Wondering how much to spend on a wedding gift? It’s a fair question — as wedding invites start to pile up, dollar signs might also start to flash. The idea of having to spring for flights, hotels, bridesmaid dresses, and then — on top of everything — a wedding present for each occasion can become a serious source of stress for wedding guests. Complicating matters more is the seeming lack of concrete wedding gift etiquette. Questions, like how much to give for a wedding gift, start to come up. When do you buy the gift? Can you buy gifts outside the registry? Is giving cash gauche? Here, answers to these questions and more, with expert insights from Kylie Carlson, the CEO of the International Academy of Wedding & Event Planning.
1. How much should I spend on a wedding gift?
According to a recent study from the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, the average amount that a guest was projected to spend on a wedding gift was $99—but that’s if you’re a friend of the couple. Family members are projected to spend at least $127.
Even if you aren’t close to the couple, however, it’s not very considerate to spend less than $50 on a gift. If you’re a coworker or a distant friend, the minimum wedding gift amount you can get away with is $50 to $75. If everything left on the registry is over your budget of $50 to $75, it’s a good idea to get the couple a gift card to one of the stores where they registered.
2. Is it OK to give a group wedding gift?
If the only items left on the registry are well over your budget or you really want to gift the couple a big-ticket item you know they’ll love, join forces with a group of friends. And for bridesmaids and groomsmen who have already spent quite a bit of money on the bridesmaid dress, bachelor party, and shower, this is a particularly wise way to gift—the couple will receive a thoughtful big-ticket present from the wedding party, and each person can usually get away with spending a bit less individually.
3. Should I give a wedding gift that matches the price per head?
“The formality of the wedding impacts a number of elements, including time of day and dress, but there is no tie into the cost of the gift. What you gift the couple should be exclusively dependent on your relationship to the happy couple, as well as your own means. No guest should feel as though they need to overextend themselves with the gift because they are expected to wear black tie,” says Carlson.
Similarly, just because your BFF had a 10-person wedding in their backyard doesn’t mean you should give them an inexpensive gift. Also, if you happen to be attending multiple events for the couple, consider this as well: you can use the 60-20-20 rule, which means spending 20 percent of your total budget on an engagement party gift, 20 percent on a gift for the bridal shower, and 60 percent for the actual wedding gift.
4. Is it OK to give cash as a wedding gift?
There’s nothing wrong with gifting cash. According to the aforementioned American Express study, one third of respondents prefer to give cash as a wedding gift. In fact, as most millennials are getting married later in life and already have well-stocked homes, they prefer cash to put toward savings over registry items.
If you are giving cash (or a check), send it ahead of time rather than bringing it to the wedding—it’s too easy for things to get misplaced in the chaos of the day. Some couples may even register for cash to go directly into their bank accounts through sites like Tendr, which allows guests to give money virtually, along with a sentimental note they can personally write on a digital card.
5. Do I have to buy a wedding gift for a destination wedding?
“While there are no hard and fast rules, there is a general understanding that their presence at the wedding can absolutely be their gift. You have to remember that your guests are presumably taking time off from work and arranging childcare, so they’ve already invested quite a bit. With that being said, if an attendee chooses to gift them in addition to being there, then that’s absolutely fine,” says Carlson.
If you do want to get them a wedding gift but you’re strapped for cash right after spending on the flights and hotels, you can always wait until later (up to a year) to get them a wedding gift. Whatever the timing, they’ll always appreciate it.
6. Should I buy a gift if I can’t attend the wedding?
“Emily Post has always attested to the fact that you should always send a gift if invited unless you’ve truly been out of touch for a considerable length of time,” says Carlson. “I’d like to think, however, that there is absolutely an understanding that if you decline the invitation and are not in a financial position to send a gift, then you don’t, and that’s OK. Instead, send your warm wishes with a handwritten note.”
If you’re a close friend of the couple, it’s probably best to send a wedding gift. If, on the other hand, your distant cousin invited 300 people to her wedding and you feel like you were invite number 299, a sweet note of congratulations on the RSVP card is sufficient. If you do decide to send a gift, feel free to spend less than you might spend if you were attending—that $30 wine opener is still a lovely token of congratulations that the couple will surely appreciate.
7. Should my wedding gift amount increase if I have a plus one?
There’s no rule in the wedding gift etiquette handbook that would suggest your wedding gift amount go up if you bring a date. “While it may make sense to spend a bit more because you are bringing two mouths to feed, there is no expectation that you need to do so,” says Carlson.
8. How long do I have after the wedding to get the couple a wedding gift?
Traditionally, you have up to one year to get the couple a wedding gift. That being said, etiquette experts agree that the sooner you can give the gift the better. Everyone wants to unwrap their wedding gifts when they’re still radiating with that newlywed glow.
9. How do I address a check to the couple?
If you plan on giving a check to the happy couple, make sure you avoid writing their new surname in the “to” field. It may seem counterintuitive after having just watched them tie the knot, but when it comes to cashing checks after the big day, the bank will sometimes not accept checks that don’t have the registered account name. To be safe, it’s best to write the check out to one person and write a happy note in the memo field.
10. Should I ship a gift directly or bring it to the wedding?
“The preferred method for gifting is to send it to the couple’s home, versus bringing with you on the wedding day. There are just so many things to keep track of the day of the event, that it’s appreciated if you can make it a bit easier on the newlyweds. Luckily, it’s practically a given that you’ll be able to ship your gift with relative ease thanks to registries,” says Carlson.
Bringing a physical gift to the wedding is typically reserved when someone goes off the registry to purchase a wedding gift. When in doubt, follow the instructions on the registry website and avoid the headache of wrapping the present yourself!
11. Is it OK to buy gifts that aren’t on the wedding registry?
Gifting items that aren’t included on the registry isn’t a violation of wedding gift etiquette. If, however, you choose an off-registry item, make sure it’s something you know the couple will absolutely love. “A couple has taken the time to select items that they need, so it makes perfect sense the majority of the time to simply fall in line with their wishes. With that being said, if you are close to the couple and are 100% sure that your off-registry item fits the bill, then by all means, do it,” says Carlson.