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Frugal Living: How Much Should You Spend On A Wedding Gift?

When you’re living on a budget, getting invited to a wedding can seem like a stressful blessing.  Many times, when we are invited to be a guest at a wedding, we are also expected to come up with the cash for shower gifts, travel, bachelor/bachelorette parties and more recently- an engagement shower gift.  (This one still makes me a bit uncomfortable, though luckily most of my friends who throw engagement parties specifically have asked for no gifts, thanks friends!)  Even without a gift, you can easily spend $500 on pre-wedding festivities!

So, what to do if you’re on a tight budget and you’re invited to a wedding?

How much should you spend on a wedding gift, and should you calculate in other costs for travel, outfitting and pre-wedding celebrations when deciding how much to give?

Before I go on, to make things uber simple, here’s my opinion after reading about a dozen articles that annoyed my frugal sensibilities and agitated me with unrealistic etiquette.  Many articles out there (if you’re a Google junkie like I am) seem to assume we all have full time jobs, are out of debt and that picking out a wedding gift is centered around “proper etiquette” and not our latest paycheck- well tough cookies Google, you weren’t very helpful this round, so here’s my frugal take on deciding how much you should spend on a wedding gift!

When calculating what to spend on a wedding gift, consider two things:

Your relationship to the couple & your budget after calculating other wedding expenses.

My take on wedding gifts is this:  Expect to spend at least $50+ on a wedding gift regardless of how much it costs to attend the wedding.  If you’re a student, actively paying off your debts, under or unemployed or recently experienced some financial stressors (like attending 5 weddings in a season, yikes), $50 is a good gauge.

Expect to spend $100+  if you’re bringing a guest, know the couple really well, and you’re more established financially.  On average, most relatives fork over $130+ for a gift, but only get in the triple digits if you can afford to and it feels right.

After doing an unofficial poll- many people under 30 (recent grads, paying down debts) seemed to pay $50-$100 for a gift.  Married couples or more established folks have reported anywhere from $150-$250 as a gift.  Regardless of age and your relationship to the couple- do what feels right for you.

Some “experts” argue you should spend at least $125, since that’s about the cost of your actual plate at the wedding, but playing the guessing game of what the bride/groom is spending on you is tricky indeed.  Honestly, if you’re on a tight budget you should put the relationship first, then apply it to your budget- simply as that.  No crazy rules, no ridiculous calculations.

Should you spend $125 on a coworker’s wedding gift if you don’t know her all too well and it’s stressing you out? Probably not.

Additionally though, if one of your besties is getting married and she deserves a $200 wedding gift since you’ve known her since you were in grade school, but you’ve already spend $550 on an engagement gift, shower gift, bachelorette party and a bridesmaid dress… not even counting the hotel, travel expenses and your hair appointment, should you go into debt for a gift? Also, I’d say not.

Many couples now realize they won’t be able to recoop the cost of the wedding through gifts and are also savvy that not every attendee will be able to afford the high price attendance when other costs are calculated.

What should you spend on a gift for a destination wedding?

I really wish there was a tidy formula for this one- but many brides and grooms host a destination wedding simply to avoid the stresses and hassle of traditional wedding planning, so they’ll understand that attending an event in a far away location could be hefty for guests who could typically gift more for a local wedding.

After you’ve calculated costs for attending in relation to your overall budget (did you set a budget? you should!) if you’re stressed about the gift, it’s time to have an honest talk with your friend-to-wed or look at some budget friendly wedding gift ideas below.  I would still set a base of $25-50 even if the location is exotic and pricey,  but keep things simple with a cash gift or gift card so you can say on budget.  Many couples understand that your presence is their present, but if you’re feeling uncomfortable, be brave and have a conversation about it, or bring a card or small money gift.

What should you spend on a gift if you’re racking up bills in the bridal party?

As soon as your friend-to-wed ask you to be a member of the bridal party, you will need to set up realistic expectations in terms of a budget and

stick to it!   Calculate costs for attending the bridal shower, bachelorette party, wedding day, wedding prep (beauty/hair), apparel and travel, then set aside a budget for a gift.

As stated earlier, the closer you are to the couple getting wed, the more you’re typically expected to spend on the gift itself.  If you’re not particularly close to the bride or groom and you’re asked to step in the bridal party (perhaps out of obligation) give it serious consideration before you say yes- and if not too awkward, have a conversation about price expectations.  While it can be uncomfortable turning down an invitation, being in credit card debt over a distant cousin isn’t fun either-  you can find a classy way to decline (trust me!) as long as you do it early and you communicate clearly.

If you’re in the bridal party and you’re stressing about the gift, it’s time to have a conversation with the bride (or groom to be) and let them know where you stand.  Many times, wedding costs get out of control for the engaged couple, often bringing their bridal party along for the budget busting ride. If their spending is out of control, do your best to curb costs by finding a gift that’s realistically within your comfort zone, or see if you can offer your talents & craftiness elsewhere.

Do you need to gift if you’re not attending the wedding?

Even sending a small gift resonates with my frugal rule about “gift giving based on the relationship.”  If you can’t attend the wedding, sending a gift is a way to demonstrate you cherish the relationship you have with the bride and groom, regardless of your attendance.

If you’re unable to attend the wedding, look at what’s realistic within your budget and either have a registry gift shipped to them before the big day or send them cash or a gift card to the stores they’ve registered with.  Again, depending on the relationship and your budget you’ll know how much to spend.

What should you do if you’re invited to numerous parties before the wedding?

Here’s one suggestion for how to spend your gift budget:  

  • 25% of your gift budget on the engagement/bachelorette present
  • 25% of your gift budget the shower gift
  • 50% of your gift budget total on the wedding gift

So, if you budget that you can only spend $200 on gifts for the wedding, $50 will go to the engagement/bachelorette gift (depending on what you’re invited to), $50 on the shower gift and $100 on the wedding gift.

Budget Friendly Wedding Gift Ideas:

  • Group Gifting- If the engaged couple is lusting over an expensive appliance, consider getting in kahoots with you attendees you’re familiar with and chip in for a group gift.  
  • Cover A Wedding Expense-  If the couple is also on a budget, offer to buy them something practical in lieu of a gift.  If they’re sending out save the dates, offer to curb the cost of postage stamps (.46 x100 invitations= $46.00) or offer to buy the bride her bouquet (anywhere from $75-150).  By covering a wedding expense as your gift, you’ve found a unique way to be a provide a budget friendly gift that’s a part of their special day.
  • Offer Your Talents-  If you’re an artist or heck, just plain crafty- consider helping the bride and groom assemble their centerpieces or help the bride sew gifts for her bridal party or family.  A great offering is to bake treats, or craft the table favors- offering your time and covering the cost of supplies.
  • Gift All At Once-  Many of us are overwhelmed by the sheer amount we’ll spend on an engagement gift, bridal shower, bachelorette party & a wedding gift.  In lieu of 4 different gifts, why not combine the estimated cost of all your expected gifts and offer to give the bride and groom a cash gift to help cover their flowers or photographer as they plan for their wedding?  Not only is this practical, but providing cash at once before the big day can curb some of the couple’s financial stresses and seeing the bride and groom don the flowers you bought feels pretty darn cool.
  • Help The Bride Save Money-  Of course, nobody gets engaged with a Ph.D. in frugal wedding planning, but if you can give the bride some realistic bridal resources that are intended to help her save money, (instead of the godawful magazines and “wedding planning books” that try and make spending $400 on a centerpiece look totally normal), she’ll thank you.  Amazon has great gifts to help plan a frugal wedding  that your bride will thank you for!

So, how do you calculate how much to spend on a gift?

Any funny (or horror stories) you want to share about wedding gift giving?

Category: Bank

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