Wedding Gift Etiquette: Financial Pitfalls of Registries and Cash Gifts

Giving a great wedding gift without going into serious debt to do it.

Wedding gift etiquette on a budgetWeddings are supposed to be about celebrating and relationships, yet, they often end up turning into vastly stressful endeavors for everyone involved. In fact, according to a survey from The Knot, 50 percent of today’s brides find wedding planning to be far more anxiety-inducing than they expected. Although brides and grooms experience the most stress, guests can also face some difficulties. Gift etiquette, for example, remains one of the biggest burdens, particularly for those low on cash. If you’re struggling to avoid offending with your gift choice, shift your focus to the needs of the couple and the a wedding registry if one is provided.

Navigating Affordability and Registry Qualms

It’s the eternal question faced by wedding attendees all around the world: How much should I spend on the gift? As useful as the wedding registry can be for determining an appropriate gift choice, it also makes it quite clear exactly how much money you’ve spent on the bride and groom. This could be a huge problem if you’re in an economic bind and lack the means to purchase the vast majority of items on the registry.

Remember, though the registry serves as a form of gift recommendation, you’re still welcome to go your own way and find an alternative item. You just might end up checking off a box the bride and groom forgot, and, while doing so, score a great deal that would not have been possible through the registry. From on-sale Keurig machines to discounted high-power vacuums, skipping the registry may be your best option if you want to provide a nice gift that you can actually afford.

Spending Limits Based on Relationship Closeness

Even with the guidance of a registry, it’s hard to know how much to spend on a wedding gift. The Huffington Post lists the price of the typical wedding gift at somewhere between $50 and $100, but even that ballpark figure leaves plenty of room for negotiation. In general, expect to spend more if you’ve fostered a close relationship with the bride or groom. Family members and close friends usually take care of the big ticket items on registries, while acquaintances are encouraged to invest in lower-priced registry items or $25 gift cards.

Even if you are close with the couple of honor, your gift expense expectations are not set in stone. A friend or family struggling with unemployment or other major financial burdens will easily be forgiven for failing to spend over $50 on a wedding gift. If you simply cannot afford registry items, put some time into creating something meaningful, as Forbes suggests. The best gift might not be that dish set, but rather, the hand-embroidered pillow or the personalized scrapbook.

Cold, Hard Cash

If you think back to Jim and Pam’s wedding on The Office, you may recall that Pam vastly preferred cash to traditional wedding gifts. She’s not alone—according to Jezebel, cash no longer serves as the ultimate wedding gift taboo. It’s simply a practical alternative, particularly for couples covering their own wedding expenses. Match your cash level to the average item price on the registry or simply go for the aforementioned ballpark range of $50 to $100.

April Lewis-Parks has more than 15 years of experience in the financial sector; she is a certified financial counselor, and a consumer affairs advocate. As the director of education and public relations for Consolidated Credit she is dedicated to generating awareness about personal finance issues and acts as their consumer affairs advocate. As host of, she promotes financial education and offers timely and informative personal finance articles to educate the public. April’s promotional efforts can be seen in past issues of the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsday, Consumer Reports, the Business Journals, Money Magazine, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Family Circle, among others. Connect with April on Google+.