Madeline: Gift Horses

I thought, when I got married, that I would skip the gifts. Brandon and I weren’t doing any of the usual ceremonies. We weren’t starting a new life from scratch—we already lived together. We weren’t even upgrading. The Ikea plates that we own will do us fine until we leave New York City, at which point we can pass them on and buy a new set when we get there—wherever “there” turns out to be.

But then, you know, gifts! Plus all the more mature stuff Meg says in the book about letting people enjoy contributing. But actually, gifts!

We opted for a honeymoon registry on Wanderable. Were there relatives who were horrified? Sure. The dreaded word “tacky” hung over the whole enterprise. We had awkward conversations about how much money it’s OK to ask for, because even though the idea is that guests give you an experience, you’re still the one putting on the price tag (and subsequently spending the money however you wish).  My mother was convinced it was only acceptable to ask for $10 at a time. We cautiously sent around the link including caveats and get-out clauses. Friends and family had already been so helpful during the planning process; so many of the folks we know are broke. Prefer to give stuff? We love stuff!

Our guests’ generosity was so incredible that it’s one of the most eye-opening and memorable parts of the wedding. We not only made our entire honeymoon budget, we actually overshot. Some people brought stuff—beautiful stuff—so the next day felt like Christmas morning, with bonus ginger cookies in the shape of moustaches. And an amazing number of people found other ways to bless the proceedings. Our photographer was a friend who donated his time and skills. My sister made us a painting. Another friend, Kyle, is a pop-up artist, and created the card pictures. Who else thinks he should go into invite business?

We’re still calculating when I can take enough time off for the honeymoon. For those expecting wedding-planning withdrawal after the big day, I recommend delaying your honeymoon so that your inner executive still has a task to sink her teeth into. Looking forward is part of the fun!

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  • Melissa

    I’ve been so curious about these registries. I always assumed they were “tacky” but now that I am in the midst of planning my wedding with my fiance, they are looking more and more practical. We have lived together for a couple years now (in a tiny, 50s, itty-bitty, apartment) and have all the things we need and no room for things we don’t. I believe my FMIL would have a conniption….but I’m putting this idea on the table.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • KB

      Me too! I was raised with the notion that asking for money is tacky, but, really, isn’t the whole concept of a gift registry kind of tacky? “Here is a list of what is acceptable for you to give us.” We’re contemplating a honeymoon registry where you can purchase massages or gas money for the rental car or swims with dolphins and the like.

  • Alison

    I love what you said about delaying the honeymoon. My fiance and I are forced into delaying the honeymoon for financial and work reasons, and I was really sad, but I like the perspective of looking at it from a “something else to plan” and something to look forward to. Can’t wait to hear about your adventures!

    • As part of a couple who was going to take a belated honeymoon and still hasn’t…I would say that:
      1) I would suggest a day or two cut off from normal life, even if that means a special day or two at home after the wedding where you do not answer the phone or emails, and
      2) If you haven’t already chosen dates and made some arrangements for the honeymoon, I would say that doing that might be a good idea to make it more real and less optional…and like you said, to look forward to it! We still haven’t taken our actual envisioned honeymoon (now close to 3 years later). Though we still plan too, but it’s not going to fulfill that need after a wedding to get away to rest and regroup, which I imagine honeymoons are great for. For us, maybe our “honeymoon” will have to be re-framed as an anniversary trip… :)

  • Laura

    We are using Wedding Republic ( , and so far the feedback has been great. People love the flexibility (ours allows us to break items into puzzle pieces – or more manageable price points) and the creativity of it. It feels like they’re giving you a tangible gift, but you get the cash in the end to make it work how you want for the honeymoon, or whatever else you want to use it for.

    There will always be that great aunt or grandmother who still insists on buying you china or something, but for the vast majority, people have seemed to like our registry!

  • marbella

    We had no need of more stuff after 9 years together, and used a honeymoon registry. It was wonderful, almost everyone used it, and we loved being on our honeymoon knowing our guests had sent us there. We also honeymooned 8 months after the wedding and it was a great feeling having something to look forward to after all the craziness of the wedding.

  • Karen

    I really like this idea of taking the honeymoon sometime after the wedding. I can see how this would relieve the post wedding stress.

  • I’m entering a commuter marriage and think the “honeymoon”/visit registry is an awesome idea that I hadn’t entertained until now. Thanks, APW!

  • Megan

    Crap. I was going to try to skip the registry too. We’re doing a minimalist wedding: a small family-only ceremony at city hall, followed by party with friends at a bar at night. I was thinking it was ok not to do a registry if people aren’t being invited to the ceremony, but I’m thinking this post is too true.

    I just talked to my friend from far away who I invited. I was emphasizing how not-big-of-a-deal her coming was, I know it’s a Monday, I’d love to see her at our family’s potluck back home later if she can’t get off work to make it up here for the day, there’s no need to give a gift. And she was like, “Of course I’m coming. No gift? Fat chance!”

    • Frankie

      Are you me?! We’re doing the same thing this weekend! Family-only ceremony in our backyard followed by a party for more at a bar.

      I also felt weird and uncomfortable about the registry – what right did we have to ASK for gifts when we’ve been together forever and owned a home together for 3+ years?! While I would never attend a wedding ceremony/reception/celebration without a gift, I was somehow insistent that no one do the same for us. I should have known no one would accept our “please no gifts” mantra….

      So at the behest of aunts and my mom, we bit the bullet and registered. We’ll see how it all pans out. 5 days to go!

  • SarahToo

    As we were on a really tight budget, it was looking like we couldn’t afford a honeymoon…but then we decided to ask our guests for donations towards our “honeymoon fund” in lieu of gifts. At first we looked for an online service (ranging from IndieGogo to more wedding-related sites) but most of them took a pretty big cut (ranging from 5%-20%) and lots of our family/ older friends were uncomfortable with the idea of sending money online. In the end we simply asked people to mail us a cheque or bring their donation to the wedding and deposit it in our card box. I fretted a bit about it being tacky to ask for money in such a bald-faced way, but nobody seemed to mind, and people were incredibly generous. Because it was optional, and we didn’t specify what amount we were looking for, people only gave if they were comfortable doing so, and it was up to them what size their donation would be. In the end we managed to cover the cost of our (low budget) honeymoon, and had a little left over which helped us to pay for a couple of unexpected wedding expenses that had popped up. Most importantly, we felt in awe of the generosity and caring of our friends, who stepped up and supported us so enthusiastically when we asked them.

  • kcaudad

    The only thing that I do NOT like about these online registries is that they often just give the wedding couple the money and the couple can spend it however they want. If I was a guest and thought that I was getting them an excursion to ‘swim with the dolphins’ on their honeymoon; but then they just got the $$ and bought some shirts, I would be annoyed! If I wanted to give $$ then I would have just written a check in the first place!

    • Another Kate

      Exactly. They’re cash registries disguised as actually giving you a gift (dinner on the beach, etc), and that’s where the “tacky” reputation comes in, I think. Also, they take a percentage of your guest’s gift. If a couple would prefer cash to physical gifts, I think the best solution is just to create a very small registry at a store of their choosing (there’s gotta be a few things they’d want to upgrade), and that’s it. People will get that hint that you want cash.

    • Ali

      I put some things on our HoneyFund that we ended up not being able to do. Woops…. It wasnt on purpose, our plans just changed during the course of the trip. I guess I will just have to see when I write the Thank You cards how not to lie, but I dont think I need to go in this long explanation about why we ended up not doing it. Its only like 3 or 4 things.

      Also HoneyFund didnt take any percentge, but Pay Pal did. I dont really mind because it allowed people not living in the US to give us money which wouldnt have otherwise been possible.

      Also I started the Honeyfund with just plain donations in general, but people seemed to like donating to actual gifts even more.

      I also had a small Amazon registry option for the people who were not into the Honeyfund, but the majority of people just gave us cash at the wedding.

    • Sarah

      I hear your discomfort with spending the money on things other than those specified by the online registry. My fiance and I are using Honeyfund (which does not take a cut of the gifts) and I am planning on taking pictures from our honeymoon to make thank you postcards for our guests (i.e. you gave us money for a kayak excursion? your post card will be a photograph of us out on the water). Better yet for them, because we’re delaying our honeymoon by several months, they’ll get two thank-yous. One right away and the post card thank you after the honeymoon. I think there are definitely creative ways to make sure your guests know how much you appreciate their contribution and to share those memories with them (because for us, that’s the idea, they’re giving us memories).

  • Leigh Ann

    We did a honeymoon registry for our wedding (we wanted to go to Italy, where we met), and of course some of the older generation clucked. But we also had mixed gender bride-and-groom parties (my side had more people than my husband’s side) and a nonreligious ceremony with a friend officiating, so there was already some clucking going on. Asking for a honeymoon instead of gifts seems weird now, but the norms are changing all the time. And plenty of couples already have well-stocked lives by the time they get married.

    I used, which was fine. But a lot of people don’t like to/know how to use websites and just ended up writing checks, so the website didn’t end up being all that functional. If I had it to do over I would just do the box at the wedding like Sarahtoo. :)

  • Ambi

    In order to keep the peace with my future in-laws, a honeymoon registry is out of the question for us, unfortunately (like many people have mentioned here, outspoken and opinionated older relatives sometimes don’t approve, and in our case, my guy’s mom would never let us hear the end of it), BUT I want to say that as a guest, I really love the ease and convenience of being able to give a wedding gift this way.

  • Jessica

    I used to like honeymoon registries until I found out how they actually work, as someone else mentioned. First, most (if not all) take a percentage for themselves. So if a guest wanted to put $100 toward something, most likely you’re seeing about $92 of that. If you just give them a check in an envelope, they actually get the full amount.

    Beyond that, I always thought if I purchased a ziplining excursion, it would either be put aside for use for that (like in voucher form) or I would somehow be directed to that specific website and actually book the thing. Not true. The couple just gets sent a check in the mail that they can use for whatever, possibly not even the intended ziplining. If I wanted to give cash, I would’ve given cash and not gone through a website.

    • ferrous

      I’m just now discovering how honeymoon registries work, reading this thread, and I do not feel good. In an uncomfortable way, I feel lied to (no wonder I haven’t seen any European pics/check-ins on fb, after over a year). I would much rather have written my friend a check, after a straight request for money. Good to know; next time I see a honeymoon registry I’ll just bring cash.

    • Samantha

      My fiance and I are planning on using a honeymoon registry. We realize that it doesn’t set you up with a voucher or link you to booking the excursion, you have to plan your own honeymoon. So we will plan our honeymoon including fun things we want to do at our destination and then the registry is a way to visually break down the trip into excursions and events. For example, if we are setting up our Italian honeymoon and we want to go on a gondola ride we will include that gondola ride on our registry and then do it, because we put it there in the first place. You can customize the trips that are in these registries and make your own. They are just a way to visually set up”gifts” for people to get you. We also plan to do what SARAH says above and take a photo of us enjoying each person’s “gift” that way they feel like they’ve participated in your honeymoon, rather than just giving $100 or however much and not knowing what you use it for (of course you can just tell them in your TY note as well). The registry is not a trick unless the people using it are treating as a way to just get cash. If that is the case then it’s the couple’s fault for being dishonest.

  • Jashshea

    I love my honeymoon registry. I have two other store front registries (300 guests) with some everyday kitchen items and some very, ahem, particular (read: $$$) kitchen items. If people don’t want to contribute to the fund, that’s fine, they have other options (which include the option to not give us anything). There’s been some generalized clucking about it (mostly around “people like to buy things that you open in front of them*”) but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time it’s that Cluckers gon’ Cluck.

    *Per previous conversations about showers and opening presents in front of crowds: Not a fan, wish I didn’t have to do it, especially when I’m having a shower 1,000 miles away from home.

    • Wedding gifts aren’t generally opened at the wedding or in front of the guests, though. I’ve never understood it when people use that as a reason for not liking a honeymoon type registry.

      • JASHSHEA

        Yup. But for some reason that sort of logic is abandoned at “showers.”


  • ElisabethJoanne

    I 100% agree that “Looking forward is part of the fun.”

    While I am slowly making the plans I need to make so I can have higher goals for my wedding day than “Not the worst day of my life,” I have embraced the planning because I know it’s the more fun part for me. And not just the choosing-colors, finding-a-dress stuff that “supposed to be” fun, but the updating the budget and tweaking the timelines stuff, too, ’cause I’m weird like that.

    As for monetary registries: The church picnic was a few weeks ago. My future husband, a good friend, and I were sitting with the Rector’s stepson-in-law. He was talking about his niece’s upcoming wedding and asked me if I was “availing myself of all the technologies available to you now.” He described maybe a honeymoon registry, maybe a help-us-pay-for-the-wedding-registry. My wonderful, tactful friend [tact can be something lacking among little old church ladies] looked at me with concern and said something like, “That’s very interesting, but you need to know the people involved!” She said she hadn’t even checked her email in months.

    I’d say most of our guest list does not buy things like sheets and towels online. They’ve never seen an e-vite. Of course, our Macy’s and Sur la Table registries are mostly available online, but we registered in-store to make sure things were available in-store, for the sake of the little old ladies at church.

  • Lauren

    I’ve never been to a wedding where they used a honeymoon site as a registry, but I’ve read about it often. I don’t think I’d use it as a guest, knowing that the couple won’t get the full amount I spent. I’d rather buy a gift or give cash or a check.

    We invited 24 guests to our wedding (four friends and the rest were family) and did not have a registry of any kind.

  • Emily

    I was going to use HoneyFund, but my mom kept asserting the “tackiness” of it so I didn’t bother for the sake of keeping the peace. We went the traditional route with our registry, but tried to only register for items we really liked, needed (including things that badly needed replacing), and that would last us a long time. I received most gifts at my shower, and we received almost exclusively money at our wedding. This may have been due to the fact that our wedding took place in my hometown, but we live hundreds of miles away and do not have a car, so the guests may have figured that it was more convienent. Anyway, we ended up using some of the money to have a rocking honeymoon, since we did not need anything else, and put the rest in savings. I think even though it is “tacky” to ask for it, most guests are choosing the cash/check/gift card route these days.

  • Newtie

    I didn’t register for my wedding and it worked out really well. Many people decided to give us things to put toward our honeymoon, and everyone knows we have a tiny apartment and not a lot of space, so even when people got us household things they got things that could fit seamlessly into our lives. And by not registering, people who really couldn’t afford to get us anything felt more comfortable not getting us anything. No one was confused or stressed out by the lack of registry – after all, almost all of them have bought presents for me before at one point or another, and all of them have either had their own wedding and remembered what the best gifts were, or had been to enough weddings to know what kind of gift they wanted to give. I was completely surprised at how easy the whole thing was – and, admittedly, it was SO much fun to open gifts when I didn’t know what was inside them! It seemed like a really lovely practice, to just accept what was given to us with love without controlling it (much like how our whole wedding turned out).

    I don’t think registries are bad and I don’t think alternative registries are bad, but if anyone’s feeling overwhelmed, there’s always the option of just not registering. I know every family/situation is different, but in my experience adult guests are quite capable of dealing very harmoniously with a lack of registry.

    • Emma

      I completely agree with this post, and there should be more from this angle on this blog. All the blogs and other wedding-paraphernalia insist that you have to have a gift list. This website – love it though I do – always describes how not having a gift list will leave your guests in emotional turmoil. I think we need to credit guests with a bit more intelligence than that.

      My partner and I felt very uncomfortable about registering for presents, and decided in the end that we didn’t need a gift list. We get married in 23 days and so far haven’t regretted our decision at all – and no one has expressed any emotional turmoil. In fact, a number of guests have expressed how nice it is that we’re letting them chose for themselves! We reckon that if our guests want to get us something, they’ll chose us something nice. And if it’s not nice – well, we’ll have just got married so we won’t give a damn if we get a weird coloured toaster.

      If registering for gifts feels right, then fine. But if you’re not comfortable with the idea of asking for stuff and/or money, then despite what a lot of people say, then that’s fine too.

      • Keeley

        I totally agree. The idea of creating a registry really stumps me as we like to buy vintage/used household items most of the time and don’t have a list of stuff we want from any particular store. Some friends of mine did a honeymoon registry and I thought it was awesome but I haven’t decided if I want to do it for our wedding. I really like the idea of just letting people decide what they want to do. I figure if people ask us what we want we’ll think of something!

  • Jess

    I need a bit of help on this issue too. I’m having a wedding in a foreign country (it’s not a destination wedding; my partner and I live overseas). I’ve been consumed by guilt about asking for gifts since everyone is shelling out so much money just to come see us get married; but then again, don’t we deserve the same gifts any couple would receive regardless of the fact that we live far away from the majority of the guests?

    I’ve read in many forums about guests being offended at the idea of having to give a gift on top of their travel expenses, so we set up a honeymoon registry with the idea that guests could contribute any amount, even $1. We already have all the material items we could want, and we definitely don’t want guests hauling items or even large amounts of cash overseas. I also don’t want them running around looking for ATMs or currency exchanges to try and give us a gift in our local currency. We want it to be easy for our guests, and for us.

    The other problem that complicates things is that for various reasons, we don’t know when or where we’ll be able to take our honeymoon. We’re definitely going to have one, but we can’t do the normal registries that allow the guests to buy specific “experiences” that the couple would like to do on their trip, because we definitely don’t want to “mislead” guests or have them buy an experience that we decide not to do later.

    Any advice? How would you feel if you were a guest? I’m totally lost on this.

    • Madeline

      I live overseas myself so I totally sympathize. We simply said it on our invites–please don’t shell out if you’ve spent a fortune to attend. Some people did anyway, others didn’t. I will say that our lowest amount was $10 and everybody opted for something more substantial. Someone even did the currency exchange for us, and sent dollars, even though they weren’t coming over for the event! We would *never* have asked anyone to do this, let alone expected it, and all we could do was be effusive in our thanks.

      I hear what people are saying about the difficulty when it comes to spending money on a specific experience. Some websites allow guests to pay a hotel or a service provider directly so that they can be sure their money goes where they hope it will. Personally, we chose one with more flexibility and I did not get the sense from a single guest that they would be checking up on how we spend it! I mean–say we spend the money on something else we really need. Is that so bad? As a frequent wedding guest myself I would never begrudge anyone that choice.

      I recommend choosing a registry that lets you be creative. Ask guests for contributions to “a hotel by a beach” or “air miles.” And don’t underestimate your guests. If they give, it is because they love you and they want to. Finding a way to send sincere thanks is more important than the time you spend worrying about whether they feel obligated.

      Good luck!

      • Amy March

        I struggle with this because I don’t particularly care for the honeymoon registry, but have no issue just giving cash, And I think this post sums up why- if I just wanted to give unrestricted cash I would- if they honeymoon registry is an alternative to my preference of giving something tangible, I’d really rather it actually go to something tangible. If it isn’t, then I don’t see why having a honeymoon registry versus a small traditional registry and a “oh we really don’t need any more things” when asked is necessary.

      • Another Kate

        Right, but by not having a honeymoon registry at all, then people can just give you cash, which is the ultimate in flexibility, without anyone feeling like they’ve been misled. Just because they’re not going to be checking up on it doesn’t make it right. I don’t think anyone would begrudge a couple using cash to do whatever they want with, but they certainly might be irritated to find out that the “dolphin swim” was really just cash (with a percentage taken out). If someone isn’t the type to give cash as a wedding gift in the first place (most people in my circles only get/give cash at weddings, but I know that different areas are different), then I think they especially would be the type that might be irritated to find out how these honeymoon registries work.

  • MDBethann

    I think, but am not sure, that if you do the honeymoon registry through your travel agent, there aren’t any “cuts” and the gift actually goes towards what you think you are giving them. It may also depend on the travel agent, but it is something to look into.

  • Elizabeth

    We did not have a honeymoon registry, but we did go a less traditional route. We registered at myregistry, which was great. We were able to request everything from beer of the month clubs, to nice sheets, to a bookshelf. I would recommend it to anyone.

    Also, to all you broke beides out there (I am now just a broke married person) I just found out that the sheets we registered for, Thomas Lee, are doing a giveaway. They are THE BEST sheets-