Wedding gift etiquette has changed quite a bit in the last several decades, but is now on the fast track to modernization thanks to the COVID pandemic that uprooted nearly every aspect of life as we knew it. This is especially true when it comes to what is the “standard” for weddings, as micro weddings and virtual attendances slowly become the norm.
“Before COVID, couples were already leaning towards more nontraditional celebrations, leaning away from banquet halls and barns and towards museums, Harry Potter themes, mountain weddings, and minimonies,” notes Kathryn Cooper, photographer and owner of Kathryn Cooper Weddings in New York and California. She’s also seeing far more elopements than ever before. This includes last-minute pop-up weddings and some couples opting to forgo the traditional wedding entirely. Instead, they’re getting married on a tropical island with just close friends and family.
On the flip side, Brittany Barbosa, founder and creative and editorial director at Fawn & Sable, has noticed that certain etiquette actions have become heightened in times like these. Most notably the notion of ensuring that guests RSVP well ahead of time, and notifying the right people ASAP should they no longer be able to attend. “It’s the most respectful and responsible thing for guests to do during a pandemic,” she says.
If you’re feeling a bit foggy in the wedding-etiquette department, don’t worry. It’s certainly a confusing topic due to the complicated rules that were once applicable back in the day, but now don’t seem to match up with modern society. “Couples today prefer to arrange and orchestrate their wedding the way they want to and choose not to follow the strict rules of their parents and relatives,” says Maryanne Parker, etiquette expert and founder of Manor of Manners. This also applies to wedding gifts.
Wedding Gift Etiquette
Despite the fact that etiquette is an ever-changing concept, it’s still an important one to know, especially when it comes to wedding gifts. To make sure you’re brushed up on the latest, we asked wedding pros to answer our burning wedding gift etiquette questions.
How much should you spend on a wedding gift?
According to Parker, there really is no set amount—it’s truly based on your budget and your comfort level. However, if you are someone who really needs to have a base number, she’d advise at least $75. In the hierarchy of life events, weddings top the list, she says. “They generally occur only once in someone’s life and, aside from childbirth, are often said to be the most important and memorable event.” The average she sees for gift amounts is between $100-$200. However, she notes that the best wedding gifts she’s seen have been handmade or extremely sentimental heirloom gifts. “I’ve seen a bride receive a hand-sewn quilt for her new home. Those kinds of gifts are priceless,” she says. “The gracious couple knows that it really is the thought and effort that counts.”
When should you give cash as a gift instead of a check?
Cash is king, as they say, but even more so when it comes to weddings. This is especially true for older couples who may already be living together and have completed their registry through their shower or engagement party. “Chances are, they only have a registry for the shower or to appease older guests who feel giving cash is uncouth,” says Lindsay Quinn, Marketing Director for nationwide wedding videographer, N.S.T. Pictures. “It’s probably filled with extraneous items that will junk up their house and be headed to Goodwill within a few years,” she says. “The bottom line is to give what you feel is appropriate and what you’d feel was generous if it were your wedding.”
If giving a physical wedding gift, does it need to be off the registry?
It’s customary for couples to create a wedding registry that contains a list of items that they’re hoping to get for their wedding. This can run the gamut, including everything from bath towels and fine china to a honeymoon excursion and donation requests. The fact is, not every item on the list is something you might want to give, let alone can afford. According to Barbosa, the registry is really just meant to be a guide or a blueprint. “For decades, registries served as a couple’s wish list and that’s still true to this day, but it’s by no means a must,” she says. “Many people choose to give a very heartfelt gift that cannot be quantified or found in stores. Things like handmade crafts, passed-down items from within the family, or special experiences like a couples massage.”
READ MORE: The Best Online Wedding Registries
Do you have to send a gift if you don’t go to a wedding?
Believe it or not, but traditional wedding etiquette dictates that it’s not necessary to send a gift if you are not attending the wedding. However, it has become customary to do so anyway. “It should be seen as a privilege that you were invited to someone’s wedding in the first place” says Barbosa. “You matter to that couple enough for them to include you in the list of people they want at that celebration. So to not give something, even if it’s small, is offensive, and could have implications on your friendship with them in the future.”
What is the best way to go in on a group gift?
When it comes to going in on a group wedding gift with other people invited to the wedding, Diane Kolanović-Šolaja, owner Dee Kay Events in Manalapan, New Jersey, recommends using technology to your advantage. Apps like Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle will help divvy up the charges. “Start a group chat so you can all set your spending limit per person, then decide what gift you would like to purchase,” she says. “One person can be in charge, and everyone can easily pay that person before purchasing.” She also recommends buying your gift as soon as you see that the registry is live. This will give you the most options. “Remember, if all else fails, a gift card to the store they registered will be appreciated too,” she adds.