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The wedding gift as price of admission

Should your gift equal the cost of your reception meal?

By Donna_Freedman Oct 11, 2010 11:00AM

I want to get married. That is, I want to get married after I've finagled an introduction to J. Money of the Budgets Are Sexy personal-finance blog. Once he and I are best buds, I want to get married a whole bunch of times, because J. Money's wedding gift of choice is a $100 bill.

"Nothing more, nothing less -- just a straight-up Mr. Benjamin for all our friends and family," he wrote in this post.

All right, I'm not actually looking to get married. (Unless it were for something really romantic, like health insurance.) But I have to say I'm tempted by J. Money's largesse, which is, well, large.


Also probably a touch wasteful. He knows he'd spend less if he bought from the gift registry, but cheerfully cops to slackerhood. Cold hard cash is the procrastinator's best friend.

But here's what really struck me about the post: the folks who left comments suggesting the size of the gift should be equivalent to the cost of the food served at the reception.

Cake and punch or surf 'n' turf?

"Heather" wrote that her gift is based on "what is put into the wedding." A backyard barbecue would rate $50, whereas she'd shell out $100 for a fancier affair.

"Uncle" suggested that $100 per person is the rule; if it's you, spouse and three kids, then your gift should be "at least $500."

And "Phanzy" admitted to bringing along both $50 and $100 bills. When the reception food is "subpar," guess which picture of a dead white guy gets handed over?

Those of you who are allergic to old-school rants better leave right now. Because here's what I think:

If the bride and groom want to throw a big party and invite me, I'm touched. But they decide how much the reception will cost -- cake and punch? salads and sandwiches? rubber chicken? filet mignon? -- and they should pay for it.

The gift I bring will be a symbol of my good wishes, not reimbursement for the number of glasses of champagne the caterer thinks I might consume.

It's your call

Then again, I'm disturbed by the way weddings have turned into floor shows. Aren't people just as married if they don't spend the $26,000 that the average wedding allegedly costs?

If you've got the do-re-mi and that's really how you want to spend it, obviously you're free to do so. It's your money. You can spend it all on Snickers bars and neon beer signs if that's what makes you happy. But here's what you can't do:

  • Spend way more than you can afford and demand that your friends cough up enough cash or expensive gifts to pay for it.
  • Hint broadly afterward that you felt shortchanged by guests who didn't perform according to your expectations.
  • Complain ad infinitum about how much the wedding cost and how stressful it is to be in debt.

Myself, I think you can stick to a budget and still get married in style. But it's up to you to set that style, rather than let wedding planners and bridal magazines tell you what you want. Or more to the point, sell you what they want.

And what they're selling is, frankly, a marketing myth. Check out wedding websites or read those magazines and you'll see phrases like "The best day of your life" or "The most important day of your life." All to be determined by the number of attendants, the cut of the diamond and those glasses of champagne. (I don't drink, by the way. One of you can have mine.)

Weddings have enough baggage

All you about-to-be-marrieds, listen up: You have no way to ensure the wedding will run smoothly. If you nerve yourself up into thinking that this must be the best day of your life, then you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

Besides, other days might possibly be more "important." How about the day you were born? The day you met your soul mate?

Maybe it will be the day you have your child. Or the day you win the lottery. Weddings have enough baggage. Why add to it?

An afternoon wedding and a light repast vs. an evening extravaganza that lasts until last call -- such choices should not affect future happiness. Why would the amount you spend on the ceremony determine the success of the marriage?

It seems to me that the opposite could sometimes be true: If you start out your marriage deeply in debt, it would add a lot of stress to what is a challenging life (though delightful) transition.

Gobs of money spent do not necessarily guarantee a great time. Ask anyone who's ever been to a bad big wedding, or a joyful small one.

And hey, J. Money: Call me.

Donna Freedman is the MSN Money Living With Less columnist and also blogs at Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.


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