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Can We Spend Registry Gift Money on Something Else?

AAPW: Is it ever okay to let people think they're buying something that they're not?

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Q: My fiancé and I have been living together for the last decade. We like nice stuff, we’re both working professionals, and over the years we’ve set up a great home, so overall we feel like we have everything we need. We were never planning on having a wedding. A couple of years ago we started to reconsider, and now we’re two and a half months out from our two hundred-plus person wedding. We’re also pretty financially conservative and place a very high value on experiences over stuff.

But we also know that some people like to do gifts rather than cash, and my fiancé’s family is especially traditional. So we went ahead and set up one of those universal gift registries that basically collects the cash for you, checks that item off your posted registry, and then you cash out all the funds they collected and go and purchase the stuff yourself.

We originally did this so we could have options in case we changed our minds. But now that people have started actually buying us gifts from the registry, we’re not sure what to do. If someone thinks they’re buying us a nice serving platter from our registry, but in reality we turn around and use those funds for something else (say a trip to Hawaii or the down-payment on a house), are we crossing the line in not honoring their gift? And do we tell our guests what we’re doing? Granted, all the things that we registered for are legit things that we thought would be nice to have, but since we’ve set up our registry in this way it feels like WE are the ones actually spending the money on the gifts, and it’s really hard for us to actually consider spending that money on stuff that we haven’t already had a need for. Is taking the cash instead of the gift any different than receiving and then returning an item?

Right now our plan is to wait and see what the full registry looks like after the wedding is over, but we want to start writing thank you notes now (to get a jump start) and out of all of our pre-wedding conversations, this is the one that has us both the most befuddled.

—Registered and Confused

A: Dear RAC,

Don’t do it. While I understand the urge, something about this idea feels really false and a little gross.

Your original intention was to give folks who prefer tangible gifts an outlet. So skipping the entire tangible gift part goes against the whole point. If you’re going to just take the money anyway, why register at all? So people incorrectly think they’re giving you a gift? Ta-da, we find ourselves at the dishonest part.

You ask if taking the cash isn’t the same as just secretly returning the item and I agree that yeah, it basically is. But (at least in the case of registries) most folks don’t return a gift because they decide they’d like money instead. Usually there’s a reason—like getting two of something, or mistakenly receiving the wrong color. This isn’t like that. This is more like registering for a bunch of things you don’t want with the sole intention of taking everything back to the store and cashing out.

You mention being frugal-minded, and I get that. It’s one thing to get a fancy, pretty gift from someone, and a totally different idea to take money and go buy yourself a fancy, pretty thing. So change your mindset about it. You’re not being given money, you’re being given gifts. Tangible gifts may not be your thing, but you may find that they’re a really nice way to keep reminders of your wedding and your awesome friends around your house in everyday life.

And don’t worry. Most people know that cash is a great wedding present. You might be pleasantly surprised by the number of gifts that arrive in envelopes.


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