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Your Wedding-Gift Etiquette Questions Answered

As distance (and cost) to the destination goes up, gift expectations go down.

Question: My niece is getting married in her hometown, and the costs of traveling (and staying) there are adding up. Can my presence be the present?

Answer: Even though wedding gifts are never required, it can certainly feel as if they're expected–and forgoing one may make you uncomfortable, especially in the case of a close friend or relative. If you're feeling pinched from travel costs, there is no shame in picking out a small item from the registry. Or consider a fail-safe token of congratulations, such as a picture frame to hold a wedding photo, a gift card to a store on the registry or even a home-cooked meal at your place.

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"It's not about how much you spend, but wishing the couple well in their new life together," says Jennifer Spector, director of brand at wedding-planning and registry site Zola.com. A thoughtfully written card with your best wishes can also be meaningful.

"I still have my cards from friends who traveled a long way to attend my wedding and didn't give a gift," says Meg Keene, author of A Practical Wedding.

The same principles apply to a destination wedding for which everyone must travel to a far-flung location, but in that case the expectation for gifts is generally lower.

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My friend's registry includes both gift suggestions and links to favorite charities. Can a charitable donation replace a gift? If the couple presents both options, a donation can always be made in lieu of a gift, says Keene. (In fact, donating to charity in the couple's name is a tasteful alternative to a present if your travel costs to their wedding are adding up.) The couple's situation may help you make your choice. For example, a younger couple might need housewares more than older newlyweds who have already accumulated belongings.

I can't attend the wedding of my good friend's son because of a prior commitment. Should I still send a gift? Tradition says yes, but these days it depends more on your relationship with the couple, says Spector. For a close friend, sending a gift to his or her son is a lovely gesture and helps ease the family's disappointment that you can't celebrate in person. "A gift says, 'In any other circumstance, I would be there,'" says Keene.

Send a gift if the family attended your own wedding. But mailing a card or jotting down some kind wishes on the RSVP note suffices if you have gradually lost touch with this friend over time.

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