Myths & Realities of Wedding Gift Etiquette
From Words with Boards, the home of unique wedding gifts.
With the holidays behind us and Valentine’s Day on the way – both prime wedding engagement times – mailboxes all over the country are about to fill up with save-the-dates and wedding invitations. You know what you need to do with the RSVP cards (answer them promptly!) but when it comes to wedding gift-giving, the etiquette waters are a little murkier. Everyone wants to find the perfect, unique wedding gift for their favorite couple…but how do you know you’re doing it properly?
There are an awful lot of wedding gift myths floating around, including several that are just flat-out incorrect. These notions are well-meaning but ultimately, they cause anxiety and confusion.
Here, we debunk five common wedding gift etiquette myths:
Myth #1: You must buy a gift from the registry.
Reality: Off-registry surprises are a blast.
It’s true that just about everybody registers: According to the wedding website TheKnot.com, 98% of engaged couples have at least one wedding registry. But while a gift from the registry is nice, nearly all couples will be charmed by something thoughtful and personal that surprises them. (We are partial to personalized wood cutting boards, of course!)
Myth #2: You should take your gift to the wedding.
Reality: Shipping it directly to the couple’s home is perfectly acceptable and may even be preferred.
Years ago, a gift table piled high with shimmery paper and tulle bows was a common sight at weddings. Today, thanks to the ubiquity of online shopping, that has fallen by the wayside.
Though you certainly can take your gift to the wedding, it might be more convenient for both you and the couple to ship it directly to their home or to give it to them privately at another time. That way, nobody gets stuck lugging around a heavy box or has to worry that in the flurry of the day, someone might misplace a gift.
But a word of warning: if you do ship directly to the couple, be sure to include a signed gift note. It’s tough to write a thank you note when you don’t know who it is from. Also, make sure that is doesn't get delivered while the couple is on their honeymoon, you don't want your package sitting on the front porch for a week!
Myth #3: You have a year to give a gift.
Reality: Gifts should be sent before or within the two or three months following the wedding.
The Emily Post Institute, the organization named for late etiquette expert and run by her ancestors, calls the notion of “having a year” a rumor and says gifts should be sent before or just after the wedding takes place.
The Institute proposes sending gifts just after receiving the invitation or “on the outside,” within three months of the wedding.
TheKnot.com somewhat disagrees, sticking with the rumor, saying you “technically” have a year. However, their editor suggests that you don’t wait that long. Instead, she says, take care of any gift-giving within two months of the big day.
All this said, if the wedding was three months ago and you still haven’t sent a gift, don’t panic – just send one. Believe me, the bride and groom will be thrilled no matter when it arrives.
Myth #4: If you’re invited to the wedding, even if you don’t go, you must send a gift.
Reality: A gift is a gift. It’s something given freely. There are no “musts.”
When it comes to being invited to a wedding, the only hard and fast rule is that you absolutely have to respond. Giving a gift is always your choice.
That said, whether or not you can attend the wedding, sending a gift (or even a thoughtful note) is a kind move, letting the couple know you care. Ostensibly, they care about you, too – that’s why they invited you in the first place.
But you are under no obligation to send someone a present just because you got an invitation in the mail.
Myth #5: You should base your spending on the wedding’s cost per plate.
Reality: How much you spend is a lot more personal, and variable, than that.
Whoever came up with this myth surely meant well – it can be intimidating to figure out how much to spend on a wedding gift. But the fact is, it’s just not true.
First of all, wedding gifts are just that – gifts – so there is no official price formula you should use. Figure out what you can afford and what you want to spend and go from there. Don’t bankrupt yourself just because the bride and groom are throwing an over-the-top event. (And don’t feel like you should skimp because the party is casual.)
Secondly, how do you even know how much the wedding will cost? It’s never polite to ask and trying to tease it out of the bride or groom will just embarrass everyone.
You may decide you want to spend a little more on your closest friends, or on family members with whom you have a special relationship. Or maybe your gift is a personal one that requires significant time. How can you put a price on that?
Speaking of personal gifts, if you have weddings coming up, there’s no time like the present to start shopping for that perfect, unique wedding gift, shower gift or engagement gift. Maybe we could suggest something along the lines of a cool, personalized wood cutting board? We hear time and again it's the couples favorite gift.
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