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Ask Team Practical: Wedding Gifts (When You’re Broke)

How much do I spend? What do I buy?

Q: I’m writing as a wedding guest with two questions about gifts and registries.

One: How much do you expect your guests to spend on gifts? When I was younger, some recently married friends told me it was expected for wedding guests to spend at least $100 per person on gifts (i.e. if you bring a date, spend $200). I have been to many weddings since then and have used it as my guide. However, I only make about $20,000 a year, and with several weddings in a season, that can add up to a serious financial burden to me, especially if I’m also traveling to the weddings.

As actual brides and grooms, what do you honestly expect? Did you feel snubbed if someone didn’t spend much on your gift?

Two: I’m curious what gifts people found to be most and least useful or meaningful, and how you felt about people getting you things NOT on your registry. To be totally honest, I have always found registries to be a wee bit tacky, especially in an age where everyone marries late and has been keeping house for years. Reading this blog has helped me appreciate why they are valuable or meaningful, but I still feel a little weird about them. Especially because sometimes I don’t approve of the things being asked for… maybe I don’t think it’s something they will really use, or they’re asking for a version of something that’s way too expensive, or they’re asking for something I don’t believe in ethically.

When my friends started getting married, I wanted to give them all the most meaningful handmade gifts to show how much I loved them. But ultimately, I’m not crafty. I tried taking a quilting class to make a wedding gift, but never finished the quilt. Giving my friends a set of measuring cups just seems so unimaginative and so unappreciative of how awesome they are. Recently I’ve started trying to buy gifts that are locally handmade and beautiful—I have a friend who makes beautiful wooden cutting boards, which are now my go-to. But now I worry that I’m being arrogant and unhelpful by shopping off the registry. I just can’t win! What should I do??

Anonymous

A: Dear Anonymous,

You’re overthinking it.

I can’t blame you, really. When it comes to weddings, we all get this idea in our heads that there’s a ton of etiquette and tradition that all adds up to an endless list of “musts.” But gift-giving? It’s just a matter of giving a gift. You care about someone, are happy for them, want to celebrate with them, so you give them something appropriate to your relationship and your budget. The end. I know, I know. Depending on where you live and what your family culture is like, you’ll hear random, arbitrary rules like “$100 per person,” or “the cost of your plate” (which… how do you know?) or my favorite go-to, “the cost of a nice dinner for two” (I really like imagining my friends going out to dinner with my money). But the reality is: how much you spend depends on how much you want to spend, and how much you can. A wedding gift isn’t a debt you owe.

Of course you always feel badly when you want to give your friends lavish and luxurious gifts and you just can’t. Just try to remind yourself that you don’t need to feel badly. There’s no rulebook saying you’re doing it wrong.

Even the registry is just like any old time someone writes you a quick list of gifts they’d like for their birthday or holiday or whatever. They jot down a couple of ideas, but that doesn’t mean they’re mandating that you MUST buy something on this list (or at least they shouldn’t be). Only unlike a birthday list, registries are less about, “I want to make sure I get an ice cream scoop!” and more about, “I want to make sure I don’t get eighteen ice cream scoops.” Rather than seeing registries as some tacky demand for expensive housewares, consider them as a sort of guide so four different aunts don’t buy the same crockpot.

If you do decide to buy something on the registry, remember: boring gifts aren’t boring if people need them and want them and have ASKED FOR THEM. I’ll admit, I have this argument with my dad every Christmas when he asks for blank notebooks and socks. Every. Year. There’s no fun or excitement in buying him this crap! But I always relent, because I know he’ll use them and like them simply because he said he wants them. If your friends need measuring cups, they’ll be thrilled to get measuring cups. Honest.

Also, Meg chimes in that one of her most treasured gifts was (you’ll never believe it) a set of measuring cups they received at their wedding. She thinks of their sweet (very broke at the time) friend every time she uses them, because said friend scrimped and saved and really meant that gift. I can attest that though it may seem silly, whenever I use little items around the house, I fondly remember the loved ones at my wedding.

So, get them whatever your heart desires. There are legends of couples who grow irate over gifts they deem unworthy. I guess those folks exist, I just don’t know ’em (at least I hope I don’t). But rest assured that Emily Post and Miss Manners are not on their side. Gift giving is about showing your loved ones you’re happy for them. It’s not about a checklist or a set of rules or standards.

Team Practical, how do you decide what to give as a wedding gift? Were there any gifts you’ve received that were real stinkers?

Photo by Jessica Schilling.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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