Ask Belle: Wedding Gifts

Jun 4, 2013

Hi Belle,

You have posted some amazing things about what to wear to weddings, but for a girl who is not in the wedding party but is invited (and attending) the bridal shower, a bachelorette in NYC AND a wedding in Italy… I need some advice on gifts.  I do not want to show up empty handed but between purchasing a new dress and train/plane tickets I am running low on cash for this event! What is the appropriate time/amount to bring/send a gift?? There is no way I can do gifts for all three events.

Thanks! Emily

If you’re feeling a bit strapped for cash by wedding travel, I have good news for you.  Etiquette dictates that you have three months from the day of the wedding to send a gift to the couple.  (Some people say one year, but Emily Post says three months.)

I always wait to send wedding gifts for at least a few weeks after the big day.  I do this for two reasons: 1) I usually travel to weddings and hate packing a gift, and 2) it results in a better gift.

Waiting to buy a gift allows you to get the couple a gift that they didn’t realize they needed.  A few years ago, some friends moved into their new apartment the month after their wedding and discovered that the street noise kept them up at night.  So I bought them a nice white noise machine to help them get a good night’s sleep.

Another good gift is a date night.  After couples get married, they are often strapped for cash by wedding and moving and combining two lives, so they stop going on dates.  How about a restaurant gift card or tickets to a concert?  Both are better than a set of napkin rings.

Let the aunties and uncles buy the blenders and the throw pillows, you can buy them a memorable date night or a gift they really want.  Just make sure that you write them a nice, heartfelt card expressing how glad you are to spend their big day celebrating with them and follow up with the gift within the three month window.  So don’t stress about paying for or transporting a gift right now, you have 90 days to get something the couple’s door.

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  1. SEM says:

    I don’t think you fully answered her question. I think she wants to know if she has to get a separate gift for wedding events like the bridal shower and/or bachelorette.

    For the bachelorette, you definitely do NOT need to bring a gift–your presence at the festivities is the gift!

    For the bridal shower, I usually buy something smallish from the girl’s registry, and then give a check for the wedding gift.

    As someone who has gotten married, I can tell you that ANY gift is appreciated, and no bride/friend worth having would care.

    Hope that helps!!

  2. Liz says:

    I like your answer regarding the main wedding present, but I think she was more concerned with all the other events… is she/are you supposed to bring a gift to EVERY event you’re invited to? I’ve always heard you’re only supposed to be invited to one shower (outside of the bridal party) and if you’re invited to more than one you don’t have to purchase the same ‘level’ of gift. What do you think?

  3. J says:

    I never been to a bachelorette where they did gifts. If I go to all 3 events, I normally give a small gift at the bridal shower so they’ll have something to open in front of their family and then a check at the actual wedding. I heard that the check is supposed to cover the cost of your meal at the wedding but I’ve been to a lot of weddings that didn’t have sit down meals so i’m not sure how true that is.

    For my friend’s wedding this month I spent at least $1,000 between the flight, hotel, rental car, & bachelorette party getaway weekend. She knows it’s expensive and flat out told me not to get them a gift but I know that her and her fiance have been really into cooking at home lately so I got them a whole foods gift card and a nice bottle of wine.

    • Helena says:

      Your gift does not need to equal the price of the meal. The amount of money a couple spends on their wedding is their choice and if it is a lavish wedding, guests shouldn’t be expected to help “recover” costs. Just give a gift that seems appropriate to your relationship with the couple.

  4. Rosalind says:

    Also, properly speaking you shouldn’t bring a gift to the wedding itself anyway, as then the bride/groom or relatives have to worry about corraling the gifts at the event and transporting them home afterwards. Sending a gift was always the practice, but it seems even more important in this day and age, when brides frequently return to places they no longer live to get married. Gifts should be sent to the address on the registry or that provided by the bride/groom.

    • hey girl says:

      I agree with Rosalind. If you are giving an actual gift and not money, do yourself and the couple a favor and have it shipped to them.

      I have to disagree with the advice about waiting to send a gift. Never show up to a wedding empty-handed or without having sent a gift in advance if you can help it.

      I prefer to send a gift as soon as I get the save the date or invitation. That way, I have lots of options from the registry instead of whatever $2 spatulas and $500 place settings are left over after all the reasonably priced items have been purchased. The advantage for the couple is immediate gratification, and they can get ahead on thank you notes.

      Also, it is my experience that the longer you wait to buy a gift, the easier it gets to continue putting it off. Next thing you know, two years has gone buy and you guiltily remember you never sent a gift.

      As for how much to spend on a gift when you are spending a lot on the wedding, just spend what you can afford without going broke. Anyone who is worth being friends with will appreciate your gift, regardless of cost.

    • Ann says:

      I agree with Rosalind, but the exception is when you give cash or a check. You can put it in a wedding card and hand it to the bride and groom. My hubby and I appreciated having some spending money handed to us right before the honeymoon and it wasn’t a hardship to pack the cards.

  5. As a former bride and bridesmaid in a number of weddings, I would say never to bring the present to the actual wedding ($ in an envelope would be the only exception) – especially if the wedding is taking place somewhere where the couple doesn’t live. They’re a pain to deal with from having someone make sure they don’t get stolen to getting them back home. Most registries give you the option to have gifts shipped directly to the couple anyway.

    I agree with Belle – waiting a few weeks/months after the wedding to send a gift is a great option and gives you more time to spread out the expense. Personally, I received gifts more than 3 months after the wedding and didn’t mind at all – especially since we had a destination wedding and I know people spent a lot to travel for it.

  6. L says:

    I got married three years ago and tried to do everything by the book regarding etiquette. Small gifts for showers are fine–no bride with any manners expects anyone to break the bank for her parties. For example, for kitchen showers I give a set of kitchen towels and some nice wooden spoons. For a stock the bar shower, I give anything from cocktail napkins or stirrers to a bottle of the couple’s favorite liquor. As for the wedding gift, I disagree with Belle–stick to the registry if you can afford what’s left. The registry exists because the couple has decided what they need and what fits. No matter how well you know the couple and how thoughtful you think you are, your gift just may not work well for the couple. (I still have a few non-registry gifts that did not go with anything, have not been used, and could not be returned because the giver did not include a gift receipt.) If you can’t afford what is left on the registry, give white towels–classic and useful.

  7. Liz G says:

    It may be different in different areas, but here (in Texas), it’s only expected that you give one gift, even if you attend both a shower and the wedding. When I got married, I got lots of gifts at my showers, and the only gifts I received at the wedding were from people who were unable to attend a shower.

    The only execeptions were from our parents, who each gave us a small gift at every shower, and then large gifts after the wedding.

    We also do come from/ got married in a small city, so again, maybe it’s different.

  8. Emily says:

    I have a friend who doesn’t buy gifts for weddings she has to travel for…out of state etc. Is this normal practice? She says her gift to the couple is attending their wedding. Has anyone else heard of this? Is it normal? I would guess no, even when I was really broke and traveling for weddings I would buy something small that I could afford off the registry.

  9. Ellen says:

    As a relatively recent former bride and event planner, I would suggest:

    1. Stick to the registry. They have it for a reason and they didn’t register for certain things for a reason.

    2. If you can’t afford any further items on the registry because you waited (good reason to buy early)then write a check (any $ is appreciated no matter the amount) or a gift card to one of the places they registered at.

    3. Don’t bring a gift to the wedding unless it is an envelope. It is a pain in the neck to the everyone (the family of the bride/groom, the planner, the giver). Just have it sent. I know bringing gifts to weddings is VERY popular in the Midwest (I’ve seen people bring a grill), but not so much on the East Coast.

    4. Don’t wait until after the wedding to give a gift. Send it either early (if you want to budget it out of a different month’s money) or at the time of the wedding. Until it is received the bride and groom, no matter how nice they are, will always be thinking “I wonder if so and so’s gift got lost. Maybe so and so didn’t get us a gift.” It becomes awkward.

    • hey girl says:

      This is the best advice^

      • mk says:

        Second that! Also would add that it’s nice to at least buy a card to acknowledge the day and write some meaningful words in them. When I got married, I didn’t expect that a couple of friends whom I invited wouldn’t even bother with a simple Hallmark card; to me, that would mean more than any gift, and certainly would show your support for the couple and the important step they’re taking.

  10. Lindsay says:

    Wedding in Italy? At this point in my early professional (i.e. underpaid) life, I consider traveling to the wedding (especially internationally) to be as much as I can spend on the wedding. My friends pretty much understand, and when I do give a gift, I do the gift card to a restaurant/movie route. I value experiences over stuff, and that comes out in my gift giving.

  11. Meg says:

    As a soon-to-be bride, I’m personally not having a shower just to avoid the awkwardness of double gifts from friends. But I would suspect something small would be appreciated in your case. And I don’t think gifts at bachelorettes are the norm.

    As for the wedding gift, I’m a fan of getting it over with early. More choice on the registry and the couple can get ahead on thank you notes. If you don’t see anything you want to give on the registry I’d do cash or gift card to where the couple registered. I know people like to feel original by going off-registry, but I really don’t think it’s appreciated as much as they think it will be. Like others said, it was made for a reason and they probably put some thought and time into what they registered for. If the wedding is in Italy, I would suspect again, that the couple won’t expect much. Just give what you can afford with a heartfelt note.

  12. Anna says:

    I’m a fan of thoughtful but useful gifts. Having a restaurant gift card isn’t going to cause anyone hardship and is certainly going to be used. I sometimes buy something inexpensive on the registry and then add something personal. For one wedding, I bought a cheese board from the registry and combined it with a gift card to a fancy cheese shop. And to a recent wedding, I bought a set of bakeware ($20) and am combining it with homemade mixes for cookies, brownies, etc. I plan on putting everything in a cute basket wrapped in cellophane. The bride isn’t much of a baker and would otherwise make stuff out of a box. It should all come in under $50.

  13. LAP says:

    I have noticed that here at least on the East Coast, couples receive shower and wedding gifts. Sometimes, there are even expectations for the Bachelorette party, like lingerie. While it’s all appreciated, it does add up to an extreme amount, especially if travel is involved to get to the wedding or any other parties for the bride and groom. Now that I’ve had my own wedding, I realize the incredible costs that are incurred on the guests or bridal parties behalf. While I was extremely mindful of this as a bride, I would have even been more so now that I’ve gone through it. In preparation for a friends wedding out of state, I am pretty sure that I will likely spend well over $1,000 on the events and day of the wedding with travel, gifts, dress, car rental, etc. It’s pretty extreme, however I think when you are asked to be in the wedding party you can also opt out and be honest with what you can and cannot afford to do or partake in. In many ways, I feel like once you say yes, you have kind of signed up for the costs you’ll incur, which is sometimes not exactly ideal if you must travel or have a bride and groom that are not mindful of cost.

  14. s-p-c says:

    As a recent bride, I think that a very small token for the shower (a picture frame for a future wedding photo, a small item from the registry, a newlyweds’ cookbook) is perfect. Nothing needed for the bachelorette – and as to timing for a wedding gift, I’m sure that it would be welcome whenever you send it. One of the most creative and appreciated gifts that I received was a gift certificate for a famous restaurant at my honeymoon destination, in case that’s an option to buy when you arrive in Italy for the wedding (if they’re staying for their honeymoon). Good luck!

  15. Ginger R. says:

    I’ve learned the hard way to buy gifts off registry’s immediately, otherwise all the affordable options will be lost!

    When you go to Italy for the wedding work on a unique photo of the wedding part. Sometimes I have to take multiple photos to get the perfect one. Now you’re set up with a not-too-expensive Christmas gift. Perhaps it would go with the frame you’ve given earlier.

  16. Nina says:

    Your presence is the greatest gift! I’m sure your friend would rather have you there than have a blender. If all you can afford is cards then write really heart-felt cards for the shower and the wedding and your friend should appreciate that. If you can afford something from the registry, then get that for the wedding. If you are crafty, consider making something.

    • Belle says:

      I think there is a classy way to have the “my presence is enough” attitude and a tacky way. I think Nina is right on the money, heartfelt cards plus a small gift for one event if you can swing it is better than showing up with a “I don’t need to buy a gift, I’m the gift” attitude.

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