Is cash better than a gift? How much should you spend? Here, answers to your most common wedding gift conundrums.

By Amy Beal
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James Merrell

Q: Is it okay to veer off the registry and, if so, what should I choose instead?
A: It’s absolutely fine. “Registry items are merely suggestions, not obligations,” says Jodi R. R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. A registry is meant to be a guideline as to what the couple wants and needs. If you decide to purchase something else, it’s a good idea to check out the registry to gauge the couple’s style.

Q: How long do I really have to give a gift after the wedding?
A: One year. Ideally, however, gifts should be shipped to the home of the couple two weeks before the wedding, says Smith. If you end up buying the gift after the wedding, try to do so immediately. “Otherwise,” warns Smith, “you’re likely to end up procrastinating, forgetting, and then wondering five years later why you’re no longer friends.”

Q: Is cash better than a gift?
A: Not necessarily, but it can be tricky. “It 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.

Q: The couple invited 200 people but only registered for half as many gifts. What should I do?
A: “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.

Q: The couple registered a year before their wedding. Is it okay to buy their birthday and Christmas gifts from their registry?
A: 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.

Q: Their registry is full of really expensive items―way more than I want to spend. What are my options?
A: Don’t feel obligated to buy from the list. Rather, give a meaningful gift within your budget. “One of my favorite wedding gifts is a framed needlepoint picture of my wedding invitation,” says Black. Another option is to get something they didn’t register for but that goes with their tableware. “Buy the serving utensils, salt and pepper shakers or the sugar bowl and creamer that match their pattern,” advises Smith. Lots of couples forget or don’t think they’ll need items like these until they’re serving guests (oops).

Q: Is there a standard price range that guests are supposed to spend?
A: 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, says Smith. 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.

Q: I’m in the wedding party and am already spending so much! Do I need to buy a registry gift, too?
A: Not necessarily. “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 or a small framed picture.

Q: I’m going to both the wedding shower and the wedding. Must I buy gifts for both?
A: Unfortunately, yes. “That’s part of the obligation you agreed to when you RSVPed for both,” says Kingsdorf. Consider going in on a group gift with fellow guests in the same position to help lessen the cost for each person.

Q: They’re registered for a cappuccino machine that costs $200. I found it on sale somewhere else―is it OK to send them that one?
A: There’s no reason not to try to save money, says Black. Purchase and ship it well before the wedding so that the couple will know to remove it from their registry.

Q: What's the best way to find out where the bride and groom are registered if it’s not on their invitation or website?
A: Just ask! It’s completely acceptable to call the bride and groom, members of the wedding party, or even the couples’ parents, says Smith. You can also try a quick search of the couples’ names on the usual wedding registry sites like and

Q: Is it acceptable to go in with a group of friends on a big-ticket item?
A: Definitely. But 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.

Q: Registries feel so impersonal. Is there any way to make a registry gift more meaningful?
A: 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.”