Wedding Gift Etiquette: 8 Rules to Follow As a Guest

By Julia Califano · November 28, 2023 · 3 minute read

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Wedding Gift Etiquette: 8 Rules to Follow As a Guest

Getting invited to a wedding is an honor — it means you are seen as a valued part of the couple’s life. However, it also means you’ll need to start thinking about what to give as a wedding gift and, the thorniest of wedding etiquette issues, how much you should spend. You may also wonder when to give a wedding gift (do you really have a year?) and, if you’re not going to be able to attend, if you still need to send a gift.

Navigating the intricacies of wedding gift etiquette can be tricky for everyone. But don’t stress. What follows is a modern day guide to wedding gift etiquette that will help ensure you give an appropriate wedding gift without going broke.

8 Wedding Gift Rules to Follow

What follows are eight essential wedding gift etiquette rules and customs all guests need to know.

1. Spend an Appropriate Amount

Some people think that how much to spend on a wedding gift should be based on how much is being spent on you — in other words, cover your plate. For example, if you think a reception costs a couple $150 per person, that should be your gift value. But, the truth is, how much you spend on a wedding gift should depend more on your relationship to the couple, how far you’re traveling for the wedding, and your own financial situation.

On average, guests spent $160 on a wedding gift in 2022, according to The Knot. But that may not make sense for everyone. If you’re younger or just out of college, spending $50 on a friend’s wedding might be just right. If you are very close to the couple and attending with your spouse or a date, you might give $250 or more. There is no one “right” amount to give as a wedding gift.

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2. Budget for Other Expenses

When considering how much to spend on a wedding gift, you’ll also want to look at other costs related to the wedding. For example, you may be invited to other events that call for giving a gift, such as an engagement party and shower. In that case, you might allocate a certain percentage of your total gift budget for each event, such as 20% each for the engagement and shower gift and 60% on the wedding gift.

Also consider travel-related expenses and the cost of attire. If you are in the wedding party and have already maxed out your budget due to other costs, like hosting a bachelorette/bachelor party or buying a bridesmaid dress/groomsmen suit, then it is okay to simply give a small token gift for the ceremony.

Also keep in mind that if you’re invited to a destination wedding, your presence may actually be enough of a present. It’s likely that the couple will understand if you give a thoughtful handwritten note in lieu of a gift, or give them a smaller gift.

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3. Use the Couple’s Wedding Registry

While you aren’t required to purchase a gift off the couple’s registry, doing so can make your life a lot easier. For one, the registry is a curated list of items the couple actually wants. It also typically offers gift ideas at a variety of price ranges, giving you a lot of flexibility. What’s more, you won’t have to worry about how you’ll actually get the gift to the couple (see rule # 6). You simply need to write a short note, input your credit card information, and hit “buy.” The store will do the rest. The registry is also a great resource for engagement and shower gifts.

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4. Consider Chipping in on a Group Giftsticking to your budget. Just be sure that everyone who contributes to the gift signs the wedding card.

A group gift can be especially helpful for members of the wedding party, who may have already bought multiple shower and engagement gifts and paid for wedding attire and bachelorette/bachelor parties.

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5. Cash is Completely Acceptable

When it comes to wedding gift etiquette, it’s perfectly acceptable to give money as a wedding gift. In fact, many couples prefer cash gifts, and will even register for cash funds to help pay for their honeymoon or a down payment on a home. If giving cash through the registry isn’t an option or not your preference, you can also give cash by writing a check and inserting in an envelope with a thoughtful note.

If you do go the check route, it’s a good idea to write only one of their names on the check (to avoid potential confusion at the bank) and include both names on the memo line, and in your note, so it’s clear this is a gift for both of them. You can either mail your check in advance or bring it to the wedding (the one time you can break rule #6).

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6. Don’t Bring the Gift to The Wedding

In some communities and cultures, it’s customary to bring your gift to the wedding and there will be a table at the reception where you can leave it. Generally speaking, however, it’s not considered proper wedding gift etiquette to bring a gift to a wedding (the exception being a card with a check). While you should bring a shower gift to the actual shower, it’s easier for the couple if you send a wedding gift to their home.

7. Send a Gift Before (or Soon After) the Wedding

The old rule that you have up to a year to send a gift is no longer considered proper wedding gift etiquette. Thanks to digital registries, online shopping, and two-day free shipping, it’s generally expected that guests will send a gift before the wedding or within three months of the couple getting married. This is respectful, and also avoids the awkwardness of running into the couple six months after the reception knowing that you still haven’t given them a gift to acknowledge their wedding.

8. Send Something Even if You Don’t Go

A wedding invitation is a thoughtful gesture that tells you that the couple appreciates your friendship and wants to include you in their celebration. If you are close friends or family to the bride or groom, you generally want to recognize that honor with a thoughtful note and gift, even if you are not able to attend the wedding. It doesn’t have to be a large gift. You might choose an item of nominal value from their registry or for their new home.

There is an exception to this etiquette rule, however. if you are not particularly close to the couple, you can likely get away with simply dropping a thoughtful note in the mail — and skipping the gift.

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The Takeaway

Just like weddings themselves, wedding gift etiquette has evolved over time, which can make purchasing a wedding gift all the more confusing. To avoid running afoul of any etiquette rules, you generally want to pick out a gift from the registry or give a cash gift (either through registry or via check). As for how much to spend on a gift, consider your relationship to the couple, what you can feasibly afford, and other costs involved (such as traveling to attend the wedding).

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FAQ

What is proper wedding gift etiquette?

Proper wedding gift etiquette involves several considerations. First, you’ll want to consult the couple’s gift registry to find out what they would like to receive. Giving a cash gift is also perfectly acceptable, and often preferred by couples. You might also consider going in on a group gift.

Ideally, you’ll want to send a physical gift before the wedding or within three months of the event. It’s fine to bring a card with a check to the celebration.

As for how much to spend, you’ll want to consider your budget, relationship to the couple, and how far you’re traveling for the wedding.

What should you avoid giving as a wedding gift?

According to proper wedding gift etiquette, you’ll want to avoid giving overly personal items (since everyone’s preferences are different) and anything that could potentially offend or cause discomfort to the couple. Also consider avoiding gifts that are overly extravagant or impractical, especially if they might burden the couple with maintenance or storage issues.

Is it rude to attend a wedding and not give a gift?

It’s customary to give a gift if you are attending a wedding. How much you spend, however, is flexible. If you have significant budget constraints, it’s perfectly okay to give a modest gift, along with a thoughtful note wishing the couple well.

Is it ever okay to not give a wedding gift?

If you are attending the wedding, it’s customary to give a gift to commemorate the couple’s special day. Even if you’re not attending the wedding, you generally still want to send a note and a gift. However, if you’re not attending the wedding and don’t know the couple well, it’s acceptable to send a thoughtful note without a gift.


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