Wedding Gift Etiquette

Everyone's guide to wedding gift etiquette.

gift pile
Whether it's your daughter's wedding, your second cousin's fourth wedding, or the UPS man's renewal-of-vows ceremony, wedding gift etiquette is essentially the same. In the United States, where multiple cultures and traditions are celebrated, wedding gift giving etiquette can become a bit confusing.

Knowing the couple that is getting married, and honoring their ethnic and social backgrounds, is important. For example, Chinese Americans who are honoring their heritage might prefer to receive the traditional Chinese wedding gift of money placed into a red envelope, in lieu of a toaster, but they may also be registered at several shops for your convenience.

Regional differences within the United States should also be considered. In the state of Oregon it may be traditional to have a gift table at the wedding reception and have guests place wedding gifts there, but this practice may be unheard of in parts of Maryland where gifts are always sent to the couple's home. If you are in doubt, ask someone who will know: the bride, the bride's mother, or the wedding planner.
Here are some generally accepted guidelines for wedding gift etiquette:
  • DO send a wedding gift, even if you are not planning to attend the wedding. RSVP as soon as possible, and send your gift with the RSVP. It doesn't have to be large or expensive. By sending a gift you acknowledge the joyous occasion.
  • DO consider your budget and spend accordingly. Some experts suggest that you spend $75 to $100 per person for your gift. If you can't afford that, consider doing something thoughtful for the couple, like getting a work party together to clean up their yard, plant flowers, and throw a barbeque in their honor.
  • DO ask where the couple is registered, but use the wedding registry as a guide to a personalized gift. For example, if you notice champagne flutes are on the gift registry, purchase them and get them etched with the couple's names and date of their wedding ceremony. Present the flutes with a bottle of their favorite champagne and a special note wishing them well.
  • DO send a gift to the bride before the wedding, or send it to the couple's home soon after the wedding. Etiquette allows you to send a gift up to a year after the wedding. If there is a regional practice of bringing gifts to the reception, be aware that sometimes cards get lost. It would be a good idea to put a note inside the wrapped gift so the couple knows who to thank.
  • DO mail the gift to the bride's or groom's mother's home if the nuptials are going to be out of town. Even if you will be attending the ceremony, don't haul a microwave to Maui or expect the newlyweds to take it on their honeymoon!
  • DON'T ignore your internal compass. If the gift that you are considering doesn't feel right to you, reconsider.
  • DON'T assume that just because you love your beer-of-the-month subscription that the newlyweds would love one too. Make an effort to learn the couple's likes and dislikes.
  • DON'T forget to get a gift receipt and tuck it inside the gift. This is not possible with all gifts, but if it is, there is nothing wrong with giving the couple the option to return or exchange a gift after their wedding.
  • DON'T ever give one of the gifts that you received at your wedding as a gift to a friend or family member. While the recycling of gifts that you either cannot use or can't exchange seems like a good idea, it would be the ultimate faux pas to present one of these gifts only to find that, as it's unwrapped, there is a card in the box to you!

Wedding gift giving etiquette is all about being thoughtful. If you know the newlyweds, their tastes, and the tone of the wedding, and you follow proper gift etiquette, you're well on your way to making a wedding-gift purchase that is tasteful, fun, and memorable.

Written by: Andrea Lewis Polk