Where Logic Meets Love

10 Tips for Wedding Gifts (Buying and Receiving)

Friday, September 7, 2012

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10 Tips for Wedding Gifts (Buying and Receiving) | Faith Permeating Life

Summer has typically been the season of weddings for our friends and family, but for some reason this year it's September and October that are chock-full of weddings. I went to my cousin's wedding this past weekend, and we've booked our flights to Ohio for a friend's October wedding for which Mike will be a groomsmen. The rest we won't be able to attend, but we do buy gifts for everyone.

This got me thinking about wedding gifts and wedding registries, both about our own experience as a couple receiving gifts and about our experience now with buying gifts. I decided to put together a list of wedding gift-related tips for both brides-to-be and wedding invitees.

Of course, when it comes to something like gifts, different people have different ideas about what's best, or most proper, or most helpful. These are based on my personal experiences and preferences, and not everyone will agree, but I find there's still value in sharing what works for me and hearing what works for other people. Please share your thoughts and your own tips in comments!

Tips for Creating a Wedding Registry

1. Your registry size should grow with your guest list size.
I received an invitation this week for a cousin's wedding, and I got on my computer immediately to look at their registries. Between their two registries there were fewer than 10 items left that hadn't been bought, and only two were in our price range. It's possibly they're having a very small wedding, but if not there are going to be a lot of people having to either give cash (which a lot of people don't want to do, for various reasons) or guess at something the couple might want. There may not be a lot of things you need, but if you're having a large wedding, expect that there will be a lot of people wanting to buy you gifts. It's OK to get creative in what you ask for (see #3) and register for intangible items -- just avoid leaving people hanging.

2. Look over the price range of your registry.
Certainly you should register for the items you want, but also take a minute to see how many of your items fall into each price range ($0-$25, $25-$50, $50-$100, $100+). There's nothing wrong with asking for some big-ticket items, but consider whether guests with smaller budgets will be able to buy a gift off your registry. One option is to see whether multi-packs (plates, glasses, pots) can be registered as individual items instead, so if no one can afford to buy you that entire set of crystal goblets, you might still get enough goblets from people who each buy one or two. Don't forget about small items like salt and pepper shakers and serving utensils. On the other hand, this is your opportunity to ask for the highest quality items, like those super-luxurious sheets and towels that you'd never buy yourself if you were bargain-hunting. This is one time you don't have to be frugal when picking things for your home.

3. Don't be afraid to get creative.
In addition to registering for household items, Mike and I set up a registry on Honeymoon Wishes. We went on a cruise for our honeymoon and picked out a few excursions we wanted to go on, and we broke the price of each down into $25 or $50 increments that people could contribute to the total cost (after first adding to the cost to account for the 7% fee the site takes). We weren't sure how people would react, but these ended up getting bought almost immediately, and we had fun sending pictures afterwards to the people who had contributed to each excursion. When Mike and I buy gifts for friends' weddings, we often look for fun items on the registry like a tent or a ping-pong set. Yes, some people have more traditional ideas about what's an appropriate wedding gift, but other people may want the opportunity to give a unique or experiential gift.

4. Be kind to out-of-town guests.
Not everyone will be able to attend the wedding, and those who are attending may be traveling from far away and not want to worry about bringing a gift or buying (and wrapping) one upon arrival. It's frustrating for me as a guest when the majority of a friend's online registry are "in-store only" items; even worse is something like Home Depot, where you have to get the registry number and physically bring it into a store to buy a gift. Your out-of-town guests should have the opportunity to view at least one of your registries online, order a gift online, and have it sent to an address you've already provided to the website.

5. Share where you're registered.
Yes, there are all sorts of etiquette things around not wanting to outright ask for gifts, but seriously -- I know you're registered somewhere, so just tell me. Otherwise I have to spend time checking all the common stores, and this can be even more of a hassle if you're registered somewhere unusual or -- as I've seen happen -- one of your names is spelled wrong on the registry. Which is another good tip: Double-check that all the information on your registry is correct, so people searching for it will be able to find it!

Tips for Buying Wedding Gifts

1. Be hesitant to deviate from the registry.
If you're buying (or making) the couple something not on their registry, it should be decidedly different from anything they have listed. For example, some great non-registry wedding gifts we received included a quilt made by Mike's aunt, a picture book about our relationship created by a friend from college, and Christmas stockings. On the other hand, we had on our registry a cake plate, which was given to us at my bridal shower, and we received two more cake plates as wedding gifts. Not only did we not need or have the space in our apartment for three cake plates, but the one we'd requested had a cover, and the other two did not, and one was from an antique store and couldn't be returned. We also got an entire 10-piece cooking set that we returned because we barely had room for the 10-piece cooking set we had registered for. Remember that the couple getting married put thought into which items to register for, and if you don't check their registry before buying, your gift may end up being a duplicate or something they don't have space for -- so don't be offended if they return your gift.

Also, if you buy something from the registry, make sure the store knows it's bought. This is easy to do online if you Add to Cart directly from the online registry screen, but if you buy it in store, be sure it's entered or scanned as being part of the couple's registry so they don't receive duplicates.

2. Make use of online registry filters.
Mike and I have decided on a specific amount we'll spend on wedding gifts, and a smaller amount for bridal shower gifts. One thing that has saved me a lot of time is realizing that there are drop-down filters at the top of a lot of online registries, so I can quickly filter down to Items Remaining (instead of sorting through ones already bought) and ones that fall within our price range, then sort by price. This way I can quickly see which items I have to choose from, and then pick something fun (see #3 above) or something we ourselves own and like. I also try to pick something that is a little less than our budgeted amount so with tax and shipping it will come out about right. Failing this, I can go down a price range and pick out two or three items that together fit our budget. Just be careful to indicate to have the items shipped together -- my mom had an awkward moment of having two items shipped separately so the couple received a gift from her first that was only a few dollars; she called them so they'd know it wasn't the only thing she'd gotten them!

3. Cash and checks are A-OK.
Some people think that giving cash or a check is an impersonal gift, and I totally get that feeling, but I also know how much we appreciated all the monetary gifts we received for our wedding. We mostly used the money to buy the items on our registry that we didn't receive but also put it toward some things we hadn't realized we would need when we put together our registry. Everything we received, whether gifts or money, was deeply appreciated. If you feel too awkward giving cash, consider giving a gift card to one of the places the couple is registered so they can put it toward something they wanted to receive but didn't.

4. Ship your gift rather than bringing it to the wedding.
Not everyone will agree with me on this one, but I know for us it was great to have wedding gifts shipped directly to us. For one thing, we could open them and write thank-you notes a little at a time (though we waited to send all of them until after the wedding). Also, there were the logistics to organize of getting the gifts from the reception to us; we didn't want to have to haul out all the gifts into our car before leaving the reception, so my parents took them home and we went over to their house the next day to open them, then load them into our car. I know couples for whom the logistics are far more complicated if they're getting married somewhere far away from home, and some people forget to account for all the gifts they'll get the day of until they're at the reception and the gift table is piling up, and they have to figure out who has a car big enough for everything, how they'll get them home, etc. So my advice is to save everyone this hassle and just have the gifts sent directly to the couple; most online registries will have their preferred address on file so you don't even have to know what it is.

5. Don't bother with gift wrap for shipped gifts.
When buying wedding gifts to have shipped to friends and family, I'm often asked during the checkout process if I want to add gift wrap for a few extra dollars. Having been on the receiving end of wedding gifts already, I never get the gift wrap. Pretty much everything shipped to us came in a brown box anyway, and it was enough anticipation opening up the box to see what was inside. A wrapped gift is just another layer to unwrap, and I couldn't even tell you whose gifts were wrapped and whose weren't because it didn't matter to us at all. Save some trees, save your money, skip the gift wrap.

Those are my tips for wedding gifts. Agree/Disagree? What would you add?


  1. A girl I went to university with who got married when we were in third year put all her text books on her registry. That was kind of weird... She also had $350 (each!) pillows. And you had to buy two of them. To this day, I have no idea what they were made of to cost that much. I'm still curious to know if anyone bought them for her!!

    Other than that, I've not really had to deal with registries. I've really only been to two weddings. One couple asked for money towards buying a house (an entry level house in Australia is at least $400,000), and the other was the wedding I went to in the US last year, and the bride said that my being there was present enough!

    Basically, I'll have to keep your tips in mind in the future :)

    1. I always wonder that about registries with really expensive items -- how many of those things does the couple end up actually getting? Even if you do have a lot of cash to drop on a wedding gift, would anyone really decide to put their $700 toward a gift of two pillows?

      I definitely agree that if you're spending a bunch of money just to get to the wedding, you shouldn't feel obligated to buy a present on top of it, although I'm sure some etiquette experts would say you should get them a little something anyway. It's entirely possible there were people who came to our wedding and didn't give us presents, and that's fine with me. I don't ascribe to the notion of "you're getting a dinner that costs X so you should spend at least that much on a gift." It's not a business exchange, it's a celebration of a couple's relationship!

    2. $350 for a pillow! That's crazy! Would love to know what it was made of.

    3. It was some kind of bonkers hypoallergenic pillow, from memory. Presumably made of gold for that kind of money!!

  2. I LOVE these! As someone who often says "I go to weddings like it's my job! I should get paid for this!" I'm always looking for creative and also practical wedding gift ideas. Usually I go to the registry first. 1) If there is something they actually want and would use that I can afford and would like to give to them, that's the best option. 2) Even if you end up buying something that isn't on the registry, you have an idea of what they want, what they already have, and their tastes.

    There have been several times I've bought gifts that weren't on the registry. One summer I had three weddings in a row for some very close friends. So I made each couple a small scrapbook of photos of them through their relationship. They loved it! I also will buy other things that aren't on their registry, but still go with their tastes and what they want and will use. One example would be that I had one friend who had a lot of butterflies and flowers on the decor for their registry. There wasn't anything on the registry itself that I could see myself giving them, so I ended up buying them some small vases that had butterflies on them. The bride said they were her favorite gift.

    So if you go off of the registry- still look at it! Don't replicate what they already requested and want or already have, but still get inspiration for their tastes and needs.

    1. That is an excellent addition to the tips! Not only should you consult the registry to make sure you're not duplicating a gift, but you can check that your gift fits with the couple's tastes. Similarly, anyone looking at our registry would have seen that we had a lot of collapsible/foldable type items to help us store them in our small apartment, so that hopefully gave people a hint that we didn't have space for large items.

  3. I'm old fashioned enough (at least in this regard) that I don't like the idea of registries, as it comes down to asking for gifts. I didn't have one. My sister had a list of my color preferences in case people asked, but that was all.
    I don't think we ended off much worse off than if we had registered. Yes, there were a few perverse people who gave us things like massive silver candlesticks or a 18" suncatcher of fruit in primary colors, but people like that are not going to be deterred by a registry. :-D
    Cash or gift cards are great (especially for couples who are moving!) but make sure the gift card size is commensurate with the store. A $10 gift card to Walmart is fine--a $10 gift card to Pier 1, not so much.

    1. That's really interesting. I read a statistic that 98% of couples have a wedding registry, so I knew there had to be some who didn't, but I have yet to be invited to a wedding where there wasn't one. I've personally never understood the idea that asking for specific gifts is impolite in some way; there's enough tradition around giving wedding gifts that I feel it's expected, so from a guest's perspective, not knowing what a couple wanted would mean far more work on my part to pick out a gift, and less certainty that it would be liked and used, which seems less considerate than providing a wish list. (I have the same philosophy toward birthday and Christmas wish lists.) But I'm also very adamant that weddings are best when they reflect the couple's uniqueness rather than trying to uphold every tradition, and that can certainly extend to wedding registries as well.

      That's a great point about gift cards -- pick an amount that reflects your budget, but make sure the couple will actually be able to buy something with the gift card without spending too much of their own money on top of it.

    2. I guess I'm more of an anachronism than I thought. But Miss Manners is still on my side! (I think it's one thing to give a wish list to someone who explicitly asks for it--but printing it on an invitation or sending it proactively to Grandma for Christmas still rubs me the wrong way.)

      I also still hold to the opinion that, in general, and for the same reason, showers should not be hosted by immediate family members, though it caused some dissension in my own family a few years back as my one sil did not have any friends close by and my other sil and sister thought she should not get a shower hosted by family. (It was finally, in a polite fiction, "hosted" by the wife of one of my brother's co-workers at our stepmother's house.) I do see her difficulty, but I still think it's a good general principle. Asking for gifts is rude.

  4. I agree with all of these tips as far as "giving a tangible gift" goes. But as you said, people have different tastes and opinions, and I wanted to give a shout out to the "no seriously, cash/checks are REALLY, REALLY okay! Probably preferred, actually."

    I know it's taboo and sounds selfish and boorish, but the gifts that made the biggest impact on our "new life together" were the cash gifts. The tangible gifts gave us the most delight ("eee look what so and so got us! This is so cool!") and the off-registry ones were the most touching (a pair of walking sticks carved by one of his friends--so awesome), but money is what we needed most. We already had nice dishes and matching towels. We paid for the wedding ourselves, and while it wasn't necessarily a burden on our finances, recouping some of what we spent has put us significantly closer to our goals, like paying off student loans asap, still having a safety net, and saving up for a house down payment.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience and putting in another vote for cash gifts being OK! Different couples have different financial situations, but I think it's pretty rare for someone not to appreciate a gift of money.

  5. We actually didn't get many of the gifts we had listed on our registry, which I have to admit was a little annoying. We got quite a lot of money instead which we really appreciated, and we used it all to buy important things that guests hadn't bought, but also things we hadn't asked for like the washing machine. We also got gift vouchers, the majority of which weren't for the stores listed, but again we still found useful things to buy with them. We got some beautiful handmade and personal gifts from close friends, but some relatives gave us really cheesy presents that we hadn't asked for and have no use for - the worst is an embroidered Mr & Mrs cushion - it's sitting in the basement with a pile of junk because we really have no use for it and it's... hideous. I wish they'd just bought us a frying pan, or if they wanted to get us something fun we had plenty of quirky alternative items listed!

    The other thing that we did that went down really well was asking for donations towards a safe house for boys in Brazil where I did some mission work. People really took to that idea as an alternative to physical gifts, especially those who knew about my time there. If couples can afford to have charity giving as an option i.e. they don't mind missing a few gifts, then I would recommend it.

    1. That's very cool that you asked for donations. I've tried doing that for birthdays and Christmas, explaining that I really only want a few things and would prefer donations over getting something I didn't ask for... but so far I haven't had much luck with that.

  6. I completely agree with all of your points and can relate to every single one of them. For instance, we went to a wedding last year and they hadn't registered for much and everything was really expensive, so it made it really hard to find a gift we actually wanted to give them.

    1. I think some people register for few items in order to ensure that they get all of them, but when you do that and everything's really expensive, then that makes it tough for some people. Maybe they're hoping people will go into together on big items, but at least at our wedding not everyone we invited knew many other people going.

  7. For the record, you bought us something that was not on our registry -- an iced tea maker -- and it is the BEST gift (in my opinion) that we got! I use it all the time, and never would have thought to register for it, or buy it for myself. That's a great example of buying OFF the registry and getting something that you know someone will like, because you know THEM. :) Thanks!
    -Missy :)

    1. I'm so confused -- that was totally on your registry! I never would have thought of getting you that on my own. Maybe Dan registered for it without you knowing because he knew you would like it? You should ask him, seriously, because I swear it was on your registry :)

  8. Looks gorgeous and will be a great resource for what I'm sure will be your fabulous wedding!

    specialized marriage planners

  9. Beautiful tips!! Hopefully I will be engaged soon

  10. Beautiful tips!! Hopefully I will be engaged soon


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