(Weddings)

Everything You Need To Know About Buying A Wedding Gift

All your questions answered.

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Tablescape for a beach wedding in Santorini with coral and blue details

From the classic white dress to the first dance, there are countless traditions and loose “rules” that punctuate modern weddings to this day. And while online registries and same-day shipping have streamlined the gift-giving process tenfold, the same can be said for wedding gift etiquette. Questions like, “Can I shop off the registry?”, “How much should I spend on a wedding gift?” and “Are group gifts appropriate?” are commonplace, whether you’re a professional wedding guest or a freshly minted attendee.

While some basic rules still stand, the experts at Zola contend that modern wedding registries offer a bit more personalization and transparency than decades past — making everyone’s lives easier. “These days, couples register for what they actually want instead of subscribing to the traditional housewarming gifts,” says Emily Forrest, Zola’s Director of Communications. “For example, some couples are super into travel and would love nothing more than carry-on suitcases and airline vouchers. This shift leaves a bit more room for creativity when shopping for wedding gifts.”

Ahead, find Forrest’s additional thoughts on modern day wedding gift etiquette, plus pro tips from The Knot’s Lauren Kay and Etiquette Now founder Dobrochna Giedwidz.

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How much should I spend on a wedding gift?

While the experts all offered a general price point between $50 and $150, all three agreed that it’s a matter of budget and personal relationship with the bride and groom. “There’s no foolproof rule when it comes to price tag,” says Kay. “We suggest thinking about your relationship with the couple and spending an amount that you feel comfortable with on a personal level.” She offers the example of a co-worker or distant relative versus a very close friend or family member. “Fifty to $75 may be appropriate for the former, while you may get closer to $150 for the latter.”

Do I always have to shop off the registry?

Of course you don’t have to shop off the registry. But both Forrest and Kay note that it’s basically a direct window into what the couple wants and needs to start their life together. “The registry is just a curated list of items that the couple has hand-selected; I wouldn’t say it’s impersonal,” says Forrest. “While everybody wants to give something unique, it’s really about the couple and what they will actually use.” She adds that if you are going to go off-registry, go outside the realm of traditional wedding gifts to avoid doubling up on the staples, like barware, pots and pans, cheese boards, and the like.

How can I make a registry gift feel more personal and heartfelt?

To that end, there are always little extras you can add to your registry gift to personalize it for the couple. “For example, if you bought a kitchen accessory, you can add a handwritten recipe card with your favorite family meal,” says Giedwidz. “Even something small, like a card with a thoughtful message is a nice touch.” Kay seconds that sentiment, adding that considering recent life events can help you come up with a thoughtful add-on. “Say the couple just moved into a new home together, for example — you can tack on a gift card to a nice local restaurant in their new neighborhood,” she suggests. “Always think about where they’re at in their lives together and what they will actually use!” Other ideas from the experts include:

  • Barware off their registry, plus their favorite bottle of wine or liquor.
  • A kitchen appliance off the registry, plus a nice cookbook you think they’ll love.
  • A registry item, plus a small add-on for a new puppy or pet.
  • A Winc subscription for wine lovers.
  • A small gift for their honeymoon, like a monogrammed beach bag or towels.
  • A gift card to the airline of their choice for travel enthusiasts.
  • For new homeowners, a gift card to Home Depot, Framebridge, or the couples’ favorite furniture store.

What’s the rule of thumb on cash gifts or gift cards?

While older generations may have a different view on monetary gifts, Kay, Forrest, and Giedwidz all agree that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with gifting cash or a gift card. “This is actually becoming more and more common since many couples already live together and don’t need brand-new homeware,” notes Giedwidz. Many couples actually add cash funds directly to their registries now, whether they’re saving up for their honeymoon or a down payment for a house. “Honeymoon funds are probably the most common, but we’ve also seen an increase in Airbnb gift cards, pet funds, Hulu gift cards, hotel stays, road trips, and the like,” explains Forrest. “Contributing to one of these funds can make a cash gift feel that much more specific and personal.” Generally speaking, the experts suggest spending the same amount on a cash gift that you would on a registry gift.

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Do I have to buy a gift for the bridal shower and the wedding?

If you're invited to both events, the short answer is yes — but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend more. “Most people have one overarching budget in mind, and split that up between the shower and wedding gift,” explains Forrest. For example, if you want to spend $150 total, you might spend $75 on the wedding gift and $75 on the shower gift. Alternatively, you can give one large gift at the shower and include a note specifying that it’s for both events. “As always, stick to your budget and only give what you feel comfortable,” she adds.

When should a wedding gift ideally arrive?

The experts agree that before the wedding is ideal, but even six months post-wedding is still considered appropriate. “There’s really never a wrong time to give a wedding gift, but with the convenience of online registries and Prime shipping, it’s so easy to send your gift ahead of time,” says Kay. “I would avoid bringing it to the wedding so the couple doesn’t have to worry about lugging gifts home — online shipping is just two convenient for the guests and the couple.” Some registries even give couples the ability to select gift delivery dates, which takes the guesswork out of gift timing altogether. “This allows couples to avoid delivery issues while they’re on their honeymoon, for example,” adds Forrest.

What should I do if I can’t afford something off the registry?

First and foremost, it’s the couples’ responsibility to include a range of price points on their registry so this situation can be avoided. But if all the budget-conscious items have been purchased or the entire registry is very-high end, you have a few options. “You can contribute to a cash fund, go in on a group gift with friends and split the cost, or purchase a gift card,” says Forrest. “You can also buy a more budget-friendly item from one of the stores on their registry, or even buy them a gift card to that store.” Giedwidz adds that no matter what, “don't buy a cheaper version of an item on the registry — just choose something else entirely.”

What are some foolproof wedding gifts that will never go out of style?

If you’re totally stuck, there are a few tried-and-true wedding gifts that are considered timeless. Per Kay and Forrest, Le Creuset, Staud, KitchenAid, and Dyson are tried-and-true brands, while gift cards from Winc, Airbnb, and Framebridge are increasingly popular registry items. For something a bit more budget-friendly, practical items like coffee makers, luggage, towels, sheet sets, wine glasses, and cocktail shakers are always a safe bet. Ahead, shop the experts’ vetted selects: