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Wedding Gift Etiquette – How Much To Give

| by Dee Grant | Pictures By Mom | Where Moms Learn Photography |

I came across this story in our local news paper about a spat between a wedding guest and a bride regarding the wedding gift they gave / received.

Basically, what happened is that the bride (Laura) and bride invited the gift giving guest (Kathy) to their wedding.

They were not close friends – more along the lines of acquaintances.  None the less, Kathy accepted the invitation and brought a guest too.  Kathy and her guest were treated to a full wedding reception, including a meal and open bar, costing the bride and groom over $100 per person.

For a gift, Kathy gave the newlyweds a wicker basket full of snack food, such as chips and candy.

What followed was a chain of emails and text messages that quickly descended into a full out spat…eventually landing in the pages of our local newspaper.

The most surprising thing to me is that most comments on the article seem to agree with the guests – that they were in the right to just give the newlyweds a $40 gift between two people!

In the end, I think the newlyweds could have handled it better by just accepting the gift for what it was (a cheap gift from someone who didn’t really want to be there) and forget about it (instead of asking for a receipt).

But, as a professional wedding photographer and someone who goes to a lot of weddings, the guest was definitely out of line on this one!

So if you are invited to a wedding, here are my five tips on wedding gift etiquette for wedding guests.

“Don’t Make Me Hunt You Down – Send a Respectable Wedding Gift!”

Wedding Gift Etiquette – Five Tips For Wedding Guests

1. Give At Least What It Costs For You (And Your Date) To Be There

I was always taught that you should give at least what it costs the bride and groom to have you at their wedding.

FYI – if you are going to the reception and are being served a full meal and there is an open bar – it is costing the bride and groom a minimum of $100 to have you there – so your benchmark absolute minimum gift is $200 per couple.

Yes – per couple.  It doesn’t matter who your date is.  Some guy you just met or your husband – you should consider covering the cost of both of you.

You can scale that up or down depending on the venue and the season.

For example, a wedding at a big wedding hall on a Friday in January is going to cost less per person than an intimate Saturday wedding in May at a fancy restaurant (but don’t use that as an excuse to cheap out).

If you are wondering what is an average wedding gift – click here.

You should also take into account any ethnic expectations.  For example, certain European customs are to give cash only.

Personally, I don’t think there is a problem giving items that are of equivalent value to cash – but if in doubt – just go with cash.


Its seems that a lot of readers are incensed that the bride and groom would dare to expect a gift.  Some brides do in fact expect a gift – most don’t.  However, if you are invited to a wedding and you want to know what everyone else in the room will be giving the newlyweds – its is going to be something around the value of what it costs to provide your meal and drinks at the reception.  Don’t shoot the messenger.

Many readers also seem to get hung up on the idea that we are suggesting that their gift is paying for a lavish wedding.  The reality is, big or small, right or wrong, weddings are expensive!  The cost of the reception is only a fraction of what it costs to host a wedding – so even if you are gracious enough to give the newlyweds a generous cash gift – you are hardly paying for the wedding.

2. Decline the Invitation If You Don’t Want To Give A Respectable Gift

There are many reasons why you might not want to spend a minimum of $200 to go to a wedding.

You might not be able to afford it at the moment.

You might not really know the bride and groom that well and you don’t want to spend that much just to make an appearance at their wedding.

Or, you might just be frugal.


If you’re not prepared to give a respectable wedding gift, just decline the invitation.

You will be doing yourself and the bride and groom a favor.

And don’t forget that you do have the option to just attend the wedding ceremony if you want to support the wedding couple on their wedding day!  In that case, any gift you give, big or small, would be greatly appreciated.


Many readers have pointed out that their presence is more important than their gift and it is not fair to expect them to decline just because they cannot afford a gift.

Obviously, this is true…well…as long as you are truly a close friend or relative.

The reality is, if you are extended family or an acquaintance that the bride and groom felt obligated to invite…they might just rather that you decline the invitation so that they are not on the hook for your evening.  And while

we’re being honest here – do you really want to go to a wedding of someone you hardly know anyway?

3.  Don’t Fake An Expensive Gift

Don’t pick something up on sale and then pass it off as worth more than you paid for it – that’s just tacky.

Similarly, don’t pick up gift at the Dollar Store and substitute it for a more expensive gift on the couple’s gift registry.

If the couple registered for a $300 set of Egyptian cotton sheets – they want a $300 set of Egyptian cotton sheets!

A $50 set of sheets from Walmart is not an equivalent gift.

4. Include a Gift Receipt

At our wedding we received five fondue sets.  What am I supposed to do with five fondue sets?  I mean, maybe three fondue sets (one for chocolate, one for cheese and one for oil), but five?

Including a gift receipt is just a classy way of giving the newlyweds options.

If they really hate the giant crystal vase you got them – at least they have the option to return it and purchase a vacuum cleaner instead (which every bride and groom needs but nobody ever purchases for them).

5.  Once You RSVP – Give A Gift

This is the worst wedding gift diss of all.

Once you RSVP your place at the wedding, the bride and groom are expecting you to be there.  Your spot, and your guest’s spot are reserved any paid for in full.

You cannot just bail at the last minute.

If something legitimate does come up at the last minute, and you truly cannot attend – you absolutely need to let the reception hall know so that they can make adjustments.

You might also want to tell the bride and groom, but in most cases they have enough to worry about without taking on your problems.

And if you don’t show up once you have RSVP’d – etiquette dictates that you should still give the bride and groom the same gift you would have given if you were there – see Point 1.

 Bonus Tip:  Don’t Hide Behind Group Gifts

This kind of goes along with Point 3 – Don’t Fake An Expensive Gift, but don’t go in on a group gift as a way to avoid paying for a more expensive gift on your own.

If four couples get together to give the bride and groom a thousand dollar patio set – that’s fine.  But if four couples all go in on a $200 sausage of the month club – that’s not cool.

What Do You Think Is A Respectable Wedding Gift?

Do you give cash only?  Do you aim to cover your cost when you give a wedding gift?  How much do you think you should give?

Please be respectful when leaving a comment.

We value your input to the discussion – but comments with personal attacks and name calling will be deleted.

(Sheesh – can you believe I have to put a disclaimer like that for a discussion about wedding gifts. )

The Last Word

I’m going to give the last word on this topic to one of the thoughtful comments we received:

I personally do not look at it as trying to match my gift to the plate cost.  Rather, after having been through the wedding planning process and understanding how expensive everything gets (even for small weddings at cheap venues with cheap per plate costs and many DIY aspects) I look at it more in the sense of helping out.

For every wedding I have attended, I have given a gift to cover the cost of my presence there – merely as a way to help the couple out in the future. For every wedding I have attended, I have loved the bride and groom enough to scrape up the money to give them a nice cheque – nobody wants to start the new married life with wedding debt.

Not everyone needs to give a gift, and you don’t need to match your gift to your plate cost – but I have managed to do so and I’m a student. So if a starving university student has the money management skills to scrape together $300 for herself and her date to attend a cousin’s, sister’s, best friend’s, etc. wedding, I don’t think it’s outrageous to assume at least a few of the other couples going to the event would be able to as well.

Typically, in my experience with weddings, there has never been any griping and anger over wedding gifts and their quality/quantity. Granted, all the weddings I have attended have been small and full to the brim with family member and dear friends. Weddings are not things to turn into arguments – one should not bicker over what is and is not proper etiquette. If the couple is someone dear to you, I believe one should easily be capable of coming up with a lovely gift to help the couple out in the future. It’s not money grubbing, and it’s not putting a price on it. It’s being considerate and helpful – the brides (at least in my experience) have understood that they could likely pay for the entire wedding and get no help via gifts – and I personally do not have a problem helping them out, as I would want someone to care enough and do the same for me.

One More Thing – Before You Leave A Comment….

Lets just chill a bit – here’s a hilarious video that will teach you a few things about etiquette…

Category: Forex

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