Weddings can be a blast, but it's no fun figuring out how much to spend on the wedding gift itself. Will you seem cheap if you go for the perfectly nice, $75 gift? And if you go all out, will you regret the splurge?
According to etiquette expert Emily Post, you should spend what you can afford and purchase a gift based on your relationship with the couple. But let’s be honest — no one wants to be "that wedding guest" who gave the so-so gift, regardless of how tight you are with the couple. So, what's the best way to express your warm wishes through materialism?
Most wedding guests ask that very question. "At least 40% of wedding guests need help with gift-giving etiquette," Lauren Kay, deputy editor for The Knot, said in a phone interview. "The average person spends about $118 per wedding gift, and if you are a wedding attendant, you'll usually spend about $177 per event."
One way to approach a wedding is to have a ceiling amount in your mind and work backward. "So if your best friend is getting married, you could say you want to spend no more than $300 on gifts, which includes the shower and bachelor or bachelorette gift," Kay said. "People generally dedicate about 60% of their gift budget to the wedding gift itself."
Also, ditch the notion of paying for your plate: "Some people think they need to match the amount the couple spent on the meal with a gift," Kay added. "We never recommend basing your budget on how much the couple spent on the meal, because some weddings will be more casual and you may still want to show your generosity."
So what heuristics should you use? Read on.
How much should you really spend?
Your relationship to the couple will most likely dictate how much to drop on a wedding gift, Kay said. For immediate family members, expect to pay about $147 on average, according to a 2016 SurveyMonkey poll conducted by FiveThirtyEight. For extended family members, the price tag falls to an average of $71; meanwhile, you might spend $82 for close friends and $50 for "just a friend."
"We generally tell people that if you are buying for a coworker or a casual friend to spend anywhere from $75 to $100," Kay said. "But for a family member or a close friend, its not uncommon to spend $200."
The amount you spend doesn't just depend on how well you know the couple, and it could vary based on where you reside and even the season. For instance, guests spend the most on gifts for summer weddings, according to online gifting platform Tendr, with guests seemingly feeling the least generous for weddings held in winter.
Tendr's data, based on weddings in 2016, found that the average nationwide price for a wedding gift is about $160, with residents of some states spending more or less. For example, if you live in Vermont, get ready to shell out the big bucks — wedding guests spend an average of $245, the highest in the U.S. However, Arkansas wedding guests get a financial break, only dropping an average of $73 for gifts — the lowest on Tendr’s survey.
Want to know if your state sits above the national average? Those who live in Florida, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Delaware, Nevada, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Maryland tend to spend more; meanwhile, residents of states like Alabama, California, Indiana, Iowa and Louisiana usually spend less.
How to choose the ideal gift without overpaying
Beyond the average amount you should spend, there are ways to land that special gift without having to forgo your food budget for a week.
Hitting the registry first thing is a great way to score the best gift that fits within your budget. "The first thing I do when I get a wedding invitation is to check the registry," Kay said. "That way I have the best selection of gifts."
When buying off the registry, aim for more memorable, frequently used types of presents. Rather than purchasing just one part of a three-part decorative set, for example, consider that state-of-the-art blender — or that high-quality comforter. Of course, some couples don't register for basics like pots and pans. In fact, many are adding both charity and cash components to their registry. For example, The Knot offers a charitable registry and a "newlywed fund," where guests can give cash dedicated toward endeavors such as saving for a house or the honeymoon.
Guests grappling with financial hardship or those still in school can still give a special gift, even if they're light on cash. "You could connect the couple with a friend who is a docent at a museum for a free tour, or offer to dog sit the couple's dog for free while they go on their honeymoon," Kay suggested.
You could also purchase a wine rack and fill it with your favorite wines throughout the year, or buy a kitchen appliance and offer to cook a gourmet meal for the couple.
If your financial situation is temporary, you could also purchase something small at first and buy a nicer gift within a year of the wedding. "People are understanding if you can't afford the gift you want to give at the time," Kay said. After all, taking extra time to give a thoughtful gift is more important than how much you paid for it.
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