Accepting a wedding invitation is quite nearly a contractual obligation to get the happy couple a gift, and no one wants to look like a cheapskate when the presents are opened. However, accepting a wedding invitation also means accepting the costs of travel and lodging to attend, which can put a serious dent in your budget. So how can a guest balance all these financial obligations and give the couple a great gift—without blowing their budget? Here are five tips to help you figure out how much you should spend on a wedding gift.
1. Follow tradition.
Traditional etiquette states that you should base what you spend on the estimated cost of hosting you at the reception. Says planner Anthony Navarro of Liven It Up Events, “[I]f you think the couple getting married is spending an average of $100-$150 per person at their wedding, the price of your gift should equal that amount." The downside to this logic, though, is that it’s a per-person price. That means if you think the couple is spending $100 on food and drinks for each guest, you and your plus-one should spend $200 on the gift.
2. Consider what you’re spending to attend.
Of course, you shouldn’t forget that you’re already paying a pretty penny to attend the wedding—especially if it’s a destination wedding or during peak season. "You're likely paying for accommodations and even flights, so in that situation it's fair to assume the bride and groom are conscious of how much everyone is already spending,” says Jason Reid, Co-Founder and CEO of Giftagram, a mobile app that eliminates the hassle of gift giving. If you’re shelling out a lot just to be there, you can cut back on how much you spend on the present—your presence is a gift, too!
3. Think about how close you are to the couple.
“A wedding guest should always give what they feel best celebrates the occasion, taking into account their budget as well as their closeness with the couple,” tells wedding etiquette expert Sara Margulis, co-founder of the wedding registry website Honeyfund. The average wedding gift amount hovers right around $100, which is a great place to start, and you can increase or decrease that based on how close you are. If you’re very close or related to the couple (and have the wiggle room in your budget), you may choose to spend more—about $100 per guest (or $200 from a couple). If you’re not quite as close (or you’re the plus-one, not the invited guest), you may opt for a less-expensive gift or might make a smaller contribution to the purchase of the gift.
4. Know when you don’t need to give a gift.
While gifts are expected at the wedding and bridal shower, stretch your budget by remembering when you don’t have to bring one. For example, gifts are not expected at the engagement party (though a card congratulating the couple is a nice touch!). And if you’ve contributed serious time or money to helping with the wedding, like hosting the bridal shower or serving as the bride’s makeup artist on the wedding day, you’re not expected to spend on a gift, too. By only bringing gifts to events where they are expected, the money you have to spend will go a lot farther.
5. Only spend what you can afford.
It seems easy enough, but this one’s worth mentioning: Limit your investment to what you can actually afford, even if it’s less than what etiquette suggests. If you can’t find a single item that fits your budget, consider purchasing a few smaller items to total an amount that works for you. (It’s also a great way to help the couple stock their home with items that are often overlooked, like measuring spoons or cutting boards). The couple wants you to be there to celebrate with them, so prioritize your budget however you need to to make that happen—even if that means a smaller gift so you can cover the cost of the hotel room.