Real Simple’s etiquette expert Catherine Newman on how to celebrate the birth of a baby without busting your budget.

By Real Simple
Updated February 14, 2014
Instead of splurging on an elaborate (and probably expensive) centerpiece, let the guests’ gifts do the work. Stack presents on the coffee or buffet table for an instant, eye-pleasing still life of patterned papers and pastel bows.
Annie Schlecter

Q. I was recently invited to a surprise baby shower. The invitation requested that each guest pay $50 to the hosts—$25 for the brunch and drinks and $25 for the baby’s education fund. In addition, the hosts provided a list of stores where the couple is registered.

I want to celebrate my friend and would like to give her a present, but $50 plus the cost of a gift seems excessive, as well as being out of my budget. Should I go and not give a present or not go and give a present instead?

E. P.

A. [Jaw on floor.] Wow. I love potlucks, group gifts, and the spirit of community behind them. And I understand why hosts may ask for a monetary contribution from guests to, say, defray a bar bill. But mandating a specific financial contribution seems quite ungracious. (I trust the expense means that the party is being catered, not that the hosts are looking to turn a profit on some bagels and juice.)

Nonetheless, this is the event that you have been invited to. As you have noted, you have two choices about how to respond. If the parent-to-be is a close friend, you should pay the $50 and then consider purchasing an inexpensive but meaningful gift, such as a favorite children’s book to help start the little one’s library.

If the person is not a close friend, perhaps you should opt out of the party and send the gift you’ve got your eye on instead. Regardless, don’t forget that the main event here is the imminent birth of your friend’s baby—and that’s cause for celebration, however you choose to do it.

Catherine Newman

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