OK, so you’ve just received a wedding invitation in the mail. Once you’ve determined whether you can attend, what to wear (?!), and if it’s going to be chicken or prime rib, the next big dilemma is the gift.
It used to be so easy. Prospective wedding guests could simply look up the department store registry, order a toaster oven, and voila, mission accomplished.
In fact, it’s pretty complicated nowadays when you factor in all the variables including whether it’s a first or second wedding, or if the couple has already been living together and doesn’t need kitchen knives.
And, of course, the big question, if you’re giving money, is how much is the right amount? Furthermore, if you’ve been invited, but can’t attend, do you still need to send a gift?
Definitely, says Connecticut-based, etiquette coach, Karen A. Thomas. “When you receive a wedding invitation, you must always send a gift,” she said.
According to Thomas, it doesn’t have to be over-the-top or lavish; it can be as simple as a small token. As long as the event is acknowledged, a gift of almost any kind is acceptable. “If you were close enough to be invited, you should put forth some effort to provide a gift whether you go or not.”
But if you’re attending and plan on giving a monetary gift, the rule of thumb is at least $100 per person. “You need to allow for certain things,” said Thomas. “If it is a formal event, you are at least attempting to cover the cost of the meal as far as money is concerned.”
However, not everyone can afford to put out that kind of cash and in that case, Thomas recommends purchasing something from the couple’s registry. “It isn’t as expensive, and it’s often appreciated; the bride and groom may need those gifts.”
Another alternative is handpicking something unique and memorable for the couple.
“If you’ve been invited to a wedding, there’s a reason you’re invited; you’re somehow connected to these people, their family or their history,” said Bill Walker, co-owner of Walker-Loden gift stores in New Haven, Madison and Essex. “And you need to honor that invitation by doing more than just writing a check.”
Walker recognizes that most couples getting married have invested an enormous amount of emotion, time and money into their wedding, and guests have an obligation to honor that.
“Make an effort to think about them, their life and what you know about them and try to reflect that in your gift.”
Walker doesn’t oppose giving money, which many couples often need to defray wedding costs. But Walker recommends doing more than just slipping cash into an envelope.
“There’s a way to combine money or a gift certificate with some token that goes along with it.”
If the couple enjoys gardening, he suggests purchasing a garden center gift card and presenting it with his and hers garden gloves. For wine enthusiasts he recommends a gift card accompanied by a wine opener or other related accessory.
And if the gift is ultimately just cash, he suggests finding a unique box or piece of memorabilia significant to the couple to put the money in or give with it.
“The check is helpful,” he said, “but every time they see that box or gift, there’s a connection with that person. It may not have been expensive, but it’s there.”
Brittany Baranoski, the store manager of Giftology in West Hartford, agrees.
“Gifts are a personal touch that the bride and groom won’t forget and can appreciate forever,” she said.
The experience of picking something out is meaningful, according to Baranoski, and gives the couple something to treasure years down the road. “They can say, ‘I remember when we got that,’ and it leaves a lasting impression.”
She suggests some of their specialty items like frames that hold a couple’s wedding invitation along with a photograph from the occasion, hand-painted wine glasses or even one of their Lifetime Oil Candles which can essentially be kept and used indefinitely.
“It’s more about the thought than the value,” she said.
Are there some things that you shouldn’t give that special couple?
“Re-gifting is not an option for wedding gifts,” advises etiquette expert Thomas. “I would not recommend re-gifting anything for a wedding gift.”
And then she offers up some additional advice on sending out thank you notes.
“Everyone assumes you have up to a year to get the thank you notes out. But in modern times, you should do it in the first three months after the wedding, six months tops,” she said. “It’s about gratitude. Someone took the time to come, purchase a gift and it should be acknowledged in a reasonable amount of time.”
Overall, as far as wedding gifts are concerned, Thomas said that it’s really about the meaning behind them that counts. “A gift is just that; a gift. It should be given and received from the heart.”