Are you spending enough money on wedding gifts?

Hint: you don't have to 'buy your dinner'

Credit: Getty Images
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I’ll never forget the year I had twelve weddings at attend—all within a span of five months. And it wasn’t just weddings I attended that year: I traveled to far-flung destinations for bachelorette parties and spent entire Sunday afternoons socializing at bridal showers near and far.

It wasn’t just a time commitment—it was a financial commitment. I must have spent somewhere around $5,000. I won’t tell you how much I was making at that time in my life, but let’s just say it wasn’t nearly enough to comfortably shell out that kind of money, no matter how much I loved my friends.

Still, I made it work, because I truly did want to celebrate my friends and give them something to express my congratulations. But, to this day, every time I write a check or add a registry item to my cart, I wonder: Is this what everyone else spends on wedding gifts? Am I going above and beyond, or do I look cheap? Below, at long last, you'll find the concrete answer to how much money you should be spending on wedding gifts, from the engagement party to the bridal shower.

Should I buy an engagement gift?

How much money should I spend on a wedding gift?
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“Engagement gifts are not required or expected in most cases," says Cheryl Seidel, etiquette expert and founder of RegistryFinder. But if you do wish to bring a gift, a bottle of champagne or nice wine is a great way to mark the occasion, says Jennifer Porter, Seattle-based etiquette coach and party planner.

“If the couple doesn’t drink, I recommend a $30 to $50 gift that reflects the couples interest together,” she says. You can check Groupon for local activities and things to do, or choose a gift you know they'll both appreciate.

Should I bring a gift to the Bachelor(ette) party?

How much money should I spend on a wedding gift?
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Bachelorette parties should not be gift-giving occasions, says Seidel. “It is customary for the guests to pay for themselves as well as split the cost for the bride, so that is already a gift to the bride.”

So what do you do if the hostess asks you to bring a little something extra for an activity like a lingerie shower? “It’s understandable that the host of the bachelorette party will want to plan fun activities, but they should remember that those closest to the bride will already be invited the wedding, as well as any bridal shower,” says Seidel. “Putting the obligation of an additional gift on the bride’s friends is too much of a burden for most attendees.”

How much should I spend on the bridal shower?

How much money should I spend on a wedding gift?
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Yes, you should bring a gift to the bridal shower: they're often a big part of the festivities and events. Luckily, bridal shower gifts are usually less expensive than the wedding gift, but Porter still recommends spending between $50 to $100 if your budget allows it.

If not, Seidel recommends determining a cumulative budget for the bridal shower and the wedding, then divide it accordingly, spending about 40 percent of that amount on the shower gift and 60 percent on the wedding gift.

Finally, how much money should I spend on a wedding gift?

How much money should I spend on a wedding gift?
Credit: Getty Images

“‘How much should I spend on a wedding gift?’ is the most often asked gift-giving question,” says Seidel. “Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple answer.”

One thing you shouldn’t do? Buy into the myth that the cost of the gift should be based on the cost of your dinner, says Seidel. “This is simply not true and can cause considerable anxiety for guests. You aren’t paying admission to the wedding! You were invited because the couple (or their parents) wanted you to celebrate with them.”

Beyond that, the rule is vague, she says: The amount you spend on a wedding gift is determined by what you can afford and your relationship to the couple getting married.

But since most people (me included!) are looking for a solid number, Seidel offers the following figures as a guideline:

  • For a co-worker or acquaintance: $50 to $100
  • For a friend or relative: $75 to $150
  • For a close friend or relative: $150 to $250
  • And if you’re a young person with limited budget: $50 to $75 is reasonable

If, say, your best friend is getting married and you simply can’t afford to shell out for a gift, “the thoughtfulness in choosing the gift is more important than the dollar amount,” says coach, speaker, and author, Pat Durham.

“If a favorite aunt of the couple is on a fixed income, it would be sacrificial for her to give a gift of the same dollar amount as someone who makes six figures.” Instead of spending beyond your means, opt for something sentimental, like personalized glasses or a special reproduction of the couple’s wedding invitation.

If you simply cannot afford to attend the wedding or are feeling financial pressure, it is “absolutely appropriate to simply send a card of support and congratulations,” says Porter. “You do not need to send a gift, but you must acknowledge the invitation to share in this special event by sending a card.”

Should I shop the wedding registry?

How much money should I spend on a wedding gift?
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Whether you give a physical or monetary gift of that value is up to you. If you want to give a gift, plan to shop the registry, says Porter. A newly married couple is often setting up a home and will be grateful for the support.

“Get to the registry early, though, and select a gift that will enable the couple to think of you each time they use it, such as an espresso maker or a suitcase,” says etiquette expert Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley. Otherwise, you run the risk of presenting a mismatched gift.

“Waiting until the last minute, when other guests have already raided the registry will force you to choose from the leftovers. Sending a spatula, three washcloths and a pillowcase is going to look haphazard.” If the registry is picked over or full of items beyond your means, it’s ok to go off-registry. Opt for that personalized memento or a monetary gift.

A good rule of thumb: “If gifting money, give cash, not a check, as it’s easier to manage and can also be pocketed for the honeymoon!” And don’t forget to include a card with a personal message, adds Farley.

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