Wedding Gift Etiquette for Everyone

An illustration of a stack of wedding gifts wrapped in various patterns, like stripes, polka dots and florals.

Let me guess: It’s wedding season. And here you are again, searching the internet for the appropriate present to give this time around. 

Whether it’s the first wedding you’re attending or the final—because you literally have no more cash—gift shopping is tricky. I’ve been here before, too, and the wedding guest struggle is real. So I’ve compiled some wedding gift etiquette that’ll make your life a whole lot easier. 

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When it comes to wedding gift etiquette, I find people asking the same questions. If you’re looking for specific advice, just click on the link below to hop right to my words of wedding gift wisdom.

How Much to Spend on a Wedding Gift  

Ouch! This is a touchy one, but let’s get this cleared up once and for all. While everyone has their own idea of how much to spend on a wedding gift, a general rule is:

Spend what you can afford.

But since I like to be specific, here’s a nifty guide to follow:

 

A chart that details how much to spend on a wedding gift based on your relationship to the couple.

How Much Cash to Give for a Wedding Gift  

Not everyone likes giving cash, but pretty much everyone likes receiving it. So how much cash is enough cash to give for a wedding gift? Many soonly-weds will provide options for their guests, including a registry and a special interest fund, like a honeymoon or home remodel.* Those are a big help.

Of course if they don’t, you might find yourself wondering, “Will they be offended if I send $25?” But the same principle applies for cash gifts as gifts from the registry: Give what you can comfortably afford.

*Note: This does NOT mean you’re obligated to contribute to both. Couples only do this to offer people ideas and choices.

Tips for when to give a cash gift to a wedding couple

Why Give Cash Instead of Towels, Teacups or Toasters

In the olden days—or, you know, our parents’ days (apologies, parents!)—linens and dishes were thoughtful ways to help a young couple establish their household. But more people are marrying later in life, and sometimes they already have enough “stuff.” Of course, this is a matter of preference, so follow the couple’s lead as to what they’d like.*

But there are other reasons to give cash:

  • The registry items are priced over your budget.
  • They didn’t create a registry.
  • The lovebirds are saving for a large purchase, like a house, trip around the world or kitchen reno.
  • They’re choosing to donate to those in need instead.

 

*Another perspective: If they’ve been single for a long time, they’ve also been giving wedding gifts for a long time. And never being the person of honor is super—let’s say—nettlesome after a while. Now it’s their turn, and they may well prefer gifts over cash. Whatever you do, do something nice.

What to Do If the Couple Does Not Have a Registry  

Sometimes couples truly have all they need, desire to lessen their carbon footprint or just don’t want their guests spending a lot of money. When this happens, all sorts of thoughts might find their way into your head:

“I could make them something, but is that weird?”

“Maybe I could take them out for dinner?” 

“Should I just give up and buy myself a gift?”

And even though it can be a little bewildering to navigate, you gotta love a couple who makes their event their own. Plus, this is your chance to get creative! Here are some ideas for honoring loved ones in a way they’ll appreciate.

  • Donate to the couple’s favorite charity in their honor. Send a notification letting them know you gave to their philanthropy of choice.
  • Pick out a special congratulations card and include a memory, wedding wish or beautiful, displayable quote inside.
  • Frame a photo of the couple. If you have access to their engagement or wedding photos, choose an image from the gallery they can proudly display.
  • Give them a date night by purchasing a gift card for a restaurant they love. (Here are some cute gift card message ideas to go with it!)
  • Help them keep those paper toasts together with this gorgeous greeting card keeper.
  • Gift them a vows notebook. Even though it’s the most important part, sometimes it’s a last-minute consideration.
  • Hire an artist to hand-letter the lyrics of their first dance song.
  • Make them a scrapbook of their relationship, starting with when they met.
  • Bequeath a family heirloom or antique décor piece to use in the ceremony or at the reception.
  • Plant a tree in their honor.
  • Buy them a fancy bottle of champagne for a post-wedding toast!
  • Bust out the smart phone and make a video. Sing a song they love or tell a favorite memory of the two. You could even make it part of a Video Greeting Card!
  • Offer the gift of your time. Be there to stamp envelopes, assemble welcome bags or hydrate the wedding party.

If and When to Give a Shower Gift  

First comes the ring. Then come the parties. Then come—well, more parties. Weddings are expensive, y’all.

If you’ve been invited to the engagement dinner, a shower or two and the save-the-date is stuck to your fridge, those are already big expenses to consider. Add in a destination wedding, dressy attire and—oh yeah—the bachelor or bachelorette weekend, and you might start to feel as though you may as well throw in a second mortgage.

Before you panic, might I suggest making a budget for what you want to spend for the entire set of festivities. One way to do this is to establish a 60/20/20 gifting guideline.

 

A 60/20/20 guide for buying wedding gifts.

 

For example, if you only have $150 to spend on a wedding gift (which is very generous, btw!), try this approach:

Spend $90 on the wedding present. Some options might include:

  • A small appliance from their registry
  • A contribution to a larger group gift
  • A donation to their charity of choice
  • A bunch of smaller items. Maybe it’s a kitchen accessory bundle— utensils, canisters, a cookbook for two and colorful dish towels.

 

Spend $30 on the shower present. You could:

  • Choose one item off of their registry that reminds the celebrants of you. If you’re also a traveler, you could send them their luggage tag of choice and tuck a love quote into the address slot.
  • Opt for that unique platter that’s frivolous but also fun.
  • Gift that pretty art print that’ll make them think of you each time they see it on the wall.

 

Spend $30 for the engagement present. Maybe you:

  • Make it personal with a famous quote (anything I say is pretty famous, btw) or story about how they met.
  • Order a custom cake topper. They can use it for the big day or just as a cute desk accessory.
  • Pick out a vintage-inspired ring box or dish to showcase their wedding bands.

 

A chart that details whether or not you need to attend the bridal shower if you're already going to the wedding.

How to Send Good Wishes When You Are Not in a Good Place  

Weddings can bring up emotions in all of us, and depending on where we are in life, they’re not always positive. You could have any number of reasons for not wanting to show up and show love at a wedding.

  • Maybe you’ve just ended a bad relationship and you’re just not in the mood for a love story. (Understandable!)
  • Maybe you’re in a relationship that makes you feel less than you are. (Never, ever easy.)
  • Maybe going to one more wedding as a singleton will push you over the edge. (Not gonna lie. This is a tough one.)
  • Maybe you’ve felt like you’ve lost your friend to their new partner. (That really hurts.)
  • Maybe life is currently kicking you everywhere you turn. (That’s really mean of Life!)

 

Sweetie, first of all, your feelings are valid. Even if they’re as simple as pure, green envy. Even if they’re as complex as the power this event has over your current life trajectory. Acknowledge these feelings and don’t feel like you need to be fake. If it helps, most of us have been there. I know I’ve been there.

However, if you can dig deep and muster up some loving-kindness, that is always a good way to go. After all, being gracious can never really be the bad choice. It might even make you feel a little lighter. And then you can move forward with a clear conscience that you were caring even when it was difficult. 

Here’s how to do it:

  • Find a card that says just enough so you don’t have to write much. (Hallmark has lots of these, in case you were wondering.)  
  • If you don’t feel like writing at all, we can do it for you. We do the lovey-dovey thing 24/7 around here.
  • If wedding words are still too much for you to deal with—and we can’t believe we’re saying this—skip the card. Send something from their registry instead with a little “Love, [Your Name]” on a tag like this or this.
  • Be honest. Gently let the couple know you’re not in the best place, but you want them to know you’re happy for them.

If it feels fake to say you’re happy, try one of these options:

  • Best wishes on this new chapter in your lives.
  • Congratulations. Wish you the best.
  • Here’s to two good people and more good things to come.
  • Relationship stuff is hard for me right now, and I have to regretfully decline in order to take care of my mental health. But your friendship means the world to me, and my love will still be there.
  • I’d love to celebrate with you both when things are better. 
  • Things are really difficult at the moment, otherwise I’d love to be there for your big day. All my best.
  • I’m taking a break from social stuff for a while, but have you close in my heart forever.

 

OR embrace the place you’re in with some humor:

  • My advice for a happy marriage? Don’t take any of my advice!
  • This better not mean our Taco Tuesdays are over! Hugs!
  • All I can say is, you better seat me by someone cute!
  • Oh NOOOOO. Not you, TOO!!!!! Seriously though, sending my love.

 

But most of all, don’t make any impulsive decisions. RSVP when you’ve come to a decision you can live with. If it’s “will not be attending,” make sure you’ll feel okay about that in a year or two. Same with responding yes.

If this wedding is really getting on your nerves, vent to a friend. (Unless the friend you’d normally vent to is the bride or groom, in which case, vent to someone else.) And once you’ve done the expected well-wishing, turn your focus to your plans. Translation: Get the gift early, then go spend some money on YOU.

Wedding Gift Etiquette If You Are Not Attending the Wedding  

This one’s controversial, and we think you can use your intuition on how to proceed. But if you’re on the fence and need a little advice:

Generally, it’s good practice to give.

If the couple thought about you, tracked down your address, ordered you an invitation and mailed it, it’s a pretty good indication you mean something to them and their story. Yes, sometimes it’s a 500-guest affair and it’s easy to think you won’t be missed. But most people handpick their guests and many times have to leave out other loved ones due to space and budget. 

If you made the cut, show your friends or family the love by acknowledging this happy time in their lives with a little wedding gift etiquette. Even if you can’t attend. Even if you’re wedding-ed out. Especially if they’ve been there for you.

When You Should Send the Wedding Gift  

People wonder all the time, “Should I mail this wedding gift early or is that considered an engagement gift?” 

Most couples appreciate gifts several months before the wedding. On an emotional level, it brings their commitment into focus, builds excitement for the big day and shows them how much you care. (And don’t worry, they won’t know whether this is a wedding or engagement gift. They’ll just know you cared.)

On a practical level, it helps logistically and financially. Many registry items are décor to be used at the reception and cash gifts might help pay for the reception. (Deposits are steep!) The icing on the cake is that thank-you notes can be done earlier, too.

Some say you have a time limit on sending a gift. But honestly, I lovingly disagree. If you forgot, it’s never too late to send something. Maybe the only really bad wedding gift etiquette is not acknowledging the couple at all.

Should I Bring My Gift to the Wedding  

Aka, “Help! Am I supposed to drag that 45-pound vacuum to the reception?”

For the love of biscuits and gravy, NO.* It’s even more of a gift NOT to bring anything if the couple has to cram it into the car, ship it from the hotel or bribe the flight attendant into bringing it onboard. If they’re anything like the maniacal middle-aged bride I was, their vehicle will already be packed to the brim. 

But most importantly, they won’t want to lose your gift in the chaos of the day. So if you must bring something with you, bring a card. You can even drop in a check, gift card or some cash! Most couples—okay, most brides—spend hours picking out the perfect card table accessories. So if anything, please leave a card to justify the overly thought-out card table.

“But I already brought a big gift to a wedding one time and now I feel bad for stressing them out!”

Dollface, it’s okay! It was appreciated. Just helping you for the future here. Don’t overthink it, I’ve already done that for you.

Wedding Gift Etiquette for a Destination Wedding  

The fact that you’re spending lots of hard-earned money on flights, hotels and fancy resort food is very generous by itself. Views vary on what exactly to do in this case, but as a Southern girl whose mama put her manners where her mouth is, I’d say give the gift.

But also, another nifty chart:

A chart that details wedding gift etiquette for guests traveling to a destination wedding.

 

Another appreciated gift for a destination wedding (or any wedding, really):

Notice all of the beautiful, decorative and meaningful touches at the wedding and tell the couple how much you loved them. This will mean so much to the detailed bride or groom.

True story: When guests mentioned all of the vintage details I put into my wedding, those compliments were such a gift to my heart. 

General rules for giving wedding gifts

Should Bridesmaids or Groomsmen Give a Gift  

It’s a privilege to be included in the wedding party, but also a pretty penny. Dresses, tuxes, shoes, hair, nails and pre-wedding events add up. How do you budget for a gift, too?

Every relationship is different, but if you’re close to one or both people getting married, it sets a good example to wish them well. Remember, a gift doesn’t have to be expensive. It only has to be thoughtful.

As a groomsman, bridesmaid, grooms-gal, brides-bro or flower granny, you have a rare opportunity to know the behind-the-scenes story of the couple and their wedding. This is a great time to give something personal. 

Here are some creative ideas:

  • If you’re artistic or friends with an artist, commission them to paint a pic of the couple.
  • If there’s a Dog of Honor, buy them a festive scarf for the rehearsal dinner, floral collar for the big day or a doggie dress for the after-party.
  • Write a poem for the couple.
  • Are you a good photog? Gift them an engagement shoot or post-wedding photo session by the ocean. 
  • Is your bride-to-be bestie a stepmama? Arrange to take those kids to brunch or dinner during the wedding weekend. Any babysitting help is always appreciated.
  • Use your talents to make guest favors, like cookies wrapped in cute packaging or hydrangeas from your garden in vintage teacups.

If you read all that and everything is as clear as that $200 mud facial you’re buying at the bachelorette spa day, remember:

Wedding gift etiquette includes nice guidelines to go by, but more than anything, let your heart—and your bank statement—be your guide.