The Etiquette of Giving Wedding Gifts

Invited to a wedding? Find out how to handle buying the happy couple a present.

Being invited to someone’s wedding is an honor. You are clearly close enough to the couple (or their parents) that they want you to witness their ceremony and celebrate their special day. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t also responsibilities as a guest. Not only do you have to dress and behave appropriately, but you also may feel pressure to give a gift. As modern etiquette continues to evolve with the times, it is not always clear what is proper. Often on the Internet there are all kinds of contradictory rules floating around and it’s hard to know the right one to follow. We’re here to help!

etiquette guide to giving wedding gifts
Photo by Daniel Kincaid Photography; Planning & Design by Bluebell Events

First of all, while it’s of course not technically required to give a gift and brides and grooms are instructed to not expect one, it’s certainly still a proper and kind gesture. Some people feel you are supposed to match the price per plate, but that is not quite the case. After all, why should you have to give a more expensive gift because a friend or relative chose to have a luxury wedding? On a similar note, a couple who only has the means for a more casual celebration shouldn’t be punished with a smaller gift for that sole reason. The generally accepted minimum value for a gift is $50, with $100 (or more, should you choose) for a close friend or family member – those numbers doubling for couples. However, proper etiquette does not state a dollar value. You should always stick with what is comfortable within your budget, even if that means a smaller gift. Chipping in on a larger present with a group is also an excellent idea, not to mention a great way for the sweethearts to receive some of the more expensive items on their registry. 

If the pair getting married have created a wish list, it’s usually best to pick something from that. What you think is creative may end up meaning the couple gets a gift they already have or have no use for. Truly thoughtful and personalized presents are exceptions to this. If there is no registry, cash or a check is your safest option, and is always appreciated even if there is a wish list of specific gifts. 

Another exception is a destination wedding: as they are so expensive to attend, couples usually do not expect that guests will provide a gift as well. However, cards with well-wishes are always appreciated. Attending the bridal shower, one of the few events where a present is essentially required, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for the wedding, although there’s nothing wrong with spending less than you would have if you hadn’t purchased a previous gift. If you are unable to attend the big day, it is a kind gesture to send along something, but if you choose not to, be sure to send a nice message of congratulations. 

Though technically etiquette says you have one year from the wedding date to give a gift, chances are the newlyweds will assume you forgot or chose not to send anything if they haven’t received a present from you within the first few months of their marriage. With the ease of online shipping, many people are choosing to order wedding gifts before the big day. 

For more advice, discover what to write in a wedding card and when to send thank-you notes

Authored by: Emily Lasnier