How much should I spend on a wed­ding gift?

Here are six guide­lines to make that de­ci­sion but in the end it’s up to you

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - LISA BONOS

Out of all the wed­ding tra­di­tions, de­cid­ing how much to spend on the gift ap­pears to be the big­gest source of con­fu­sion for guests.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey from web­site The Knot, 47 per cent of Amer­i­cans re­ported need­ing help fig­ur­ing out wed­ding gift eti­quette. In an in­for­mal sur­vey of my Face­book con­nec­tions, re­sponses ranged from spend­ing as lit­tle as $40 (es­pe­cially if travel was in­volved) to $300.

The most com­mon amount men­tioned was $100, which is in line with the na­tional av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to sur­veys from The Knot and Amer­i­can Ex­press.

This all-over-the-map gift­ing is stan­dard among mil­len­ni­als. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study from, peo­ple ages 18 to 29 were both the most likely to go the in­ex­pen­sive route — one in four spent less than $50 on a gift for a close friend or fam­ily mem­ber — but mil­len­ni­als were also most likely to splurge and spend more than $200 on a gift for a close friend or fam­ily mem­ber.

I spoke to wed­ding eti­quette ex­perts, fi­nan­cial plan­ners, se­rial wed­ding guests and even a friend­ship ex­pert and found six guide­lines.

No es­tab­lished amount

There is no es­tab­lished amount a guest is ex­pected to spend on the happy cou­ple.

Rather, each guest should de­cide how much to spend based on their own bud­get, not the bud­get of the cou­ple get­ting mar­ried.

A wed­ding guest’s gift bud­get will likely fluc­tu­ate through­out their life­time: smaller gifts in their twen­ties, then per­haps more once they’re in their thir­ties and for­ties. The size of a gift might also vary if you’re at­tend­ing with a guest rather than solo.

Your at­ten­dance is more im­por­tant than what you give. Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey from the Knot, the av­er­age cost of host­ing a wed­ding reached $35,329 in 2016. The av­er­age guest spent $888 to at­tend a wed­ding — $118 of that go­ing to gifts. For some­one in the bridal party, those av­er­ages climb to $1,154 and $177, re­spec­tively. Sim­i­larly, a re­cent sur­vey from Amer­i­can Ex­press says the av­er­age mil­len­nial guest spends $893 to at­tend a wed­ding, $928 to be a brides­maid or grooms­man, while mem­bers of other gen­er­a­tions spend less.

Re­ally, ex­perts say, be­ing there is ac­tu­ally the big­gest gift — and that’s not just a cheesy cliché.

“Most of us feel more poverty in time than money,” says friend­ship ex­pert Shasta Nel­son, au­thor of “Fri­en­ti­macy: How to Deepen Friend­ships for Life­long Health and Hap­pi­ness.”

Nel­son, who is in her for­ties, says that now that most of her friends have kids, she sees peo­ple feel­ing more stressed about not be­ing able to make it to a wed­ding than they do about not be­ing able to send a big gift.

“If this per­son has mat­tered to you, it’s worth the sac­ri­fice to be there,” Nel­son says. “That’s the space where there’s a lot more con­flict that I’ve heard about.”

No gifts

And if a cou­ple says no gifts? Please, take them at their word. Jen Doll, free­lance writer and au­thor of “Save the Date: The Oc­ca­sional Mor­ti­fi­ca­tions of a Se­rial Wed­ding Guest,” says she fol­lows that guid­ance.

The no­tion of “pay­ing for your plate” doesn’t ap­ply any­more. This idea, which is some­what old-fash­ioned, came out of a gen­er­ous thought: that wed­dings are ex­pen­sive to throw, so the guests should give back.

But Lizzie Post, the great-great­grand­daugh­ter of eti­quette ex­pert Emily Post, says this rule is long dead. Be­sides, as a guest, you shouldn’t know how much the hosts paid for the wed­ding! Rather, Post notes, by throw­ing a wed­ding, the host is say­ing: I’m hav­ing this mon­u­men­tal mo­ment in my life. Please come cel­e­brate with me.

“The guests are go­ing to want to say thank you for that party; that thank-you can be in words,” Post says.

The gift is not your thank-you for be­ing in­vited, she adds. “The gift is your way of say­ing: ‘Con­grat­u­la­tions. You’re spe­cial to me.’”

No limit

Even for a very mod­est wed­ding, guests don’t have to limit them­selves to what the hosts might have paid for their plates, says Post, co­pres­i­dent of the Post In­sti­tute and co-host of the Awe­some Eti­quette pod­cast.

“If you throw a potluck wed­ding, that doesn’t mean you’re rel­e­gated to a wood­carv­ing gift,” Post adds. “Some­one could still buy you a ster­ling sil­ver tea set.”

Doll adds, “I think we get con­fused be­cause we want to do the right thing. But the right thing is not com­modi­tized.”

Set a range

Set a range for what you will give — which can vary based on how close you are with each cou­ple. Not all re­la­tion­ships are cre­ated equal, so not all gifts will be the same size, ei­ther.

Friend­ship ex­pert Nel­son sug­gests ask­ing your­self: “What would be the up­per end of what you would spend for some­one you re­ally loved” and then what would you spend on “some­one you hardly know?”

Her range for wed­ding gifts is $25 to $100, and the fi­nan­cial plan­ners I spoke with also sug­gested or­ga­niz­ing your gift­ing in this way. Also, look at how much you’ll be spend­ing on wed­dings through­out the year, and then come up with a price point or a range that fits within your bud­get.

Buy early

If buy­ing off the reg­istry, buy early.

An­drew Dam­cevski, a sin­gle, 25year-old fi­nan­cial plan­ner in Cincin­nati, sug­gests that cost-con­scious guests buy their gifts when they get the “save the date” so they can find some­thing on the reg­istry in their price point rather than wait­ing un­til right be­fore the big day.

Sin­gle guests might also com­bine forces with other guests to buy some­thing larger as a group. On my Face­book wall, friends men­tioned buy­ing lug­gage sets to­gether and also look­ing for Cy­ber Mon­day deals or us­ing their Bed Bath & Be­yond coupons to help bring the costs down.

Off reg­istry

But you don’t have to buy off the reg­istry.

Post “hardly ever” shops on the reg­istry, pre­fer­ring to give sen­ti­men­tal gifts over im­per­sonal tea tow­els or an es­presso maker. For her, that of­ten means giv­ing the cou­ple a sim­ple yet clas­sic pic­ture frame en­graved with their wed­ding date — whether they’ve reg­is­tered for that or not.

Or she’ll give to a Honey­fund, which al­lows guests to help cou­ples pay for their hon­ey­moon, but prefers when the cou­ple sets it up so that it’s “buyer’s choice.”

“You al­ways want to make sure that your gift reg­istry or Honey­fund al­lows for guests to give vary­ing amounts. I get so an­noyed when it’s like: ‘We get to do this gift thing now and we’re go­ing to need items.’ ... It spi­rals out of con­trol.”

It’s also a good idea to go off-reg­istry when ev­ery­thing on it is out of your price range.

“It re­ally de­pends on the cou­ple,” Doll says. “If they’re 22 years old and they re­ally need to set up a house, then they re­ally need pots and pans.”

But just be­cause some­one de­cided they want Her­mès plates, Doll isn’t go­ing to go along with it — she’s go­ing to stick to her bud­get.


There is no es­tab­lished amount a guest is ex­pected to spend on the happy cou­ple. Rather, each guest should de­cide how much to spend based on their own bud­get, not the bud­get of the cou­ple get­ting mar­ried.

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