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6 Wedding Gift Etiquette Rules All Guests Should Know

Just received a wedding invitation? Here's everything you need to know about wedding gift etiquette, to ensure you get the right present in a timely fashion.

wedding gifts

Etiquette is involved in almost every single aspect of planning, throwing and attending a wedding—and gift giving is certainly no exception. However, wedding gift etiquette has changed quite a bit in the modern age. “In the olden days, wedding gifts were given to help a young couple create their first home together, but nowadays, most couples are either combining two fully functional households or are already living together,” explains Jodi R.R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, in Marblehead, Massachusetts. “Today’s wedding registries include wish-list, luxury items such as a cappuccino maker or even the ability to contribute towards the honeymoon.”

What’s more: there’s no more guessing or even deciding what a couple might need—you can log into their online wedding registry to find out. “Some of today’s modern couples are not in need of gifts at all and are kind enough to include the option of donations made in their honor to charitable organizations,” adds Smith.

Some wedding gift etiquette rules haven’t veered off path much at all. “As guests, we still want to feel we are playing our part (whether as a friend or family member) in helping the couple start their new lives together with a greater sense of material well being and comfort,” says Thomas P. Farley, etiquette expert and founder of Mister Manners. “Regardless of how we shop for a gift or what we ultimately choose to give, that driving philosophy remains a constant.”

To make sure your gift-giving habits are in-line with today’s customs, here are some wedding gift etiquette rules you should know.

Invitations are not invoices.

Contrary to what people might tell you about wedding gift etiquette, you are not required to give a gift to every single wedding you are invited to—especially if you’re not attending. “Just because you were invited to an event, you are not obligated to give a gift,” says Smith. “Gifts are given as a token of your warm wishes and should be given as such.” That being said, if you do choose to attend the wedding, or are particularly close with the couple, a gift is most certainly expected.

Give an amount you can afford.

No one should extend their credit line in order to give a wedding gift. “Contrary to common belief, how much you spend is based not on the cost of your plate at the reception (because a guest should not know that anyway) but rather on two factors: how close you are to the couple and what you can comfortably afford,” says Farley. “No one should go into debt buying wedding presents.”

Wedding registries are mere suggestions.

Just because a couple has a wedding registry does not mean you are not allowed to gift them something that is not on it. “Once you have reviewed the registry, if there is something you would like to give, great, but if not, you may opt to give a gift off-registry based upon the couple’s taste and themes,” says Smith. When it doubt, money is always a great option, as the couple can put this towards what they truly want or need.

You do not need to bring the gift to the wedding.

Many times it doesn’t make sense to bring a gift to the actual wedding, especially if it’s a destination wedding or in a location that requires you to travel. “Sometimes people do not have the space nor the transportation to be able to have the gifts in addition to everything else,” says Maryanne Parker, etiquette expert and founder of Manor of Manners. “If it is a destination wedding, you do not have to bring a gift because your present is the gift, but it is still very thoughtful to do so.”

Be timely with your gifting.

Farley suggests ordering wedding gifts for delivery no later than a month following the wedding date—ideally right before or right after the nuptials (not six months later and definitely, not a year). “There is no earthly reason why any guest should need 12 months to find the perfect gift, at which point the couple’s registry may long-since be depleted,” he says.

Expect a thank-you card within a timely manner.

According to proper wedding gift etiquette, the couple should send thank-you cards that are handwritten within 90 days of their wedding or receiving their gift. “Again, not a year later…at which point baby shower invitations may already be in the mail!” adds Farley.