Should We Send a Gift Even If We Can't Attend the Wedding?

Experts explain the etiquette rules.

Wedding reception seating


Wedding invitations might be the best mail to get: Pretty calligraphy, heavy card stock, and a peek into your friends’ upcoming celebration—what could be better? After all that, it can be a bummer to find out you can’t actually make it. Once you’ve RSVP’d “no” (which is the proper etiquette—you definitely don't want to be a no-show guest!) and put your card in the mail, do you still have to send a wedding gift? Traditional wedding etiquette states that if you can’t attend the wedding, you are not obligated to send a wedding gift. However, what you decide to do may depend much more on your relationship with the happy couple than on etiquette.

If you’re not that close...

If it's just a casual acquaintance or a coworker in another department at work, sending back your RSVP card is enough. You may want to send a congratulatory card, either during their engagement or shortly after the wedding, but RSVPing is the only thing you really must do. This is the one instance where you shouldn't feel obliged to send a gift.

For a family member...

It’s nice to send a small wedding gift if you can. Check out the couple's registry and pick something that’s relatively affordable (think less than $50), or maybe contribute some money to their honeymoon cash fund. The amount you put toward the gift should reflect your closeness to this family member. Since you're not actually attending the wedding, it's acceptable to spend slightly less on a gift than you would if you were attending in person. A card accompanied by a small gift will more than suffice. Then include a note congratulating them on their marriage and saying that you’re looking forward to celebrating next time you’re all together.

For a close friend...

Choose a gift that fits your budget and that you feel reflects your friendship. Couples will often post a wide range of gift items on their registry, so look at their list early to find one that feels appropriate to your friendship level. Expect to spend less than you would for a close relative, but again, the extent of your friendship will indicate how much you should spend. If it's a close childhood friend, then perhaps, skip the wedding registry altogether. Go the personalized route by gifting a framed print of the couple or a private cooking class that can be enjoyed at a later date. Make it a point to get together before the wedding so you can celebrate their engagement, even if you can’t be there on the big day.

No matter what you decide to do, don’t forget to RSVP. It’s just as important to let the couple know not to expect you as it would be to tell them you’re coming. So as soon as you know you can't attend, fill out your RSVP card and stick it in the mail. No exceptions.

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