Budgeting

How Much Should You Spend On A Wedding Gift?

So you just received a wedding invitation from a cousin you haven’t seen in almost ten years. You know the rest of your family will go, which means you probably will too. But what to get her for a wedding gift? You probably aren’t as close to her as you might be to your best friend, who is also getting married later this year. But does that mean they should each get wedding gifts of different values?

Gift-giving can be quite tricky to navigate. However, by taking a little bit of time to think about what to get for the intending couple and learning about the various wedding gift etiquette, you could avoid any faux pas along the way.

In this post, let’s explore how much you should spend on a wedding gift without feeling cheap or creating too much drama.

Spending on a wedding gift

How Much Is The Average Wedding Gift?

If you were to take a quick look around the web, you’d find that approximately $100 is the current going rate for a wedding gift. Here are a few specific examples:

  • According to wedding registry site Zola: $50-$75 if you’re not close (a coworker, acquaintance, or distant relative), $75-$100 if you’re a friend or relative, and $100-$150 if you’re a close friend, immediate family, or part of the wedding party.
  • From Vogue (per a study from the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker): $99 if you’re a friend, $127 if you’re a family member.
  • Recommended by NerdWallet: $128 if you’re a close friend.

Almost every site unanimously agreed that it might be in bad taste to spend less than $50 on a gift.

Wedding gifts

If you think that $100 sounds too much and you’re about to blame it on the rising cost “per plate” that most wedding receptions charge, you might want to hold on for a second …

The “Per Plate” Tradition DeBunked

It’s been a long-standing rule of thumb that when it comes to wedding gifts, you take the amount of money that the happy couple shelled out to feed you at their reception and then give them an equivalent amount as a gift.

… and then the 1970s ended!

Seriously, the “per plate” rule used to have some validity back when weddings were modest and reasonably priced. But the times have changed, and the wedding industry has completely distorted the cost of nearly every purchase you’re going to make in the wedding process. And so, unfortunately, this concept of “making your money back” through the wedding gifts from wedding guests is completely outdated. Thus, this wedding gift etiquette that used to be the rave in the past should also no longer apply.

Take this example from Buzzfeed. A couple spending $2,000 on their wedding back in 1974 would be more like $10,000 in today’s dollars if you accounted for the average increase due to inflation. But that’s part of the problem. The wedding industry has escalated the cost of nearly everything way above and beyond what it used to (or should) cost. As the author concluded, the REAL cost of a similar wedding in today’s dollars would actually be more like $47,286!

What does that work out per person?

  • 1974 = $6.67 per person
  • 2017 = $157.62 per person

As you can see, if you gave a gift of $20 back in 1974, that would have more than covered your “supposed” portion of the wedding for you and a guest. But in 2017, you’d have to give over $300, and that’s just simply unrealistic.

Traditional Wedding gifts

How You Should Decide Your Wedding Gift Budget

Ultimately, the amount of money you’re going to spend on a wedding gift depends just on two main questions:

1-How Close Are You To The Couple?

How well do you know the couple getting married? If they are your close friends, relatives, or a coworker that you truly enjoy being around, then feel free to be as generous as you want. However, if you feel as though you’re attending the wedding more out of obligation and you’re not really close to the person, then no one will blame you if you tread in the lower end of the budget.

2- What Are You Comfortable With Spending?

Ultimately, you have to answer to your conscience. If you feel like just $50 is a low wedding gift amount, then go up. If you think $100 is completely outrageous, then lower it. There’s really no wrong answer.

However, you should only spend what you can afford. There is no point in trying to impress anyone with the size of what you are handing to the couple. In fact, most couples will appreciate thoughtful gifts above ostentatious items. In addition, real wedding guests gift the couple presents of their presence. The fact that you are physically available to share in the couple’s joy is/should be gift enough.

So, if you cannot afford items on the wedding registry, you can get an off registry gift. You could also decide to pair up with someone else and get a group gift. Finally, gifts don’t always have to be physical items. You can offer services. Are you a badass makeup designer? Offer to do the bride’s or bridesmaids’ makeup for free? You can be their designated driver, etc. There are a few options to consider if you are not in the financial position to give registry items as a guest.

Other Wedding Gift Budget Considerations

wedding gift budget

In addition to simply deciding how much you’d like to spend on the wedding gift, there are a few other points that you may want to take into consideration:

Do I Give A Gift Or Cash?

If you feel funny about giving a cash gift or a check or that it will somehow not look as good as buying something off the couple’s wedding registry don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with cash gifts, and choosing cash as your wedding present does not make you cheap.

In fact, many younger couples welcome the idea because it might help them save for a down payment on a house or pay off student loans. Some even set up special online accounts or even a wedding website where the guests can digitally transfer their gifts of money.

By the way, if you do plan on getting something that’s not on the registry, be sure it’s a thoughtful gift that you 100% know they will love.

Another thing to note, if you are giving a check instead of a physical gift, it is ideal to write either of the couple’s names in the recipient’s section of the check. In coming up with your gift ideas, you may feel like writing the newlywed’s surname on the check. That will be counterintuitive as it would take them a while to cash such a check. So, you could choose to write one of the couple’s names and then include a nice note. Also, when giving cash, you may want to do so before the wedding itself. This will give the couple or wedding planner some money to work with while planning the wedding event. This is a very thoughtful gesture that may not seem like a lot but could make quite the difference for the couple.

What If I Already Gave A Shower Gift?

Even if you already gave a shower gift or maybe pitched in during the couple’s engagement party, you still need to give them something on their wedding day. 

Some etiquette experts recommend using something called the 60-20-20 rule to keep things from getting out of hand.   This breaks up the total amount of money you’d like to spend into the following portions:

  • 60% for the wedding gift
  • 20% for the bridal shower gift 
  • 20% for the engagement gift

For example, if your total budget was $150, you might spend approximately $30 on the engagement gift, $30 on the gift for the shower, and $90 on the wedding gift.

What If I Bring A Plus-One?

If you bring a wedding guest with you, then socially, you’re supposed to increase your gift budget. In that case, you can just contribute the average wedding gift amount you would on a regular day. Again, this one is rooted back in the old “per-plate” rule. Under this way of thinking, the couple had to pay extra to feed your extra guest.

Can I Get a Group Wedding Gift?

Absolutely. You can decide to join forces with a number of people to get the couple a wedding gift. This is especially important if you have spent quite a bit on the wedding already. For instance, if you are part of the wedding party members of the bridal train, then it makes sense that after spending to pay for the bridesmaid dress or to attend multiple events, you do not get to spend so much afterward. Of course, it would be in bad taste to just send warm wishes to the newlyweds. Thus, pairing with some people and getting a great gift is one to communicate to the couple that you are thoughtful. A group gift will typically cost more than the average gift but will also be less expensive for each person individually.

Travel / Destination Wedding

If you had to fly, get a hotel, or even stay at a resort to attend a wedding, then it’s perfectly acceptable to consider that when you’re figuring out the wedding gift budget. Destination weddings are a lot more expensive and the couple will understand you paid quite a bit out of pocket to make it to their special day, and so should be fine with you spending a little less.

What If You Can’t Attend?

If you’re family or relatively close to the couple, but you can’t make the wedding, then you should probably still send a gift to show your appreciation. However, it’s generally socially acceptable to spend a little less than you normally would if you want to. This one is also tied to the old “per-plate” rule but works for your benefit since now the couple doesn’t have to pay to feed you and a guest.

Are There Times When You Can Forgo Giving a Gift?

Yes, actually. Proper etiquette demands that guests spend some time and money getting a couple some gifts. However, you could forgo getting the couple a gift in some limited circumstances. For instance, just like mentioned above, if you have already spent quite some money preparing for the wedding or getting to the wedding location if it is a destination wedding, you may forgo getting the couple a gift. But even when you have done all of that, if you could still get the couple a gift, do not hesitate to do so. You could look through the couple’s registry and select smaller gifts that wouldn’t cost you so much.

How Much Should You Spend On Wedding Gifts: Final Thoughts

A wedding is a special time in a couple’s life, and now you know how much to spend on a wedding gift to celebrate them! Use this guide and find a wedding gift that’s the right amount and perfect for the happy couple.

Is all this talk of weddings getting you in the mood to propose to your significant other? If so, you may enjoy our article on how much you should spend on a wedding ring.

DJ Whiteside

DJ Whiteside is a financial enthusiast who believes in helping other people to achieve financial independence. He’s constantly looking for practical ways to optimize savings, reduce spending, and create a lifetime of passive income. DJ holds an MBA from the University of Michigan, which allows him to take an analytical approach to financial topics. He has been a financial writer since 2011 and has self-published 5 personal finance eBooks relating to saving, retirement, and financial independence.

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