Should you give cash or a gift? How much should you spend? When should you send it? Here’s everything you need to know.

By Amy Beal and Maggie Seaver
Updated July 17, 2019
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Being invited to a wedding—especially your first-ever wedding—comes with a whole set of etiquette questions and confusion. What should you wear? How do you RSVP? And, possibly most confounding of all: What's the deal with wedding gifts? Wedding gift and registry etiquette is honestly its own subcategory of uncertainty, from how much to spend to how long you have to send a present. Lucky for you, we have expert answers to the most commonly asked wedding gift etiquette questions, so you'll never not know what to do again. (Have a pressing etiquette question of your own? Ask it here.)

1. Do you have to get them something from their registry?

It’s absolutely fine to get them something they haven’t registered for. “Registry items are merely suggestions, not obligations,” says Jodi R. R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. A wedding registry is meant to be a guideline as to what the couple wants and needs—it's there to help you. If you decide to purchase something else, it’s a good idea to check out the registry to gauge the couple’s style.

2. Do I need to send a gift if I RSVP "no" to the wedding?

It's not technically required to send a gift after declining a wedding invite, but it's still a nice gesture to do so. Take your relationship with the couple and your budget into account. If you're not super-close (maybe you actually aren't going because you don't know them very well), it's probably fine to pen a thoughtful card congratulating them. If you are close to the couple, however, you'll likely want to send them something.

3. When is the wedding gift “due”?

Gifts should really be shipped to the couple’s home about two weeks before the wedding, Smith says. However, it’s considered acceptable to send a gift up to one year after the wedding. If you end up buying the gift after the wedding, try to do so immediately. “Otherwise, you’re likely to end up procrastinating, forgetting, and then wondering five years later why you’re no longer friends,” Smith says.

4. The couple is registering for cash, but I feel weird giving it—is it better to just buy a gift?

With such versatile registry options out there these days (think: honeymoon funds, cash registries, and experiential gifts) anything goes. There’s no right or wrong type of gift to give, especially if that’s what the couple’s asking for. But choose a gift based on what you’re comfortable giving and what you think they’ll love.

“[Cash is] not my favorite gift because there’s no correct amount to give,” says Rebecca Black, founder of Etiquette Now, a company that conducts etiquette workshops. “An amount may appear generous to one couple, while the same amount could appear lacking to another.” If you’re uncomfortable about giving cash, opt for a gift certificate to a store at which the couple’s registered.

5. The couple registered really early—is it okay to buy birthday and holiday gifts off the registry?

Yes. Buying gifts for other holidays from the wedding registry helps make sure the couple will get everything they need, says Mark Kingsdorf, Master Bridal Consultant at The Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants. In fact, this is why many stores offer the option of keeping a wedding registry open for several years after the event.

6. The couple registered for fewer gifts than the number of guests invited. What should I do?

“Couples sometimes view their wedding as a chance to get everything on their gee-I-want-that-so-badly list,” says Black, meaning they limit the items to make sure they receive them all. Or some couples do this hoping for money instead of gifts. Regardless of the motive, this means that your choices are wide open. Note: It’s probably still a good idea to choose something classic, not quirky.

7. The registry options are all way out of my price range—what now?

Don’t feel obligated to buy from the list. Instead, give a meaningful gift within your budget. “One of my favorite wedding gifts is a framed needlepoint picture of my wedding invitation,” Black says. Another option is to get something they didn’t register for but that goes with what they did register for, like the tableware. “Buy the serving utensils, salt and pepper shakers, or the sugar bowl and creamer that match their pattern,” Smith says. Lots of couples forget or don’t think they’ll need items like these until they’re serving guests (oops).

8. Is there a standard price range guests are supposed to spend?

There’s no perfect or proper amount of money to spend on a gift for any wedding guest―even a best friend―and no one is obligated to give a certain type of gift, Smith says. And that old belief that the guest should spend the price of her reception meal? “Another manners myth,” says Smith. Let your relationship and your own budget guide your selection. As a helpful guideline, you can think of it this way: give $50–$75 for a coworker, acquaintance, or a distant relative; $75–$150 for a closer friend or relative; and $150+ for very close loved ones (all depending on your budget, of course).

9. Do I need to get a registry gift if I'm in the wedding party and already spending a lot of money?

A little secret? Technically, nobody has to buy anyone wedding gift. So while it's not necessarily required, it's always a nice (and expected) gesture. “Etiquette’s all about thinking ahead,” says Smith. Make a list of all the upcoming expenses―shower, bachelorette party, dress, transportation, and lodging―and budget accordingly. Even if you only have a small amount left for a gift, Smith recommends at least giving a little something such as a book of love poems, bottle of bubbles, or a framed picture.

10. Do I need to buy gifts for both the shower and the wedding?

Yes. “That’s part of the obligation you agreed to when you RSVP for both events,” Kingsdorf says. Consider going in on a group gift with fellow guests in the same position to help lessen the cost for each person.

11. They’re registered for a product that costs much less at another retailer—is it okay to send them that one?

There’s no reason not to try to save money, Black says. Purchase and ship it well before the wedding so the couple will knows to remove it from their registry.

12. What's the best way to find out where the bride and groom are registered if it’s not on their invitation or website?

Just ask! It’s completely acceptable to reach out to the couple, or even better, to members of the wedding party, or even the couples’ parents, Smith says. You can also try a quick search of the couples’ names on the usual wedding registry sites.

13. Is it acceptable to split an expensive item with a group of friends?

Definitely. Just be careful, warns Smith, because group gifts can get sticky. The more people involved, the more complicated it can get. Make sure you decide upfront whether everyone is contributing the same amount (and, if not, how the price tag is getting divided), who is collecting the money, and who’s purchasing the gift.

14. Registries feel so impersonal. Is there any way to make a registry gift more meaningful?

It’s all about the message in the card. If you bought a vase, for example, Smith recommends saying something like, “Congratulations on your wedding! May this vase be filled with flowers on special occasions, and, occasionally, just because.”

  • By Amy Beal
  • By Maggie Seaver