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The case against wedding registries

Those couples who are living together -- don't they have spatulas, steamer baskets and toaster ovens already?

By MSN Money Partner Feb 6, 2012 2:49PM

This post comes from Tim Sullivan at partner blog Get Rich Slowly.

 

Get Rich Slowly on MSN MoneyMy brother, my best friend, and my girlfriend's sister are all getting married in the upcoming year, so I've heard a lot about wedding registries lately, and there seem to be many pros and cons.

 

Personally, one of my least-favorite things in life is going to Crate & Barrel, walking around with my scanner gun, and seeing that the only things that fit into my price range are wooden spatulas and the saucers to espresso cups (the cups already purchased). "Congrats on your everlasting love. Here's a steamer basket." I've always thought there has to be an alternative.

 

Here are two numbers I found interesting:

  • In 2010, 1.5 million engaged couples, or 88%of all couples with pending nuptials, set up a registry, according to the Knot Market Intelligence annual wedding registry survey.
  • According to research by the University of Denver, more than 70% of couples getting married are living together before the wedding.

OK, so 70% of engaged couples are living together, and 88% of engaged couples are registering. According to the survey, more than 90% of registered items are bakeware and kitchen appliances. Here's my question: Those couples who are living together, do they not have spatulas, steamer baskets and toaster ovens yet? Is their apartment filled with mismatched plates and saucers and an uneven fork-to-spoon ratio? Do they not already blend their own smoothies?

 

The point I'm trying to make is that the majority of couples are living together, and I assume they have a functional household complete with everything they need. As for the couples who aren't living together, it's rare to have someone move out of their parents' house and into the house of their betrothed.

 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median marriage age in 2010 was 28.2 for men and 26.1 for women. In the 1960s, it was 22.8 for men and 20.3 for women. Compared with our parents' generation, the 30% of currently engaged couples not living together have an extra six years to accumulate not one, but two sets of Ikea kitchen starter sets and warped cookie sheets.

 

Apparently, I'm somewhat alone in this thinking. Post continues below.

Things you wouldn't buy yourself
My brother brought up that he would never buy a $500 blender, but it'd be nice to receive it as a gift. Perhaps, then, a registry is a collection of things you'd never buy yourself.

 

I know that Get Rich Slowly readers are impossible to generalize, but I can't help but think that if we're itching for a Vitamix, most of us would forgo the $599 one from Crate & Barrel and substitute in the $499 one on Amazon listed "like new" (or better yet, choose whatever Vitamix was hip last year, for half the price, rather than the currently hip 500 professional series). We're conscious about where our money goes, and I'd like to take into account my friends' money, as well.

 

I'm not saying to throw caution to the wind and leave yourself open to getting a bunch of gifts that don't fit your tastes, but if you're looking for something that doesn't come from Macy's, there are other options for registries. In my continuing conversations about registries with those closest to me, I've come up with a list of a few fun suggestions:

  • The honeymoon registry. This one has been gaining a lot of steam in recent years. Websites like Honeymoonwishes.com an HoneyLuna.com provide an easy way for guests to help a couple afford a honeymoon. What's in it for the gift giver? Whether it's chipping in for the hotel room or scuba equipment for a coral reef adventure, you can be assured that you'll be investing in memorable experiences, as opposed to another turkey baster.
  • Big-ticket items. My best friend and his fiancée were looking at their 500-square-foot Brooklyn apartment and couldn't bring themselves to fill it with more stuff. They decided to register for big-ticket items. I've seen couples register for anything from new cars to a new mattress, each attendee pitching in a portion. Sites like My Dream Home Registry make it easy.
  • Give to charities. I've talked to couples who want friends and family to simply attend the wedding and not worry about buying the perfect gift. A good alternative is to pick favorite charities for your friends to make donations in your name. JustGive.org has a wedding registry section that's easy to navigate and not only celebrates love, but generosity. (That's their line, not mine.)
  • Do it all. I have to admit, I love this couple's wedding site. Cheri and David were getting married and moving to France. The site had all the wedding info and RSVP forms, but it also had their registry. They decided their tastes didn't fit into one store (and definitely not into a suitcase). They put together a list of objects (everything from one-of-a-kind antiques to easy-to-find box-store items), services (such as Internet for their first three months in Paris and passes for Velib, Paris' citywide bike rental system), and some high-ticket items (trip to Japan or a new dining room table). You could choose to contribute to an item. What's even more exciting is that Cheri and David's idea was so popular that they started their own registry site, Merci Registry, where couples can create their own blend of small boutique items, handmade artist goodies, and travel desires.

Weddings truly are big business, and even creative couples who try to circumvent some of the higher costs of the big day itself often fall short in their creativity for registries. Couples can create registries that are personalized without relying on the mainstream box stores.

 

And to my brother: I love you, bro, but when you move four times in the next five years, I know it's going to be me carrying that Vitamix up four flights of stairs.

 

What are your ideas for creative wedding registries? If you're married, what did you like about your registry process, and what would you do differently?

 

More on Get Rich Slowly and MSN Money:

8Comments
Feb 6, 2012 11:53PM
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I don't agree - I think you *should* leave yourself open to getting a bunch of gifts that don't fit your taste.  They are, after all, GIFTS.

Why would anyone be attending that doesn't know your taste, or whom to ask if they have questions?  Weddings are a giant gift grab, as are birthdays, babies, and any other life event from the looks of my mail and e-mail.  My latest outrage - the honeymoon money registry - a blatant money grab if I ever saw one.

Even better, if you are cohabiting and then marrying - forgo the gifts altogether. I requested no gifts at my wedding, had a small celebration that I could afford to pay cash for, and had a GREAT time.  Also, I didn't color coordinate bridesmaids, guests attire, have any public dress fittings or even a bridal shower.  Yet, here I am, happily and successfully married with three children and a mortgage. Amazing.

Sep 12, 2012 12:17PM
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Americans, in general, have plenty of "stuff." But we still give gifts for holidays, birthdays, and life events like weddings and the birth of a child. Gifts are not, in their essence, only a practical matter.   For better or worse, they are a way of showing love, care, affection in our culture. They mark special occasions. The real issue isn't whether an older couple "needs" or "deserves" or is "gift grabby" for setting up a registry. The issue is a wider consumerist mentality that uses the buying of objects to satisfy emotional moments: I love you, we are proud of you, congratulations, excited to meet you new baby! The pressure is from the wider culture, not just the registry or the couple getting married.

Since we live in a culture where we buy gifts to show affection/care, I felt a nudge of resentment after years of buying others gifts to "celebrate joy" and then was deemed "too old" to need a gift when my special moment came around. And I tend to be critical of consumer-mentalities. What about the couples who aren't? I know folks who felt deeply hurt when friends and family came to their weddings without even a card of congratulations. For them the gift/token (even if small) is a sign of thoughtfulness and care.  And before you decide a couple doesn't need gifts based on age--maybe that couple does need a blender. But if not, so what? Many Americans could live just fine without a car, too, but decide it's easier to get one. We all have things others think we don't *need.* And we very well could live without much of our "stuff". This is a bigger issue than those "greedy looking" wedding registries.  So a gift for the wedding has changed it's meaning and purpose from practical to emotional? There are a lot bigger "fish to fry" in the land of over consumption than that wedding gift you buy (or don't buy) someone.

If registries were only about "gift grabbing" most couples would be better off saving the money from the wedding, eloping and buying themselves what they want/need. With the average wedding costing $26,000, the average guest list being 150 people-- the $173 the couple spent per guest is not comfortably within their means either. But a wedding celebration isn't about "making money" off your friends and relatives. Clearly. If you spend 173 dollars per person, and the average wedding gift per couple is 100 bucks, you're not in it for the profits--or even to break even.  If you want to critique the whole wedding industry as a over-kill practice in consumption I'm on board. But just picking on the registry--as if the issue is only with greedy older couples who don't need the stuff they are registering for--that's really a narrow, finger pointing look at a much more pervasive problem. Want to talk about Christmas and gift buying? Want to talk about the stuff you buy that you don't need? Want to talk about how yucky it is that we feel pressure to show affection by buying things? I'm on board with that.
Feb 7, 2012 12:42PM
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If I ever get married., I don't want a wedding registry. I will be cheap and have my guests just give me the cash - I will buy what I need, put it towards a college fund for the kids, use it to pay for the wedding or for paying off the house early. I don't see the point of getting a thousand presents which will just sit around and clutter my home.
Feb 7, 2012 12:52PM
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Some of us do feel uncomfortable giving other people nicer wedding gifts than our own possessions, especially when the new couple will trash the old stuff or donate it to a thrift store. I guess that is why that mixer at Goodwill looked so familiar?

 

The plight of the working poor -- I get a lot of wedding invitations for relatives I hardly know along with (the implied) gift registry lists. I buy something much more expensive than I would purchase and get a nice thank you note. When money is even tighter for me, I send a new recipe book with some of my favorite recipes and sleeves for the new couple to add their own favorites and I don't even get so much as a thank you note. Desperate? Quaint? Insulting? Sigh -- entitlements and expectations.  (I was taught these were the trappings of failure and disappointment.)

 

I don't have much of an attitude. I just keep using my 17 year old toaster from Dollar General. It works just fine thank you. My former fiance had a house full of stuff too. Between the two of us, I was pretty sure we didn't need much more stuff. Wedding guests relieved of the pressure of coughing up more money are what I desired -- their attendance to share the day was all I desired.

 

 

 

 

Mar 21, 2013 7:32PM
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Having lived together for quite a while, we've stocked up our home with almost everything we need. We've worked hard over the years with two things in mind: to keep our family happy and secure and to help other people.

When we finally got married, we did a charity registry at thankyouregistry.com. It was good to have a gift registry so flexible to accommodate anything you wish to list - and a great way to feel even much much happier to be married and be helping other people in need at the same time! :)
Apr 1, 2012 3:05PM
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When we got married in 1982, we included a phrase on our R.S.V.P card, "Your prayers and good wishes are the only gifts we desire."  I was 32 and my husband 41, so we had all the basic necessities covered.  We still got some gifts.  Most came without gift receipts so I couldn't return them.  Most are still taking up space in our house.

 

If you sign up for the registry, those who choose to give gifts have some idea what to buy.  It's easier to return gifts, even without a receipt, if they are items that were on your registry.  Then you can use the cash for what you want. Using a registry sometimes gives the bride and groom some other benefits. Some friends recently had a baby and had registered for a very expensive crib.  They told us they didn't expect anyone to buy it for them, but the store would give them a discount if they purchased something they had registered for and not received.

 

Everyone needs to remember that these are gift, the registries offer suggestions, and NO ONE is obligated to limit their gift purchase to something from the registry.

Feb 9, 2012 6:16PM
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I agree completely with the author that traditional wedding registries are not a good fit for a lot of people who are getting married these days. Another option he did not mention is the cash wedding registry. A couple of good ones include http://www.cashweddinggift.com and http://www.ourwishingwell.com.
Feb 9, 2012 8:22PM
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There's also food.  I had a couple people at my wedding prepare food that we served to everyone.  One used to run a catering company (roach coach) and is Italian, so I knew he would make something good and he did.  My wife and I thought it made the reception more personal and people seemed to agree (at least if they didn't like it they didn't act like they didn't like).  But for those who wanted to buy a gift and ask where we were registered we just said Target and the bank.

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