to do and not to do when you are invited to a wedding, specifically how to be a good (read, classy) wedding guest and not someone who just scarfs on free food.

Have other “money etiquette” questions? Get the money manners guide in our financial best life vault! Click here to subscribe and grab six other worksheets while you’re in there!

Your task is to do anything in your power to humor the bride during this tumultuous time.  You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned the groom? Because if he’s smart he will agree with 95% of whatever the bride and her family have decided. Most likely the groom probably just wants a simple party with friends and family, good food and booze, and the minimal amount of fuss (and cost). If he’s smart he knows that there will be a lot of fuss, it won’t be cheap and to just go along for the ride.

Wedding Event Etiquette: Rules to Follow Pre, During, and Post Party!

Pre-wedding:

 

  • Please RSVP as soon as possible. It shows that you’re excited to join in on the festivities! Make sure to note the date in your planner, telephone, and day planner.
  • If you have food allergies! Most weddings have at least one option for people with special dietary needs. If you have extreme allergies let the bride know. If she can’t accommodate your needs then eat before you arrive and go with the vegetarian option. My friend had a guest with special dietary needs (vegetarian/gluten allergy/only drinks soy milk). My friend accommodated that guest and the guest had the nerve to complain to other guests that the option was o.k. WTF?! The option she was served was actually pretty amazing and she got some free food. She should have graciously thanked my friend and kept it simple.
  • Your friend will talk about the wedding-A LOT. If you aren’t married and don’t get it, don’t worry you will do the same when it’s your turn. Just listen attentively while she talks, then practice your ability to tune out once you hit your limit. Smile and nod, ask pointed questions and make sure to share photos, ideas with the bride. I enjoyed doing this but did get a little overwhelmed when my friend was getting married. I’m going to be honest I needed to take breaks from time to time from all of the wedding talk. My bff and I were talking almost every week, several times a week. Luckily, my bff lives in London so it was easy to take breaks from time to time.
  • Be genuinely excited for the couple!! If you can’t manage to be genuine about being happy for the couple, then you should not be going to that wedding. Period.

Wedding Day Etiquette:

 

  • Arrive on time!
  • Don’t drink too much. You don’t want to be the guest who throws up, starts crying, passes out, hits on everyone, falls into the water, or pulls down the decorations accidently.
  • DO NOT complain about the food! Even if it’s bad. Just fuss about it after the wedding (in your house). The bride and groom have gone through considerable expense and time to feed you-for FREE.  Eat it and keep your mouth shut.
  • Dress Comfortably-You may even need a shawl or cardigan in case the venue gets cold. Wear shoes that you can dance in comfortably.  If you don’t, no one wants to hear about your hurting toes. That’s your fault for wearing the wrong shoes.
  • Bring a gift-Do what is comfortable for you. Every couple that I’ve spoken with mentioned that they received gifts that weren’t on their gift registry. If you’re that person (I was) be savvy about what you give (Here's how). Only do this if you really know the couple well.
  • Dance your butt off! Even if you don’t like the music.  Do the Robot, the Running Man, the Electric Slide. Just have fun!
  • Take pictures!!

 

After the wedding:

 

 

Questions and answers to some of the toughest wedding gift etiquette questions- the ultimate guide to wedding gifts your friends and budget will love!

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  • Ellie Jackson
    May 9, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    My husband gave me a Dreamlines sketch of my dress. I have given it twice for a bridal gift and one for a wedding gift. I had the wedding party to go in with me. It was such an intimate gift to give her. She really loved it. I always go personal. Sometimes there are items on the registry that are personal.

  • Lisa
    October 15, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Many people have told me that giving cash was “tacky”. But as a bride-to-be, I would love cash!!! Maybe that’s just me though… haha.

  • Rachael
    October 14, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    For those that want to give shower gifts, my mom does a pretty smart thing. Throughout the year, she purchases holiday themed dishtowels, the kind that you would display on the handle of your oven or on a towel holder in the bathroom. She buys 2-3 at a time (usually from the dollar or clearance bin). This way, when a friend or family member gets married, she has a year’s worth of holiday themed dishtowels to give at the bridal shower.

    It doesn’t cost much, especially as the cost is spread out through the year, and she has a gift for the shower. This also works because a lot of people live together or own homes before their weddings so they’re good on cookware, but they can always use decorative towels!

  • Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way
    October 9, 2014 at 2:01 am

    I had a friend who gave me a wedding invitation and I was shocked because I just received an invitation that they really required a gift amount or $100-150 cash. When I got married, we didn’t demand a money amount like their invitation.

  • Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank
    October 7, 2014 at 5:17 am

    I give more than we will have on plates. 🙂 Most of the time, I give gift cards,which they surely appreciate.

  • Ciel Belle
    October 6, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    We try to stay around the $100 budget (if its a close friend, family or relative) . I have attended a wedding where we did not give a present because we had to travel, but just like what you said our attendance was enough for the couple.

    These are great tips. I have attended so many weddings and kept the same amount or budgeted the same for each

    • Lauren Bowling
      October 9, 2014 at 7:16 am

      I also stay around $100 now that I’m working my big-girl job, but usually a little less if I have to do a lot of travel.

  • Sara
    October 6, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I would at least triple that dollar amount if you’re attending as a couple. When I think paying for your “plate”, I’m including money for the hall rental, the chairs and tables, bar, etc etc. But the whole “everything’s cheaper in the South” probably includes weddings 🙂

    • Lauren Bowling
      October 9, 2014 at 7:15 am

      As stated above…I’m calculating “plate” as in “plate of food,” I know the price per guest is often much, much higher. I justify the cost of the venue, chairs, etc. as costs the bride and groom would assume since they would have the party whether I attended or not.

      But yes, everything is cheaper in the south 🙂

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
    October 6, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Unfortunately most of the weddings I go to are typically closer to $100-200 per plate. So I’m pretty over that rule.

    • Lauren Bowling
      October 9, 2014 at 7:15 am

      NYC is the most expensive place to have a wedding!

  • Kassandra
    October 6, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Most of the weddings I attended when I lived in Montreal and calculating the gift based on the plate per person cost was a standard measure but it was a lot more than $40-$50 🙁

    • Lauren Bowling
      October 9, 2014 at 7:14 am

      I’m calculating “plate” as in “plate of food,” I know the price per guest is often much, much higher. I justify the cost of the venue, chairs, etc. as costs the bride and groom would assume since they would have the party whether I attended or not.

  • Michelle
    October 6, 2014 at 9:28 am

    I’ve never heard of the plates per person rule and I kind of like it!

    • Lauren Bowling
      October 9, 2014 at 7:13 am

      I hadn’t either. My boyfriend told me!

  • Emily @ evolvingPF
    October 6, 2014 at 8:57 am

    Hmm, we have very different ideas of proper etiquette around wedding gift-giving… so interesting! But it is hard to put any kind of rules on gifts are they are supposed to be freely given.

    I’ll just add one more: Do not bring a gift to the wedding itself unless it’s a card! Gifts at the wedding itself need to be received, guarded, packed, and transported, which is a totally unnecessary logistical issue to add to the day. On top of that, many couples marry somewhere other than the city they live in, so the gifts have to be shipped after the wedding. Instead, ship your gift directly from the retailer or drop it off with the bride or groom before or after the wedding.

    • Lauren Bowling
      October 9, 2014 at 7:13 am

      GREAT advice. I’m sure many do not take that into consideration!

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