4 Rules for Buying a Wedding Gift

Shopping for a wedding gift? The perfect match is a present that aligns with your budget.

There’s no time like wedding season—with its delicate union of family, friendships and finances—to brush up on your money etiquette. For wedding guests, choosing an appropriate gift can be especially fraught, because it can feel a bit like putting a price tag on your relationship with the couple. Follow these rules of thumb to ease the gift-giving stress and congratulate the newlyweds without emptying your bank account.

How much should I spend on the gift? There is no set price range, says Anna Post, coauthor of Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette (sixth edition). The cost of a solitary dish towel or single fork is too little. Anything outside of your budget is too much. The gift amount should be dictated by what you can afford and your relationship with the couple. If you’re especially close to the bride and groom, consider budgeting a bit more than you normally would.

Lock down a present in your price range by viewing the wedding registry early, while there are plenty of options. Couples usually select items in a wide range of prices. You can also write a check or purchase a gift certificate at a store where the couple registered. Or you could go in on a present with a few friends or family members. You’ll be able to afford a bigger item without overspending.

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Does a fancier wedding require a pricier gift? Not at all. One myth is that your gift should equal the price of your dinner. Not only is it impossible to know how much the food on your plate cost, but this strategy misses the intention behind a wedding gift. The point isn’t to help the couple recoup the cost of your filet mignon but to congratulate them on their wedding and wish them well as they start a new life together.

Do I need to send a gift if I can’t attend the wedding? Yes. “There is an expect­ation that if you’re close enough to the couple to come to the wedding, you’re close enough to send a gift,” says Post. One exception is if the invitation comes out of left field—say, from a friend you haven’t seen in decades. In that case, you should decline the invitation politely and leave it at that.

If you can’t attend the bridal shower, you aren’t expected to buy a gift for it.

I have a year to send the gift, right? Wrong. Three months is your limit. That said, if it dawns on you a year later that you never mailed the check, it’s fine to send it along. You might want to include a note of apology, too.

Staff Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance