View our other publications:

What gives

The etiquette of gifts in 2024

You selected “yes” on the RSVP (box checked for the chicken), bought a new outfit, and made your travel arrangements—all typical preparations to attend the wedding of your best friend, distant relative, or a close relation. Then there is the gift. Traditionally a white wrapped box left on a table at the reception: a growing tower of toasters and home goods to help the happy couple furnish their new cohabitating environment or a card with an envelope of cash from your immediate family that everyone, except your brother because he never has his wallet, has chipped in on. 

It’s tradition, it’s expected . . . or at least it was. Now, more couples are living together before marriage, so the need to furnish a home is not as urgent. When they do ask for gifts, Amazon typically delivers them to the door far before the wedding date in a brown box. Then there is the growing trend of a “honeymoon fund,” when couples strictly ask for money to help pay for their postnuptial vacation. In 2022, the wedding website the Knot reported that seventy percent of couples asked for a cash gift on their registry.

Experts agree that the way we give wedding gifts has changed. “Etiquette evolves as our world does, so, of course, some past guidelines would not apply to our society today,” says Mariah Grumet, founder of Old Soul Etiquette in New York City and author of the wedding etiquette guidebook What Do I Do? But a new debate sparked online has brought into question if guests should be expected to give gifts at all. 

In a fiery TikTok video, writer and host of the A Single Serving podcast, Shani Silver, expressed her frustration to her 48,000 followers with having to buy a wedding gift as a single person: “You do not have to burden your finances to celebrate someone else’s love.” She went on to say that couples registering for gifts are exhibiting bad manners, and, as far as cash gifts, “if they cannot afford to take a honeymoon, guess what? They don’t get to take a honeymoon,” says Silver.

Silver’s criticism of the financial burden that comes with attending and providing a gift for a wedding is not out of place. Even in a couple, the numbers can be hard to swallow. A 2023 study from the financial consulting site Bankrate forecasted that guests could expect to spend roughly $600 or more if they planned to attend a wedding. The same study indicated that twenty-one percent of invitees feel wedding attendance would strain their budget, and sixty-two percent indicate they had at least one financial concern on their plate, like a mortgage or student loans. 

Sara Evans, a seasoned wedding guest and Rochester resident once said “I do” to attending six ceremonies in a single year. She has attended twenty in the last sixteen years. As a single person, she keeps her finances in mind when deciding if she will go to a wedding, but overall, she’s happy to be invited. 

“In terms of all the weddings I’ve gone to, I’ve often thought about where I am going to stay. I have shared hotel rooms with friends before, so we didn’t have to pay as much to attend a wedding,” says Evans, who has also purchased a gift with a group of friends to ease the cost, but she says it’s not all about the money. “I always say going to someone’s wedding is an investment in the relationship,” says Evans. “For me, going to the wedding, and, by extension, the gift is a way to say, ‘hey, I care about you, and I will continue to care about you even if we don’t stay in touch.’”

Grumet agrees. “Giving a wedding gift is a symbol of support and celebration of this major milestone in someone’s life. I do not believe that anyone should be excused from this way of wishing the couple well,” says Grumet. “It is not rude for a couple to ask for gifts even though they already live together. Many couples rely on their registry and wedding gifts to help make their house a home!” 

Grumet says adhering to these rules of society goes beyond tradition. 

“Etiquette is important because, first and foremost, it allows us to show every person we encounter respect and kindness,” says Grumet. “With our fast-paced way of life and ever-changing methods of communication, proper etiquette is arguably more important now than it ever was! When you go back to the root of what etiquette is about, kindness and respect, you realize truly how timeless it is.”

Grumet also says it’s not just guests who have to be respectful; she says couples should never expect guests to spend a certain amount. “In past times, there was an expectation to ‘cover your plate.’ In today’s day and age, weddings vary, as do people’s financial situations. . . . The registry should consist of items that range in price. It is important to be mindful of your guests’ various financial situations.” 

Even with pared-down registries and money-saving tricks, some experts still estimate some seven to ten percent of wedding guests will not bring a gift. So what is the right approach? Grumet says that even though how you give a gift might look different, the bottom line is, you should still plan to bring something. 

“As a wedding guest, it is expected that you bring a gift. Everyone’s financial situation is unique, but it is expected that you give what you are able to give,” she says. “It is always recommended to stick to the registry if the couple has one. That way, you know you are giving them something that they really need or want.”

Grumet also says if you are really stressed about maxing your budget, there are other options. “If you are not in a position to give as much as you’d hoped, something is better than nothing. It is much more about the gesture than the value. A homemade gift would be the perfect way to give a gift,without spending more than you are able to spend,” says Grumet. 

You can also check the “not attending” box on the invitation, but while it will keep you from spending money on your attire or travel expenses, you should still expect to check the gift registry. 

“It is always acceptable to decline any type of invitation regardless of the reason. As long as you are respectfully responding in a timely manner,  there is nothing wrong with not being able to or wanting to attend an event. You should consider sending a gift in your absence.”

Subscribe to our newsletter