The modern goddess of engagements, Jennifer Lopez once sang, “love don’t cost a thing.” Going to a wedding, on the other hand, is hella expensive.
The common guideline is often “aim to cover the cost of your plate” but what does that mean, exactly? It can be super hard to estimate, especially if the event has food stations or family-style dining. Lisa Orr, a Toronto-based etiquette expert, thinks the relationship between the guest and the couple is more important than the dollars behind a chicken dinner: “Couples who decide to host extravagant weddings should not expect their guests to foot the bill. The value of the gift is most directly connected to the nature of the relationship rather than the venue.”
Still, it can be difficult to put a dollar amount on your relationship. Some people have tried-and-true rules for how much they spend (be it cash or a present), like this redditor who confidently breaks it down per person ($100 base, $150 for friends, $200 for good friends, $300 for family friends, $400 for family). But conversations about money are never simple, and many commenters in the thread hotly debated these amounts—some insisted the gift should be more, and others thought they could be less.
Desirae Odjick, the millennial personal finance blogger behind Half Banked, agrees that every situation is unique: “The biggest factor is your personal financial situation.” There’s never going to be one perfect amount that suits every budget and relationship, so we tapped the experts—including some serial wedding guests—to find out helpful ranges for how much to spend depending on your situation.
If you are in the bridal party
Between the shower gift, the bachelorette party and the “you can wear it again!” bridesmaid dress that, spoiler alert, will never be worn again, bridal party members have often depleted their gift-giving fund on wedding-related activities before the big day even rolls around.
Orr recommends adjusting the gift amount, but keeping it in a range with other people in the inner circle. (It’s totally OK to ask other bridesmaids what they’re gifting!) “If you are in the wedding party it’s totally reasonable to err on the lower side of the gift value because there are so many expenses associated with being a part of the wedding, but my advice would be to collaborate with the other members of the wedding party if you can so that you are all giving around the same amount or potentially even pitching in together on one gift.”
The spend (depending on how much you’ve already dropped):
You’ve shelled out on a bachelorette trip and baller shower gift: $100-$150
The bride is covering some expenses and/or you want to spend more than standard: $200-$300
The bride covered your dress, hair, makeup and shoes, saving you a ton of dough: $400+
If you’re not able to attend the wedding
If you’re close with the bride and groom and plan on seeing them soon after the wedding, you could offer to take the newlyweds out for a nice dinner in lieu of a gift. This also compensates for the fact that by missing the wedding you wouldn’t have a chance to celebrate with them.
If you’re not very close with the couple, a small gift or gift card (or even a nice bottle of Champagne) with a handwritten note of congratulations is lovely and completlely acceptable.
$50 for acqaintances; $100–$250 for family and very close friends
If you have to travel for the wedding
Destination weddings can be amazing experiences, but they don’t come cheap—transportation, accommodations and eating out add up quickly. (There are also costs that often go uncalculated, like Ubers to and from the airport, and vacation days.)
“In many cases a thoughtful couple will indicate that no gifts are expected. But if that’s not the case, it’s totally reasonable to downsize your gift,” says Orr.
Odjick advises planning ahead as much as possible and laying out a reasonable budget. “Once you have details, make a quick budget of what attending the wedding will cost. Flights, hotels, your outfit—total it up and see if it’s a reasonable amount for you to attend and, if not, bring it up earlier rather than later. People will be reasonable if you give them notice.”
Whether or not you attend, a personal card thanking the bride and groom for inviting you and a token gift card (as a rule, don’t dip lower than $50) should be appreciated.
If you really can’t swing a gift
If you find yourself caught between jobs, in school, behind on bills or simply without extra money in your personal budget, it is possible to honour the couple without a monetary strain. Talking about money can feel awkward, which is why the conversation is often avoided, but being transparent about your situation (whether it’s a frank conversation or written subtly into a card), can be freeing.
Orr recommends coming up with a creative alternatives: “Offer your time, like housesitting or pet sitting during their honeymoon, or helping them to write their thank you notes after the wedding. You might find that it’s a gift they appreciate even more.”
If gifting a service isn’t really your style, get creative with in other ways, like researching a custom “guidebook” for their honeymoon destination catered to their hobbies, or creating an inexpensive photo album with all of their best Instagram shots (which would otherwise never get printed into physical photos).
Odjick wants guests to keep in mind weddings are meant to be a celebration, not a cash grab, and (decent) couples aren’t putting a price tag on your invitation. “As long as you provide a thoughtful card that speaks to your joy for the couple, that to me is your only obligation. They should not want anyone to go into debt for their wedding.”
Presence > presents