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A cheapskate's guide to wedding gifts

Good news for guests: The amount you're expected to spend on gifts hasn't gone up.

By Karen Datko Apr 7, 2010 2:21PM

This Deal of the Day comes from Elilzabeth Trotta at partner site SmartMoney.

 

Memorial Day marks the unofficial kickoff of wedding season, which means we are about to enter the thick of wedding-gift-buying time. OK, sure, so you’ve known for months about the string of matrimonies you’ve promised to attend this year -- but you didn’t really add up the costs. The good news is that with couples spending less on their weddings, they will (hopefully) understand if you have to scrimp a bit on the gift, too.

 

Last year, the average wedding budget in the U.S. (not including honeymoon), was $28,385, down about 5% from 2008, according to a WeddingChannel.com and TheKnot.com registry study. And expectations for gifts were flat -- the average price of expected wedding gifts in 2009 was $70 for friends and $129 for family, according to the study. That is the same as what experts told SmartMoney a year earlier. WeddingChannel.com deputy director Sharon Stimpfle adds that etiquette bumps the sums up to between $100 and $150 if it is a close friend or family member.

The bride and groom of course can cut costs without too many friends and family noticing by simply rescheduling the big day to a Friday or Sunday instead of a Saturday. For guests, cutting corners can take a little more strategizing, from chipping in with others to helping pay for the entertainment. “Everybody is in a tough bind, and everyone is worried, but people are going to continue to get married, and they’re still going to ask you to come,” says Samantha Goldberg, a New Jersey-based event planner and columnist.

 

Group buy. If you know other guests attending the wedding, you should all consider chipping in together, says Stimpfle. If there are five of you, you might contribute $50 apiece, she says. The bride and groom will be able to look at the value of the gift and divide by the number of givers, so you’re not pulling a fast one. But you will be able to give a more expensive gift than a single guest is unlikely to take on.

 

Bigger group buys can also pool funds to help cover some basic wedding expenses. For instance, some couples are registering their photographers and videographers, says Goldberg. Or you might be able to donate to a honeymoon registry or a new-home fund. “You might not be able to give a huge gift, but you can still be involved in a lavish gift,” she says.

Check the registry early and often. Shopping early can also save guests on the gift. Check the registry to catch sales and other promotions early in the wedding season.

 

But beware: It might be tempting to see if you can find items on the registry at other places for less. After all, your friends probably weren’t looking for the best deal when they registered. “If it’s the same exact product, that’s fine,” says Stimpfle. “Just double check that someone else hasn’t already bought it.”

 

Card or cash? Maybe there just wasn’t something on the registry that you wanted to get and you’ve decided to leave it up to the bride and groom. Gift card or cash? Definitely gift card, say Stimpfle and Goldberg.

If you want to personalize your present, buy something small and supplement it with a gift card. That can save the couple money, too, says Stimpfle, if the items they registered for are discounted later. This of course benefits the retailer, which counts on people losing or forgetting about gift cards. But if the Mr. and Mrs. are conscientious, they can use the gift card during sales and get more for their money, too.

 

Another option is springing for a restaurant dinner or a prepaid card or gift card the newlyweds can take with them on their honeymoon, says Goldberg. “You have to worry about envelopes walking out, and there is a little more security when there’s a credit card [rather than cash] attached to it,” she says.

 

Double gifting? If you're going to the bridal shower and the wedding, that equals two presents. But they shouldn’t be equal in cost -- an unnecessary mistake that could cost you big.

 

A general rule is to first come up with a total sum that feels right to you, says Stimpfle. (Keep in mind, if you’re traveling great distances, you may be expected to spend less.) Of that total sum: If you’re sending an engagement gift it should account for 15%, the shower gift should be 20%, and the wedding gift should be about 60%, which leaves about 5% for the bachelorette party, she says.

 

Not going to make it. If you’re not going to make it, but you’d still like to send something, the rules above don’t apply, says Stimpfle. Don’t feel obligated to open your wallet wider to make up for your absence -- especially if you were staying home because you couldn’t afford it. You can send something small.

 

Even if you are going to attend the wedding, you can send something small. One trend Stimpfle has noticed is more personal gifts, like “a wine opener with their favorite bottle of wine or a cake stand with their favorite recipe.” That way you can connect with the couple without going overboard.

 

Related reading at SmartMoney:

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