Around the world, showing support and affection for a newly married couple with a well-chosen wedding present is a time-honored tradition.
Whether it’s gold coins in India and perfume in Sudan, or stranger gifts such as cuckoo clocks in Germany and carved wooden ducks in South Korea, the tradition of giving a gift to the bride and groom to wish them good luck and abundance for their new life together has been practiced for centuries by cultures across the globe.
Yet even today, in countries like the US, just how much to spend on wedding gifts can still cause a headache. With no real conventions on budget and no particular, traditional items to give at a ceremony, for many Western wedding guests, finding thoughtful, well-suited gifts for couples in the right price range can soon become stressful.
No wonder then that, when it comes to navigating wedding gift etiquette, many of us are eager for some assured guidance — not to mention a healthy dose of inspiration.
1. A Gift That’s Right for Everyone
Of course, when it comes to how much to spend on wedding gifts, the budget is quite genuinely “relative,” as it’s clear that a bride and groom’s close family and dear friends are likely to spend more on a wedding gift than, say, distant cousins or work colleagues.
So far, so seemingly straightforward, but there are other factors to consider, too. For example, where are the couple getting married? You may have been invited to a grand destination wedding hosted on the shores of a far-flung tropical island or within the historic grounds of a European stately home. Or if you’ve simply had to travel a long way to a couple’s hometown, you may have already incurred some serious wedding expenses by booking travel and accommodation.
Likewise, if you’re part of the bridal party and have already spent money on a bridal shower gift or been involved in attending an extravagant bachelor party, it’s perfectly reasonable to adjust your wedding gift budget to reflect this.
A solution that often proves popular among close friends and relatives who’ve already been obliged to attend prenuptial celebrations is to club together and buy a joint gift for the newlyweds. It’s a smart way to get the couple a big-ticket item they might really want while ensuring everyone involved can make a meaningful contribution without running the risk of financially overstretching themselves.
Remember, if you really do find yourself unable to buy the present you want for a couple before their big day, it’s well worth knowing that wedding etiquette allows you up to a year after a couple ties the knot to send them a wedding gift.
These days, many couples are both sympathetic and sensitive to the expenses that may be involved in attending their special day, and often, you’ll be told in the invitation that “just being there is the only gift they need.” Which only makes you want to get them something more, right?
2. “Rules” to Ignore
To make navigating wedding gift etiquette even more confusing, there are several outdated conventions that guests these days would do well to disregard. One of the best examples to ignore, as most professional wedding organizers will be glad to tell you, is the “cover your plate rule.” This is the antique notion that the cost of a wedding gift should be calculated as equivalent to the amount spent per head on the wedding meal. It’s a concept that creates the slightly vulgar idea that the bride and groom are trying to recoup their expenses for the day while also depending on guests somehow being able to guess the cost of wedding catering in advance.
On the other hand, whereas simply giving a couple cash was often frowned on as lazy and crass (in a US survey conducted by Nerdwallet as late as 2018, just over half those polled still thought that a cash gift was unbecoming), it’s now an increasingly popular option. This is mainly because a larger number of couples in the US are getting married later in life and already have established homes and all the household items they need. In these instances, a money gift to put towards a honeymoon or a trip of a lifetime is fast becoming a more popular choice.
Need some inspiration for what to get the happy couple? Check out our 36 Gift Ideas for Newly Engaged Couples.
3. Getting Your Gift from the Registry
For practical assistance with purchasing wedding gifts (not to mention ensuring that newlyweds get some of the things they actually need for their new lives together), most engaged couples create a gift registry, allowing them to communicate their list of gift preferences to guests before the wedding.
A gift registry should not only list preferred items; it should also list those items in a range of price brackets designed to suit all budgets. It’s a great idea for taking pressure off guests before the big day, and in fact, the idea was first instituted by the famous Chicago department store Marshall Field & Co. way back in 1924. So, at almost one century old, you could call the gift registry itself an American wedding tradition!
A gift registry will almost always come with a wishlist of items the couple would find useful or enjoy and a list of preferred stockists and brands. This means that if you can’t source an item or can’t afford something, making a contribution by purchasing a gift voucher for a specified store is always an acceptable option.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that if you do rely on getting something from a gift registry list, you always run the risk of doubling up with other guests. We probably all know a couple somewhere who’ve begun their lives together with a drawer full of wine openers or more than one toaster.
4. There’s Nothing More Precious than a Thoughtful Gift
Having considered all the above, it’s probably no surprise that these days, when the question of how much to spend on wedding gifts arises, many of us start thinking about a gift that will show just how much we care by going that little bit further, sourcing and creating a deeply personal memento for a couple, rather than simply spending out a few extra bucks.
As wedding industry insiders have begun to notice, today, more and more people are stepping away from the gift registry, ignoring the easy options of store vouchers or cash presents, and instead seeking a gift that comes straight from the heart. Something that, in a very special way, tells the unique story of the happy couple
A popular choice is a personalized piece of wall art, a print that not only looks great but captures something of the individual poetry that led to the newlyweds falling in love.
Why not consider a “Where We Met” Map, a visually striking piece of cartography depicting the very spot within the town, city, or state where the couple had their first fateful encounter? Or if it holds more special memories, a First Date Map, marking the place or celebrating the locations where a couple really got to know each other? For true romantics, either are sure to take pride of place on the wall of a home together, providing a talking point for visiting friends as well as a beautiful and lasting reminder of their love.
Indeed, if you believe a couple’s love really is written in the stars, then why not go all out and present them with a one-of-a-kind Star Map depicting how the heavens were aligned when they first met, when they got engaged, and when they got married? Or maybe a “Where We Met, Where We Married, Where We Live” print displaying the locations where a couple got together, tied the knot, and have now built a home? For those who cherish both sentimentality and style, the beauty of gifts such as these is that they are visually pleasing artworks that hold so much meaning for just a special few.
For guests who are keen to add personal touches through a little of their own creative input, a bespoke-made Wedding Day Photo Collage is another wonderful way to give something special to those you care about on their wedding day. Designing an exclusive, customizable wall print complete with a personalized message doesn’t cost a fortune, but it’s likely to become one of a happily married couple’s most treasured possessions.
5. The Gift of Inspiration
No matter how a couple chooses to celebrate their wedding day, whether it’s an extravagant and glamorous event or a modest and intimate affair, at its heart, marriage is a celebration of love and commitment.
So before becoming too anxious about how much to spend on wedding gifts, the wisest course of action may be to consider that, beyond crystal decanters and high-thread-count bed linen, what most people want from friends and family is a token that expresses their true affection for them. A gift that brims with thoughtfulness and care, something to cherish through the years ahead, and which comes truly and sincerely, straight from the heart.
Need more inspiration? Check out our list of Unique and Thoughtful Mr. and Mrs. Gift Ideas they will adore.