A friend asked me recently if you have to give a gift when you are going to a destination wedding that is going to cost a LOT- like $1000 a person a lot- to attend. And the answer, like most things about weddings, is a bit complicated.
Technically wedding gifts are always “optional,” but in traditional American culture, it is generally expected that you will give a gift whenever invited to a wedding (whether you can actually attend or not).
However, in traditional American culture, weddings aren’t held on tropical islands that cost thousands of dollars to attend.
So generally, I think you are pretty safe in these situations in considering your “presence” to be your “present.” Doubly especially if the couple states somewhere on their website or other communications that they don’t expect gifts because the wedding itself is so expensive.
However, if you are dealing with the kind of person who might actually be so rude as to inquire where your gift is (um, why are you attending their wedding if they are so awful?), then you can always do a token $20 gift.
Token gifts are especially great if you feel like YOU are going to feel like you are being rude by not giving an actual gift. Just a little something acknowledges the day without adding too much burden to your overall cost.
So basically just go with your gut and assume that anyone you love enough to spend extreme amounts of money to attend their wedding will understand if you don’t want to add an extravagant present on top of that. And if your friends AREN’T that reasonable, maybe consider not being friends with them anymore, because you don’t need that in your life.
We’ve talked about this before, but I have some seen some startling things about wedding gifts on blogs lately, so I thought it would be good to do a refresher.
I was prompted in this by seeing several times over the last few weeks, wedding guests lamenting that the only things left on the wedding registry were super expensive so they were *forced* to spend so much more than they had been planning.
Um, no. My friends, a wedding registry is a suggestion of items that the happy couple would like to have. Granted, if you want to buy them a toaster and they have a specific toaster listed, you should PROBABLY get them that one since it probably has particular features that they like. But you are perfectly well within your rights as a guest to get them something that is NOT on the registry. If that seems too risky for you, EVERYONE likes checks! And honestly, people get all silly about a $25/30 check not being “enough.” But honestly, $25 is still $25 they didn’t have before and they know that their mixing bowl set is $25 so if you had gotten them that, they would still know what you spent. Don’t be embarrassed!
And if they have a honeymoon fund but only set it up to accept certain denominations (ahem, couples, do not do this. Do not start your honeyfund contributions at $75. Start them at like $10 and go up from there.), send a check with the amount you would prefer to give anyway. Honeyfunds are a total racket that deduct a percentage of the gift anyway.
So please, go forth and be joyous without destroying your budget. And honestly, if you are paying for airfare and accommodations for the wedding, your presence is definitely a present and a very sweet card or token gift should be fine. And couples who bitch about it should get over themselves.
FYI I’m getting bored of wedding pictures so have this tattooed Pict lady instead
I have a question regarding wedding gift etiquette. This spring, I will be attending the second wedding of a friend. I was in the first wedding, enjoying her bachelorette party and gifting her at her shower and at the actual wedding.
What is your opinion on an appropriate wedding gift for a second wedding? They are not doing a registry and only have a honeymoon fund. Should my gift for this wedding be equal to that of the first?
Hoping the ladies of Uncommon Courtesy can advise on the appropriate etiquette here.
Second Time at the Rodeo
Peggy Post says that guests who gave gifts for a first marriage have no obligation to give another gift.
Victoria: Okay, so I looked it up, and all the official etiquette people say that you don’t have to give a gift for a second wedding if you gave one for the first.
Jaya: This seems so strange to me. First off, it may be the first wedding for one of the couple.
Victoria: Yeah, and theoretically, they would still get presents from all the 1st wedding person’s friends and family, plus all the new friends. Just not the ones who went to the first wedding. I mean, this does seem to be a holdover from the days when a second wedding was supposed to be very, very small. (Second wedding of the bride anyway! A whole other big problematic issue.)
Jaya: Yeah! It’s working under the assumption that a second wedding is a thing to be kept quiet, and that you still need to be punished for getting divorced. (I assume you’re not chastised for marrying again if you were widowed?)
Victoria: I mean, I don’t think its to be kept “quiet” it’s just that its “unseemly” to have a big to do when all your friends and family have already done that with you. I have never read it as “punishment.” Usually just as, you are generally a bit older and to a degree, the whole poofy white princess thing looks a bit ridiculous.
Jaya: I always sorta read “unseemly” as the flip side to punishment. Like, just saying it’s a bad thing for you to be doing this.
Victoria: Ahh thats so interesting that we have two totally different reads on it! That would never have occurred to me.
Jaya: Maybe not quite punishment, but that you should feel bad if you want anything more than something really small. That it’s still shameful.
Victoria: I mean, I guess I always felt in the olden days, the second wedding was more likely to be of someone who was widowed, not divorced, so the shame doesn’t really come in. It’s more that those huge type of weddings are expensive, and previously your parents were always the host of your wedding, but you’ve been living as an adult for quite a long time and wouldn’t expect your parents to host it again. And not to mention the idea of gifts being to set up the household of a young couple, and a second marriage usually doesn’t need that set up.
Jaya: But yeah, that has completely shifted now, in that probably a lot more second marriages resulting from divorces and also that you can throw a big wedding for yourself. Like it’s just working on a lot of outdated information.
Victoria: Yeah, no I know, I’m just saying this is the root where all the “second wedding” etiquette comes from, for everyone’s edification.
Jaya: Haha totally. Okay, so the letter says nothing about divorce or widowing or even the size of this wedding.
Victoria: True. So for ME, I am not particularly one to give extravagant wedding presents anyway, so I would probably just do what was in the budget and that would be that. But like, if you usually gave like $500 for a wedding present, I would say you would be well within the bounds of reasonableness to give a more token gift the second time.
Jaya: I can’t tell where I stand on this. Like, say it’s a divorce. There’s no guarantee my friend has the $500 thing I gave them the first time around anyway. If they’re just doing a honeymoon fund, chances are they’re pretty casual about the whole affair and don’t need a ton of gifts. But I’d also hate my friend to start their marriage thinking I somehow wasn’t as enthusiastic about it this time around.
Victoria: Lol well I kind of think it’s on the couple to not assume that the size of the gift pertains to the enthusiasm about their marriage. You know? Like, it’s not about that. And it sounds like she was in the wedding last time, did the whole bachelorette AND shower and the whole thing. That is a TON of money that you’ve given to your friend already
Jaya: Oh totally, I guess it depends on who the “toning down” is coming from. I feel like if I ever had a second marriage I’d be like, fuck it, let’s elope. But I would hate to ever be in that position wanting a large, fun wedding and having everyone around me telling me it’s bad form. Or everyone to be like “well we would have gotten you something, but we already did the first time…”
Victoria: I guess I just kind of think it’s a bit outrageous to expect that kind of generosity from your friends twice (or three times? or four times?). You know? Like, it’s very unkind. I mean, I am on board with hosting whatever kind of party you want.
Jaya: It probably depends on who you are. if you’re the type of person to use a wedding, or any event, to milk gifts out of your friends then I probably don’t wanna give you that much anyway. But hey, if you’ve had a rough time and are entering a second marriage and want a big, fun party, even if you’ve already had a big, fun party, then yeah I wanna get you something.
Victoria: Yeah, totally! And I actually really think you should at least get something to mark the occasion.
Jaya: I don’t know, I see a lot of people feeling ashamed to celebrate a second marriage at all. And I just wouldn’t want to add to that feeling.
Victoria: :(, I guess I have never really gotten that impression from (okay the limited number of) people I know who got remarried. I mean, I guess it ties into my feelings about extravagant wedding gifts anyway just being sort of unnecessary and getting a bit out of hand.
Jaya: Absolutely, and ongoing wedding extravagance is a whole issue in and of itself.Okay but anyway back to the present, I totally think she can get something equal to whatever she got her friend the first time, if she wants, or donate that much to the honeymoon fund.
Victoria: I mean, I think she can do whatever she feels is best, basically. Like she is within bounds of etiquette to do little or nothing, but it’s also perfectly fine to do as much as she wants. And it is probably nicer to do something rather than nothing. And if they have a honeymoon fund, I would definitely go with that rather than trying to pick out a physical gift since by not registering they are hinting that they would prefer not to get physical gifts.
I recently came across your post on giving wedding gifts, which advises sending a gift “around 1-3 months before the wedding.” What happens when I send the gift two months out (because theres not a lot left on the registry), and they very quickly follow with a Thank You note saying it was a “VERY generous engagement gift.” But, it was their wedding gift! So obnoxious! How do I handle this?
Not So Gifted
The Emily Post Institute says engagement gifts are neither “obligatory nor expected,” but that if they are given, they’re often given at an engagement party. The Knot also specifies that these parties should happen no more than three months after the couple has gotten engaged, likely to avoid confusions like this.
Victoria: HAHAHAHA omg. People are dumb is the answer. You don’t get an engagement gift, and if you were to get one, it would be immediately.
Jaya: This is totally a symptopm of long engagements right? Like, this would not happen if we had 3-4 month engagements.
Victoria: Yeah, although, I suppose that would be more confusing if there’s less time between the wedding and engagement.
Jaya: Maybe. I don’t know, it just seems like now engagement gifts are an expectation. I got a few, and they were all lovely, but I also had it in my head that if this was the only gift I got from that person it’d be totally fine!
Victoria: The point is engagement gifts are not to be expected- like you said, you got a few- that’s an exception rather than a rule.
Jaya: The writer certainly does not have to explain themselves. You bought them a generous gift, and now just go to the wedding and have fun. If they ask about an wedding gift that is incredibly rude, but if that happens you can explain the gift you got them was the wedding gift.
Victoria: Yeah, they will figure it out when they don’t get another gift. I suppose, if you were close to the person, you could call them up and be like “oh darling, how droll, you thought your wedding gift was an engagement present- too funny! See you at the wedding.” (I have been reading a British book about the 20s so this is how I speak now.) (Ed: It’s Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and it’s amazing!)
I’ve saved my post about gifts and gift registries for last because they are the least important part of your wedding. Yet somehow they get quite a lot of attention on etiquette sites and in the news.
Here’s the thing, yes you are going to get gifts because that is what is done. However, gifts for weddings are completely optional, the amount a guest spends on their gift is up to them (I don’t ever want to hear the words “cover your plate” coming out of the mouth of a couple about their own wedding), AND what a guest chooses to give you is also up them.
Back in the day, a bride would go down to the department store in her hometown and pick out a china pattern and a silver pattern (this means the design on your knives and forks, btw). The store would note it down and when people came in to buy the bride a gift, the store could tell them what patterns she had chosen and they could select a place setting or two and be on their way. And that was the beginning of registries.
Now, you can register for anything your little heart desires. This is great! Not everyone needs 12 settings of Wedgewood china and Waterford crystal. However it also creates some confusion about what a registry really is.
A registry is a list of IDEAS. It can also be somewhat helpful in preventing a couple from receiving 5 toasters (has this really ever happened? Why is the example always toasters? ED NOTE: I got two waffle irons! No toasters yet -Jaya). A registry is not a list of demands or a shopping list for guests to pick from. Guests can absolutely get you things that aren’t on your registry.
Now if you are going to set one up, try to come up with items in a range of prices and try to come up with enough items that guests feel like they have some options.
Every day it seems that a new entrepreneurial has created a new way to do online registries. A popular version is the honeymoon registry. While many of your elderly relatives might be heartily offended by these types of registries, they are growing in popularity and are now generally accepted even by etiquette experts (such as the Emily Post Institute). However, there are good ways and bad ways to do a honeymoon registry.
A good way is to list a number of experiences you want to enjoy on the honeymoon- things that feel like real gifts, not just chipping in for airfare. Then, if you receive your “massage on the beach” or whatever, you should do you best to actually do that activity, even though the honeymoon registry company basically just gives you a big check at the end.
A bad way to do it is to just have a general fund that all the guests deposit money into- feels more like you are collecting cash rather than receiving gifts. You should also do what you can to make sure any fees are paid directly by you rather than passing them on to your guests.
Another new registry type is where you list the things you want and guests contribute money to those items through the site. For example, you want a KitchenAid Mixer (it’s not a registry without a KitchenAid, amirite?), but you know that no one will be able to buy you one for $400. So you split it up and ask for 4 gifts of $100 each for the mixer. This is pretty cool! Just like chipping in for a group gift but with less hassle. However, if you are asking for all this stuff, you should do your best to actually buy the things you are asking for when you get your big check at the end. If you are using these registries to trick your guests into giving you cash when they think they are buying you a mixer that you will bake Christmas cookies for years with, then that is extremely shady and you shouldn’t be doing it.
Asking For Cash
That brings me to my next point, cash. Cash is great, everyone loves it! It’s so great that everyone already knows you might like it, so you don’t need to ask for it. I mean think about it, here’s this list of items you might like for your newly wedded home and then at the bottom, you are like, “cash is good too!” Umm, duh.
However, you don’t have to despair. You can get the word around by word of mouth- tell your mother, tell your partner’s mother, tell your bridal party. And if someone ASKS you what you want, it’s totally fine to say “oh we are saving up for a house, so we would really love some money for that, but anything you want to give us is great!” It just doesn’t belong on a list. And if you don’t make a registry, many people will infer that you would prefer cash (though you might end up with some really hideous and/or memorable gifts as well.)
Getting the Word Out
So you’ve made this carefully curated registry. Now how do you let everyone know about it? Traditionally, it was all spread by word of mouth. Your aunt would call up your mom and ask her where you were registered and your mom would tell her. This still works! And again, if someone asks you where you are registered, you can tell them.
The one thing you do not want to do is include any mention of gifts or registries on the invitation. The invitation is all about wanting the guest to come share your day, not about what they are going to give you. This includes “no gifts please,” the point is to not talk about gifts, even not wanting them.
A really excellent place for registry information is on your wedding website, under its own discreet link. This creates a polite layer in which the guest is seeking out information that they want, you are not waving it in their face telling them to buy you stuff.
The Gifts Start Rolling In
It might surprise you at how soon after you announce your engagement that gifts start showing up at your door, so be prepared.
It is traditional that you don’t use your wedding gifts until after the wedding. The reason for this is that, if something should happen and the wedding is called off, those gifts must be returned to the giver!
Make sure you keep track of who sent you what- spreadsheets are great for this! This way makes it easier to send thank you notes.
Thank You Notes
Handwritten thank you notes are absolutely mandatory for wedding gifts. Even if you called them or thanked them in person, you still need to send a note. Wedding gift giving is a sort of formalized gift giving tradition that is basically required of all your guests. Therefore it deserves a formal thank you in return.
For gifts that arrive prior to your wedding, you want to send out a thank you within 2-3 weeks of receiving the gift (so they know it arrived safely!). DO NOT wait until after your wedding to send these notes. You are going to want to break up the note writing as much as possible so you don’t have to do 100 at once!
For anything that arrives shortly before your wedding, on the day, or afterwards, you only have 3-4 months tops to get them done. A year is a MYTH. Just do it and you can enjoy married life without the Sword of Thank You Notes Yet To Be Written hanging over your head.
I hope you all have enjoyed my series on How to Throw a Perfectly Polite Wedding. Be sure to check out all the earlier posts as well!