When it comes to wedding gifts, it’s not just the thought that counts. The money counts, too. The average wedding guest will spend $127 on a gift for a family member, according to an American Express spending survey, and $99 on a gift for a friend. You’re wasting your money by giving gifts that brides and grooms don’t want and won’t use.
The safe course, naturally, is to stick to the couple’s gift registry. “The key to giving a good wedding gift is pretty simple: Get the couple what they want and what they have asked for,” says Sarah Trotter of Lasting Impressions Weddings of Minnetonka, Minn. Nothing on the registry you like or can afford? Then give cash as a wedding gift, says Trotter.
The 1,803 adults surveyed by American Express concur: 37% prefer gifts from a registry, followed by cash (31%) and gift cards (13%). Just 5% want a gift that’s not on the registry. (And if you insist on going off-registry, at least include a gift receipt.) More recently, wedding planning website TheKnot.com (opens in new tab) advises spending $75 to $100 on gifts for distant relatives and co-workers, $100 to $150 for relatives and friends, and $100 to $200+ if the wedding is for a close relative or close friend.
Here’s a look at some of the worst wedding gifts to give, based on feedback from wedding experts and wedding participants. Consider yourself warned.
For Jim and Pam’s wedding on the hit TV show “The Office,” colleague Dwight Schrute gave the couple turtle boiling pots and turtle bibs to go along with live turtles (which, thankfully, escaped). But that’s a sitcom and this is, well, reality.
“While they may look cute and cuddly, pets do not make a good wedding gift,” says Sacha Patires, event planner and designer at Whimsical Weddings & Events of Oklahoma City. “Newlyweds do not need the responsibility or financial obligation that comes with a new pet.”
An alternative? “If you are looking for a gift to give the animal-loving couple,” Patires says, “consider putting together a canine or feline gift basket with toys and treats for [their current pets].”
Stay away from gifts that are branded his-and-her or his-and-his or hers-and-hers. “Couples have started their life together at their wedding ceremony, but it does not need to be represented on matching shirts or bedding,” says Trotter.
Adds Patires, “Not every couple thinks that it is cute to look like ‘twinkies’ by wearing identical or matching items. This is a choice that is best made and selected by the couple if they want to do it.” As an alternative, she suggests putting together a gift basket with mugs, coffee, hot chocolate and sweets. “It will be used more than matching T-shirts.”
By and large, couples and wedding planners say that unless you absolutely, positively know what monogram the couple is going to use, don’t give monogrammed…anything.
One bride says she received monogrammed towels that said “Mary” on them. Not only is her name not “Mary,” there’s not even an M in the chosen family name.
Sorry to upset traditionalists, but wedding planners say stay away from china, crystal and similar tried-and-true “forever” items – unless the couple has specifically asked for them. “I know that it is traditional and a lot of people really appreciate the quality of this gift,” says Trotter. “However, this is not a good idea for a couple that does not have a lot of storage space or is planning to move a few times before getting their ‘forever home.’”
Plus, as many married (and once-married) folks will tell you, a lot of those precious items are one and done, taken out one day and put away forever – until divorce or downsizing, when they are then off-loaded.
Hint much? Don’t gift exercise equipment for a number of reasons, wedding planners say, but above all because your intentions could be misconstrued. That and the couple may not have room for the equipment or like the type of exercise equipment you’ve chosen. Or, they may prefer the gym to exercising at home, and already have a membership.
An alternative? “Check the couple's registry to see if they have food-related or kitchen items on their registry,” says Patires. “If so, you can put together a healthy, nutritious gift basket by choosing a few kitchen items from their [registry] website and pairing it with non-perishable healthy food items.”
Like exercise equipment, the gifting of self-help books, while done with good intentions, may not be well-received. Same goes for anything related to relationship advice or having children.
Instead, focus on fun experiences the newlyweds can share. “Purchase a gift that is something the couple can do together,” says Patires. “Research the city the couple lives in and see what kind of classes you can find. Some examples include: dance, rock climbing, cooking or painting. Then buy them a gift certificate.”
Table the thought. Buying furniture as a gift has multiple risks. The item might not physically fit in the home or it might not match the couple’s style. Same goes with art or other home decor. Your taste for the finer things in Elvis-on-velvet may not be the newlyweds’.
If you can’t suppress your inner interior decorator, at least start with the wedding registry. “Find out where the couple is registered to see if they have any furniture or home decor on their registry,” says Patires. “Couples love receiving gifts for items they have put on their registry, and you know they will like it since they picked it out.”
Rolling political at this momentous event in a couple's life is just wrong, wedding planners say.
"Even if you know they are a supporter of a certain candidate, politics has no place at a wedding (except for when making the seating chart)," says Patires.
Decorations to Use at the Wedding
Come on now, really? You want to chip in at the last minute with your scintillating ideas for decorating your bestie's big day? Don't.
Says Patires, "The bride and groom have spent countless hours creating the design for their wedding. It is unlikely that the gift that you may want for them to incorporate will work with the plan they have created. It is not nice to make them feel obligated to use it either. Leave the planning to the couple and let them get what they need for their wedding."
The focus is on the soon-to-be-wed couple, not any offspring they may (or may not) be planning. But, it happens, wedding planners say.
"Soon after the wedding, and sometimes at the wedding, people start asking, 'So, when are you going to have a baby?' Baby gifts have no place at a wedding," says Patires. "Instead, buy the couple something for just the two of them. Let the newlyweds enjoy being married for a while. Getting married is enough of an adjustment without the added pressures of what the future will hold."
You're all they need, am I right? No. It's just bad juju to show up at a wedding you're invited to and offer no gifts, other than your good looks.
Don't bring nothing.
"This is probably the worst gift of all," says Patires. "I know you may feel like your presence at the wedding is enough, but you should really get a gift, as well."
Bob is a Senior Online Editor at Kiplinger.com. He has more than 40 years of experience in online, print and visual journalism. Bob has worked as an award-winning writer and editor in the Washington, D.C., market as well as at news organizations in New York, Michigan and California. Bob joined Kiplinger in 2016, bringing a wealth of expertise covering retail, entertainment, and money-saving trends and topics. He was one of the first journalists at a daily news organization to aggressively cover retail as a specialty, and has been lauded in the retail industry for his expertise. Bob has also been an adjunct and associate professor of print, online and visual journalism at Syracuse University and Ithaca College. He has a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a bachelor’s degree in communications and theater from Hope College.
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