What to gift the bride and groom can be a conundrum for wedding guests -- whether close friends, work colleagues or distant relatives. According to The Knot, a wedding planning website, nearly half of wedding guests report needing help with gifting etiquette. But thankfully, there are guidelines to help you decide whether you should buy a $20 toaster or a $400 mouth-blown lead crystal Tiffany vase.
The notion of "gifting the plate" -- spending the equivalent of the cost per person the "soonlyweds" are spending on their wedding -- has been a popular guideline in the past. But that's no longer the case, as there are many variables consider -- especially, how much it's costing the guest to attend the wedding.
"A guest should never spend more than they feel comfortable spending on a gift, and they should ditch the myth of paying for their plate. Just because your friend's having a casual wedding doesn't mean you can gift less -- after all, your gift isn't a payment for your meal! So scrap the price-per-plate calculation and give a gift based on your relationship with the couple," recommends Ivy Jacobson, a senior digital editor at The Knot.
The team at The Knot recommends spending $75-$100 on gifts for distant relatives and co-workers, $100-$125 for relatives' and friends' weddings and $125-$200 or more if the wedding is for a close relative or close friend -- and no less than $50.
Beyond relationship to the happy couple, the most common considerations guests make when deciding how much to spend are the financial status of the couple, how many of the couple's other wedding events they're attending (engagement parties, bridal showers, bachelorette parties) and if they're paying for travel and accommodations for the wedding celebration.
In fact, says Jacobson, the location of the wedding and cost of travel and accommodations are top factors wedding guests consider before even RSVP-ing to a wedding, and for good reason. Travel and accommodation costs can quickly add up, with the average guest spending $300 on travel and another $235 on accommodations, according to The Knot's most recent Wedding Guest Study.
"Couples understand this, which is why many opt to host their wedding in one of their hometowns rather than where they are currently living," says Jacobson. "And when it comes to destination weddings in far-off locales like Hawaii or the Caribbean, couples may ask guests to forgo a gift as their presence at their celebration is enough."
So when it comes to what to buy, should guests stick to the couple's gift registry or is it OK to go AWOL off the registry and buy something different or unique? The Knot has a firm view.
"Couples spend hours putting together a thoughtfully curated registry that's truly a reflection of their style, personalities, goals and who they are together," explains Jacobson. "Because of this, we always recommend guests stick to the registry, because it truly reflects what the couple wants and needs to start their newlywed life together."
Today, 9 in 10 soonlyweds create a registry of an average 125 items and may even have multiple registries, covering everything from traditional household items to hiking gear to workout classes to couples experiences, which offers guests a large array of gifting options.
But if you don't want to buy from a registry, then cash is king -- and there are even registries for that. They're becoming increasingly popular due to the very nature of helping the happy couple raise funds for specific things that you may not be able to purchase in a store and have gift-wrapped.
"Money-based registries allow couples to ask for cash in a more meaningful way," says Jacobson, "by specifying exactly what each monetary gift is going towards. For example, a honeymoon fund, saving for a new house, a new car, IVF treatments, a puppy, or a lifetime supply of Sriracha!"
According to The Knot, among those with cash registries, 49 percent of couples used their cash registry contributions to help pay for their honeymoon, and 27 percent used them toward a down payment on a home. Interestingly, Jacobson points out, couples who attend a wedding within a year of their own celebration are also most likely to make a honeymoon or cash registry contribution as their wedding gift.
Charity registries are also becoming popular as a way for couples to personalize their wedding registries and give back to a charity close to their heart, either through direct donations or by registering for items from which a percentage of the purchase proceeds supports a certain cause.
Ultimately, gift-giving is not a competition, and guidelines just give an idea of spending parameters and different ways to give. It all comes down to how special the soonlyweds are to you, what you can afford and how much you want to splurge.