Remedial Wedding Gift Etiquette for Engaged Couples

By Rachel Wilkerson,
Oh, engaged couples. It's been a rough few weeks, hasn't it? It seems like more and more of you are making headlines for bad behavior lately. There was the bride who melted down via text message over the (awesome-sounding!) gift basket she and her new wife received. Then there was the nasty Facebook message sent to a guest from a bride who was apparently displeased with the $100 cash gift the guest had given. ("I just want to know is there any reason or dissatisfaction of Mike's and I wedding that both you and Phil gave 50$ each?") Or the woman who took to the Internet to complain about the fact that many guests did not give gifts to her and her new husband.
What's with these newlyweds' gross attitudes about gifts? Plenty of people are saying the wedding industry is at fault. Older people are blaming Millenials (what with our participation trophies and darn iPod phones and all). Conservatives are blaming Obama. We're just chalking it up to really, really bad manners. But...hey, maybe nobody told you what the basic rules are? So before you go mouthing off to a guest about her choice of a gift (or the lack thereof) and have your nasty email go viral, let us help you brush up on the basics of wedding gift etiquette.

Photo by: Anni Cee Photographie on
1. A wedding gift is not a requirement. Let's put that out there one more time because many people just really aren't getting this: A WEDDING GIFT IS NOT REQUIRED FOR THOSE WHO ATTEND OR ARE INVITED TO YOUR WEDDING. In fact, gifts aren't ever required in any situation; by definition, a gift is something that is given voluntarily without payment. So demanding that someone give you a gift is sort of defeating the purpose. If your guests choose to not give you a gift, or choose a gift you don't really like, that's totally and completely fine. It's OK to want gifts -- from birthdays to holidays, many of us love receiving gifts -- but it's not OK to feel entitled to them.

From Etsy Shops via
2. A wedding is a celebration, not a money-making venture. One of the brides mentioned above wrote to her guest, "we were very much short on paying off the reception because just for the cocktail + reception alone the plate per person is 200$ (as per a normal wedding range with open bar is about) and Mike and I both have already paid for everything else including decor, photography, attire etc and didn't expect we had to cover that huge amount for reception as well." We can't get past the fact that some couples see wedding gifts as a way to recoup whatever cash they spent on the reception. (We also can't get past her terrible grammar, but that's another story.) If you can't afford your reception without receiving cash gifts from your guests, you rethink how you're spending your wedding budget and maybe skip the chocolate fountain. You don't start charging admission.

Photo by: Ryan Ray on Wedding Chicks via
3. Whether people give cash or goods is largely cultural and there's no definitive right way. Plain and simple. So you don't get to complain that cash gifts are tacky; consider that the giver might be coming from a background where that's all that's given. Or consider that it's a gift and so whether or not it's the "right" gift is largely a ridiculous conversation to be having. If you must inform people of what you really want, stick to putting your registry on your wedding website or rely on word-of-mouth from close relatives to spread the word about your preferences. Avoid putting "NO GIFTS JUST CASH" on your invites. And if you were hoping for cash but got a bunch of small appliances instead? Go play with your new waffle maker and let it go. Don't seek out the giver and try to educate him on why cash gifts are the only way to do things like one of the brides above did.

Photo by: My Beloved Photography on Style Unveiled via
4. That you believe someone can afford to give you a gift is inconsequential. First, their financial situation is none of your business and they may not be able to afford it. But more important, people sometimes make gift decisions that have nothing to do with money. Yeah, maybe they gave another friend a check but not you (like the situation described by one of the brides above)...but if you're the kind of person who would write 1500 words on the Internet about how upset you are about the lack of gifts you received, I can't say I blame them. I can't imagine I'd feel very kindly toward you either.

Photo by: Steve Steinhardt Photography on Inspired By This via
5. The only time you should discuss a gift with the giver is in the context of a thank you. We've all received a gift we don't love at some point in our lives, but we don't shoot off a note that says, "Hey Aunt Mildred, I know you were trying to be nice but I really don't like this sweater. In fact, I think it's hideous and makes my skin itch. Don't you know that gift cards are what everyone is doing these days?" Or "Oh yes, we received the gift you sent. It's really not 'us' but oh well, what can ya do?" Because that's not what one does if he or she is a good person. You're allowed to hope for gifts, to be a little bummed if your friend doesn't even give you a card, and even chuckle with your new spouse about the so-not-you vase you received from a distant relative. But to be anything but gracious toward the giver is totally tacky and inappropriate.
We are totally and completely cool with wedding gifts and we know most couples aren't going into wedding planning with dollar signs in their eyes. (In fact, we've found that most couples are incredibly uncomfortable with the concept of wedding gifts in general.) But the few, the proud, the completely ridiculous are ruining things for everyone. So let's remember our manners and cool it with the snotty emails to guests, mmkay?

More from
Thank you notes to help you show your appreciation
Wedding favors to give your guests
Our favorite picks for bridal party gifts