The etiquette of buying wedding gifts

Laura Bucklin

There is always a slight anxiety when picking out wedding gifts for friends, family or coworkers. No one knows how much to spend or what to buy. Giving cash seems slightly insensitive, but you’re not excited about purchasing the cheese grater left on the gift registry. So where do you start?

First of all, you should figure out how much you’re going to spend on the couple. Typically, you should spend about $75. This amount should go up if you’re a relative or close friend.

Whitney Minnehan, a student at Des Moines Area Community College, recently married Patrick Minnehan, an ISU senior in animal science.

“Most of our guests spent around $50 to $60,” Whitney said.

If you’re in college, you can anticipate attending many weddings in the near future. So if you have three weddings in three months don’t worry about breaking the bank. It is perfectly acceptable if that $75 is spread out among all the wedding events including the bridal party, bachelor/bachelorette parties and engagement parties.

Typically, people spend about $50 on the actual wedding gift and delegate the rest of the cash out for the other events.

If it’s a destination wedding, then you can factor in the cost of hotel and travel. Couples will typically understand if you don’t spend as much on their gifts. The fact that you’re flying across the country for the weekend is already meaningful.

Regardless, your gift should not reflect the cost of the food served or the venue the reception is held in.

There is no reason for you to buy the blender with 10 speeds instead of five because you’re getting a four-course duck dinner at the wedding reception. That’s unnecessary.

Next, it’s time to buy the actual gift. Most people go with the typical solution, which would be to refer to the gift registry.

For the Minnehan wedding, most people bought from the registry.

“We didn’t get a lot of the fun stuff that we registered for like DVDs and games, but everything that we got off the registry was stuff that we put on there because we really wanted it,” Whitney said.

The only gifts they received that weren’t registered were a cat clock that meows and plates with their initials on them. Some people like to get creative, but never feel bad about buying a pre-registered gift, since it is truly what the couple wants or needs.

Sometimes the invitations say where the bride and groom are registered, but it can also be a word-of-mouth situation. If you don’t feel comfortable asking them, there are wedding registry searches online.

Once you’ve found out where the couple is registered, you can either shop online or in-store. Online is easy because you can simply click on the item rather than finding it within the immense amount of aisles at Target or Bed Bath and Beyond.

You might also consider sending the gift to the bride and groom prior to the wedding. This way their parents or wedding party aren’t stuck with the burden of packing the gifts in the car at the reception while the couples heads off to their honeymoon suite.

“[Sending gifts before] would have been convenient,” Whitney said, “because we were in the middle of moving and didn’t open the gifts until brunch the next day.”

This is especially thoughtful if the wedding is out of town.

Another note is to not feel bad about gifting money. It can really help the couple get a jump-start with their new life together, or it can be helpful for an expensive honeymoon.

“We did not mind receiving money as a gift,” Whitney said. “It was also nice because we forgot about a few expenses for the reception.”

Lastly, don’t procrastinate. You may not have time to order a custom-made tablecloth that you’ve been planning to get. The gifts on the registry may be what they want, but sometimes it’s no fun buying the fancy gravy boat.