Wedding Gifts: The Ultimate Guide

When a wedding invitation arrives in my mailbox, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to celebrate the nuptials of a loved one. However, I’m often overwhelmed with the planning, from making travel plans to finding the right outfit and, even more importantly, purchasing a gift that the couple will love. 

Understanding wedding gift etiquette is key in navigating your gift shopping. When you know what to buy, how much to spend, and where to look for gifts, finding the perfect gift for the couple is much easier. 

Check out Wedding Gifts: The Ultimate Guide to get all your questions answered about wedding gift giving.

Wedding Gift Giving History

Before we dive into today’s wedding gift etiquette, it’s important to understand the history of wedding gift giving. The inspiration behind modern gift giving began in the 1920s. During this decade, Marshall Fields department store—now known as Macy’s—introduced the wedding registry. The registry gave couples the opportunity to select fine china, crystal and silver—high-end items that the couple could use throughout their married life and perhaps even pass down to the next generation. Guests could shop the registry and choose gifts that the couple hand selected, which simplified the gift giving process and established wedding registries as a tradition that we carry on today.

Wedding gift giving developed from the onset of registries. While the Great Depression at the end of the decade certainly halted extravagant gift giving, over time, wedding gift giving returned and evolved. As decades passed, couples began to add other items to their registries beyond traditional china. Today, guests can find an array of items on registries, including kitchenware, dinnerware, glassware, home goods, and much more.

Wedding Registries

Today, wedding gift giving begins with a registry. In this digital age, it’s simple for couples to create a carefully curated list of items that they need to start their life together. Ideally, they’ll include products at a variety of price points to suit different budgets and accommodate their guest list.

So, your search for the right wedding gift begins with the couple’s registry. Finding their registry should not be difficult. First, you might see it included on a bridal shower invitation or on their wedding website. If you aren’t sure where the couple is registered, you can look up registries by name on retailers’ websites, so try department stores, home goods stores, and even big-box stores. If you are struggling to find their registry, it’s certainly appropriate to reach out to the couple and ask them where they’re registered. Doing so ensures you peruse all of their lists to find the right item to give.

Once you know where to look, you have a couple of ways to explore the registry. The most convenient option is to look up the registry on the retailer’s website. Search by the couple’s name, and you can scroll through their gift ideas. Even more conveniently, you can add them to your cart, check out, and have the gift shipped directly to their door.

If you prefer to shop in person, you have options there, too. Some stores can print out the registry, or you can pull it up on your phone and look for items. Registries are well organized by product, with some even telling you where you can find the item in your store, which makes for easy shopping.

Before you dive into wedding registry shopping, consider these do’s and don’ts:

  • Do: Check the registry early. Since there’s no defined time period during which you must send wedding gifts, the earlier you shop, the more options you’ll have.
  • Do: Shop the registry for other wedding events like bridal showers. Sticking to the registry ensures that you choose a gift the couple will love.
  • Don’t: Buy something that’s already purchased. While most registries will automatically remove the item from the list once purchased, make sure that the item hasn’t already been fulfilled by another guest.
  • Don’t: Buy an item without getting it marked off of the registry. When you shop online, the item you purchase will automatically be marked as purchased. But, if you shop in a store, make sure that the retailer removes the item from the registry so that a duplicate gift isn’t purchased.

Shopping Off of the Registry

Wedding registries benefit both the couple and their guests. The couple can define what they want and need for their life together, which maximizes the likelihood they receive gifts they’ll actually use. Registries also take the guesswork out of shopping for guests. They can be especially helpful if you don’t know the couple very well—for example, if you’re attending the wedding of a coworker, you might not know their taste in gifts, and a registry can guide your shopping experience.

But, what if you do know the couple well? When you’re shopping for a family member or a close friend, buying a registry item might seem impersonal. It’s appropriate to give a gift from the registry, no matter your relationship with the recipient. However, if you prefer to give a more personal gift, shop with these considerations in mind:

  • Choose a gift off of the registry only if you’re incredibly close to the couple. If you’re the maid of honor, for example, you might have a perfect gift in mind that you know the couple will love. If you’re purchasing for a distant cousin, stick to the registry.
  • Use the registry as inspiration—especially if you’re purchasing something for the home. By checking out the registry, you should get a good idea of the couple’s style preferences and color choices. Use those as inspiration if you’re shopping for an off-registry gift.
  • Get creative. If the couple has registered for dinnerware, don’t buy them a style they aren’t registered for. Keep off-registry gifts to creative items like experiential gifts, which might include a couple massage on their honeymoon or a dinner at their favorite restaurant.

Remember: The wedding registry is your guide, so make the most of it. Unless you have a truly creative gift in mind for a couple you’re very close with, it’s always safest to opt for a gift purchased off of the registry since you know the couple needs it.

Wedding Gift Ideas

While the wedding registry can certainly help you select a gift for the soon-to-be newlyweds, you also want to have a general idea of appropriate wedding gift ideas. Consider these options as you explore your registry to find the perfect gift for the couple.

Dinnerware and Serveware

Dinnerware and serveware are popular wedding gifts. After all, the tradition of the wedding registry began with the desire to gift the couple with fine china for their life together. While today’s couples might opt for more modern and casual styles of china, dinnerware remains a popular wedding gift choice. Purchasing a plate setting or two helps fill the couple’s cabinets so that they’re always ready to host a dinner party. Plus, celebrating special occasion dinners like holiday gatherings and anniversaries is even more meaningful when you’re using your wedding china.

In addition to standard place settings, couples may appreciate coordinating serving pieces like platters, bowls and cake stands. Additional pieces may include serving spoons and forks and flatware.

Barware and Glassware

Barware and glassware are other popular wedding gift selections. Much like dinnerware, these items stock the shelves of the couple’s home so that they’re ready to entertain. They might register for a variety of glassware, including wine glasses, along with tumblers, flutes, and more. Other entertaining items include pitchers and decanters, bar tool sets, cocktail shakers, coasters, and other bar accessories. 

Don’t forget that many of these items can be personalized with etched monograms, which can add a customized touch to your wedding gift. Plus, the newlyweds will love to see their joint monogram permanently displayed.

Linens

Like other wedding gifts, linens help the newlyweds fill their home with items they can use for years to come. Consider bed linens like high-thread-count sheet sets, duvet covers, or pillow shams. Bath linens include bath towels, hand towels, and washcloths. Be sure to check the registry for these items, as couples likely have specific preferences on colors and styles that coordinate with their home.

Home Decor

Home decor items are another popular registry selection. These items vary greatly from couple to couple, depending on their needs. Couples moving in together after the wedding or those who have recently purchased a new home may need more decorative items than couples who have an established and decorated home.

Home decor items can include wall art like pictures frames, framed prints, or canvases. Couples might appreciate throw blankets and accent pillows to create a comfortable sofa or bed. Table lamps, storage baskets, and many more items might be included on their registry to outfit their home. Since these items are style specific, it’s smart to default to the registry when buying decorative items like these.

Kitchen Gadgets and Small Appliances

Help the couple fill their kitchen with practical gadgets and items that they will reach for regularly. Everyday items like cookware and cooking utensils are incredibly practical options that’ll see plenty of use. Small appliances like coffee makers, pressure cookers, blenders, food processors, and slow cookers make life easier.

Personalized Gifts

Monogrammed items are a popular selection for wedding gifts, and you have plenty of options when it comes to delivering a customized gift. Matching monogrammed robes and slippers, bath towels, or beach towels are always appreciated gifts. You can monogram a sterling silver platter, which the couple can use for special occasions. Consider monogrammed luggage for couples who love to travel.

Creative Gift Ideas

While these traditional ideas are commonly found on gift registries, you might opt to select a more creative gift option depending on the couple and your relationship with them. For example, some couples set up honeymoon registries where you can contribute toward their honeymoon with a cash gift or gift cards. 

Wedding Gift Timing

Once you’ve received the wedding invitation and explored the couple’s registry, it’s time to select your gift. The good news is that you have plenty of time to give your gift. Typically, once wedding invitations are delivered, it’s an appropriate time to send your gift. 

However, you don’t have to rush to find a gift, either. You can send your gift up to three months after the wedding, and it’ll still be considered on time. When deciding when to deliver your gift, consider how you want to get it to the couple.

Before the convenience of online shopping, it was typical for wedding guests to show up to the wedding with a gift in hand. However, shopping online from a registry has made the gift giving experience much easier, and you can have the flexibility of sending the gift straight to your recipient’s doorstop. So, while bringing gifts to a wedding was common simply out of practicality in the past, it’s usually no longer necessary. 

Consider these factors when determining how to deliver your gift:

  • Determine how difficult transport to the wedding will be. If you’re traveling out of town for the wedding, you might not want to bring the gift with you.
  • Assess the size of the gift. If it’s cumbersome for you to carry to the wedding, it’ll also be another item that the couple will have to deal with when the wedding is over. In these situations, it’s best to ship.
  • If you’re delivering a cash gift, you might prefer to deliver it by hand so that it doesn’t get misplaced. While you can bring it to the wedding and leave it in a card box on a gift table—if one is available—it might be best to drop it off with the couple before or after their wedding day to ensure secure delivery.

To summarize, you can deliver the wedding gift in a variety of ways: in person, by mail, or at the wedding. Today, most couples opt for shipping gifts thanks to the convenience of online shopping.

How Much to Spend

Cost is likely the top factor you consider when shopping for a wedding gift. After all, you don’t want a wedding gift to break your budget. Plus, you have to consider other expenses that go into being a guest, including travel expenses like airfare and hotels, along with any gifts that you might give at pre-wedding events like bridal showers.

Fortunately, there’s no set amount that you have to spend on wedding gifts. Determining how much to spend requires consideration of not only your budget but also your relationship with the soon-to-be newlyweds. 

Typically, you can expect to spend more on close family members and friends than you would acquaintances. If you’re celebrating the nuptials of your sister, for example, you’re probably going to give a more generous gift than you would to your coworker. Adjusting your gift-giving budget depending on your relationship is appropriate and to be expected. In fact, if you’re married, you might recall that your most generous gifts came from those with whom you’re the closest.

Once you’ve set your budget, you can find a gift that aligns with your price range. Ideally, the couple will include gifts at a variety of price points on their registry, which will give you options. The best way to maximize your gift choices is to shop early, so start looking once that save the date or invitation. 

Destination Wedding Gifting

Destination weddings are a bit different because there is typically a larger financial commitment for guests. After all, guests are usually on the hook for the travel expenses of a destination wedding. These costs may include airfare, accommodations at the couple’s hotel of choice, and expenses associated with the getaway. 

Some couples may consider the guests’ participation in their wedding as the gift, with no tangible gift needed. However, if the couple doesn’t state this clearly, either on the invitation or in discussions about the destination wedding, you should give a gift. Wedding etiquette calls for giving a gift when you attend a wedding, so this etiquette should be observed unless the couple states otherwise.

Keep in mind, however, that you can adjust the amount of money you spend on the gift depending on the financial commitment of the destination wedding. Being a guest at a destination wedding can easily cost upwards of $1,000 or much more, so you can offer a lower-priced gift to compensate for those expenses. 

Avoid bringing any gifts to the destination wedding so that the couple does not have to travel home with them. Instead, deliver your gift before or after the wedding. Even if the couple has a no-gifts policy, you can celebrate their nuptials after the wedding with a bottle of champagne or a thoughtfully written card sharing your congratulations.

Wedding Gift FAQs

Now that we’ve tackled the basics of wedding gifts, let’s dive into some frequently asked questions that can help you navigate gift-giving etiquette.

Should I send a gift if I cannot attend the wedding?

Etiquette experts don’t always agree on this subject. Some believe that a wedding invitation calls for a wedding gift, so you should send one regardless of whether you can attend. Others, however, argue that an RSVP of “no” frees you from the obligation of a wedding gift. After all, the couple will not be paying for you to eat and drink at the reception, so your lack of attendance is a money saver for them. 

Ultimately, the decision should be based on your level of comfort and your budget. If a couple you’re close with is getting married, you’re probably going to want to send a gift, even if you can’t make it to the event. You might be comfortable skipping a gift for the wedding of an acquaintance. If you do choose a gift, you might opt for a lower-priced item since you aren’t attending the wedding.

Do I give a gift to a couple who eloped?

Couples who opt to elope don’t typically register for gifts. So, a wedding gift certainly isn’t expected for couples who elope. That said, it’s always a thoughtful gesture to send a gift to celebrate a couple’s nuptials, so gifts are certainly welcome. 

Like other gift-giving situations, you should consider how close you are with the couple before sending a gift. Since there likely won’t be a registry, shop with the couple’s interests in mind. Instead of buying home goods or kitchenware, in this instance, you might choose a less style-specific gift like a gift card, bottle of wine, or monogrammed items.

Can I give a group gift with other guests?

Group gifting is appropriate for your wedding—and there are a few advantages to doing it. The group gift pools together money from several guests so that you can give a more expensive gift than you could afford individually. This strategy allows you to give the couple a big-ticket item from their registry or perhaps even something meaningful that’s off the registry. 

When planning a group gift, follow these tips. First, determine how much you want to spend and then divide the amount evenly between the guests. Decide who is going to make the purchase and who needs to be reimbursed for the gift. Finally, ensure every contributor’s name is included on the card so that the couple knows who purchased it. 

Can I give cash as a wedding gift?

Yes, cash is considered an appropriate wedding gift—and it’s often a gift that many couples prefer. After all, they can use it for whatever purpose they see fit, whether they’re saving it to put toward the purchase of a new home or splurging on something extra during their honeymoon.

If you do give cash, be sure it’s appropriately labeled as a wedding gift to avoid any confusion. All that requires is putting it in a card or pairing it with a note that wishes the couple congratulations on their nuptials. 

If I give cash, what’s the best way to present it?

Delivering cash gifts can be a bit tricky, as they’re easy to misplace. Ideally, you can give the couple the cash gift directly so that you know they received it. Do not drop an envelope of cash in the mail—if you have to mail the gift, write a check instead. You can bring a cash gift to the wedding provided that there’s a gift table with a card box that will keep the gift safe. Since you might not know this in advance, it’s usually best to do a cash gift delivery in person before or after the wedding if possible.

Does my wedding date need to bring a gift too?

If you received a “plus one” wedding invitation, that means the couple is inviting your guest of choice to accompany you. If you choose to take them up on that offer, keep that in mind when choosing a gift. An extra guest is an added cost for the couple, so you want to reflect that added cost in your gift. So, if you were planning on spending $50 on a gift from you, you might opt for a gift closer to $100 if you arrive with a guest. You don’t have to bring separate gifts, but you should adjust the cost of your gift accordingly.

Do I have to buy a gift if I’m in the wedding?

Being asked to be a part of the wedding is an honor, but it’s one that comes with additional expense. You will have to buy a suit, tuxedo, or dress of the couple’s choice to wear at the wedding. You might be on the hook for expenses related to hosting wedding showers or bachelor or bachelorette parties. However, these additional expenses do not get you out of a gift. It’s still customary for the bridal party to give a gift to the couple—selecting a gift with your budget in mind, of course.

If a couple requests no gifts, should I give one anyway?

No, you should honor the requests of the couple. So, if they request no gifts on their wedding invitation, respect their wishes. If you are not comfortable attending a wedding empty handed, you can always give them—or mail them—a thoughtfully written card that celebrates their nuptials.

Do I have to give a gift if I already gave one at the bridal shower?

Yes, the bridal shower and wedding are two separate events that are both gift-giving occasions. Giving a gift at the shower does not mean you’re in the clear for the wedding. You should give a gift for both events. Typically, you can expect to spend more on the wedding gift than the shower gift. So, when you’re shopping for the shower, which will obviously come first, make sure you don’t overspend, which can leave you on the hook for an even more expensive wedding gift. 

Do I bring a gift for a second wedding?

Yes, every wedding is a cause for celebration, so the couple’s history shouldn’t be a factor in determining whether you give them a gift. Remember the simple rule that a wedding invitation calls for a gift, and you’ll be an etiquette expert when it comes to wedding gift giving.

Conclusion

Next time you receive a wedding invitation, you won’t experience any stress when gift giving comes to mind. Thanks to Wedding Gifts: The Ultimate Guide, you have all of your questions answered about wedding gift giving and you know where to shop, when to buy, and what to give. Now, you can focus on more pressing wedding-related issues like what to wear and who to bring when you celebrate the marriage of a family member or friend.