A couple putting together their registry is similar, in theory, to a child making a wish list for Santa—except that asking for crystal stemware is harder than asking for a My Little Pony. Many brides report feeling guilty about registering for big-ticket items (hello, KitchenAid mixer!), items they wouldn't buy for themselves, or items they might not use right away (read: fine china).
However, the majority of guests like registries and want brides and grooms not only to register, but to not hold back when they do. Here are the most common causes of registry guilt—and why you should ignore them.
What Couples Say:
"These gifts are totally overpriced."
"I did feel guilty about registering for things I wouldn't buy for myself—I wouldn't pay $150 for a toaster," says Cassandra, 24, of Jim Thorpe, PA, who registered for her 2008 wedding at JCPenney and Sears. McCartney, 23, of Nashville, registered at two local shops as well as Target and Pottery Barn for her 2009 wedding, and the last store gave her sticker shock: "I thought, 'It's ridiculous that I'm registering for a pillow that costs $50,'" she says. "With the duvet, sham, and comforter, it probably added up to $600 for the whole bed set." Other brides make—then revise—their lists. Says Melody, 26, of New York, who got married in 2009, "Early on, we registered for a really expensive set of pots and pans [$600] and a duo coffee/espresso maker [$350]. After the engagement party, we decided to remove them from the list—we felt bad having registered for such big-ticket items."
"We won't use this stuff for years."
Although it's traditional to request china and silver, if a couple's current way of life is more about takeout than table settings, practical brides and grooms can feel torn. "I was a little uncomfortable registering for silver and china because in Boulder, Colorado, the lifestyle is more casual—and I couldn't believe how expensive it was," says Sarah, 28, who got married in her hometown of Dallas in 2007. But she eventually got over her misgivings: "I just love that I have the same stuff my family has," she says.
"Money is tight for my guests."
Many guests (and their budgets) have been affected by the recession, so couples setting up registries are conscious of that. "My aunt and uncle both experienced layoffs in the last year," says Lisa, 37, of Pittsburgh, who got married in 2009 and asked that guests not give gifts. But even in a bull market, young gift-giving guests are likely to feel the financial strain caused by a whirlwind of post-college weddings. "It's especially a concern when you get married in your 20s," explains Sarah, "because so many of your friends aren't making much money—and may even be paying off student loans."
*"This isn't the first home I'm setting up." *
While younger couples can feel bad asking pals to stretch their budgets, older couples who are more established may also be hesitant to impose upon their friends. "I'm 37—I own my own house and have the things I want in life," says Lisa. "So for that reason alone it seemed odd to me to register. I felt like registries were meant for couples just starting out."
"My guests are already paying to travel to my wedding."
"I married at the world-famous Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, so I felt that coming to the wedding was gift enough for us," says Lisa. Sarah agrees: "I was nervous about registering because I didn't want anyone to feel obligated to spend more money—not only would they have to travel, but they'd have to buy us something expensive, too?"
But actually, according to the guests themselves, registry worries like these shouldn't keep you up at night. Here's why.
What Guests Say:
*"Registering is polite and helpful." *
Setting up a registry "is considered a courtesy to make gift-giving easier for guests," says Pamela Lach, author of The Bride's Etiquette Guide. One guest who agrees is Mary, 27, of New York, who's attended five weddings in the past year alone: "I wouldn't want to navigate the gift process without it," she says. "It takes the guesswork out; and since it's all done online, you can get the gift there ahead of the wedding." She also advises couples not to hold back when making out their lists. "I'd register for a lot of items," she says. "Nobody's going to go back to the list and say, 'They have so much stuff left over—they must've asked for too much.'"
"The more options, the better."
Anemic registries can be a real annoyance. "For the wedding I attended last weekend, the couple didn't register for enough," says Mary, who admits she "procrastinated a little too long" before shopping—and by the time she got to it, most items on the registry had already been bought. What was left? "The $350 KitchenAid mixer that every couple registers for, plus random bits and pieces, like a towel and a washcloth. So I had to go off the registry." Another frequent wedding guest, Rachael, 32, of Clinton, NJ, has had the same experience: "All the medium-size gifts get bought first, so you're left with either the $1,300 bedroom set or 20 different kitchen doodads," she says. Rachael also notes that she actually attended Melody's wedding, and—despite the bride's concerns—wasn't put off by the high-priced items on her registry (even if she didn't buy them).
"Your list shows your taste."
If guests aren't frequent visitors to your home (or, worse, have never met you), your registry can show them what you like—they can then choose to buy something there or elsewhere. "After looking at a registry to get a feel for a couple's taste, one always has the option to shop independently," says Karen, 57, of Dallas, a family friend of Sarah's who gave her an estate silver setting. In addition to going off-registry, guests should also feel comfortable staying within their budget. As Hillary, 23, of Cincinnati, says about the wedding of her college roommate, McCartney, "I love her, but I'm unemployed and can't spend too much money. But who knows? Someone who can afford the higher-priced items may also have been invited."
"Not everyone wants to buy you the basics."
A close friend might like to give you an heirloom or other valuable item that isn't sold at Target or Bed Bath & Beyond, and will appreciate a wider range of choices. "A store like the Copper Lamp [where Sarah registered] is used to providing helpful service," says Karen. "I went in and spoke with them, as opposed to just looking online, and appreciated being able to shop personally in that way."
"Your friends can all pitch in."
Guests sometimes choose to pool funds in order to give a grander gift. "For my girlfriend's wedding, the bridal party all went in on a camcorder for the couple to use on their honeymoon," says Rachael. "Instead of getting $50 things here and there, we wanted to give them something that was greater than the sum of its parts."
"You need certain items—even if you don't unwrap them for years."
No one knows this better than your guests—especially the married ones. "A couple should appreciate that people who care about them and their family enjoy the chance to give a gift, and may understand more about the future possibilities for home and entertaining than a new bride and groom," says Karen. "In my case, I was married shortly after I graduated from college, and I'd never really even noticed china before."
Bottom line? This is your one chance in life—apart from when you were six and penned that letter to the North Pole—to create a wish list without appearing gauche. At another wedding Mary attended recently, "the bride registered for china and silver, and had she not, she might never have had a chance to own them. Maybe she can't host 15 people now, but in a few years she may be able to."
And if you're still unsure what to do, you might ask your own mother for advice. That's what Jennifer, 26, of Detroit, did before her 2009 wedding in Las Vegas. "My mom told me, 'When you register, you should ask for what you want,'" says Jennifer. "When she got married, she registered for the cheapest stuff because she felt bad." And how does Mom feel now? "My parents have been married for 32 years, and she says she still looks at her china and hates it."
Brides, be warned!