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• Jun. 13, 2023

Peak wedding season is upon us, and if you've got invites to a few of these celebrations, you may be faced with enough additional expenses to bring even a cake to tears.

On top of potential added costs for hotels and travel, figuring out what is an appropriate gift to give can be expensive, daunting, and confusing.

So how much should you give at a wedding? Does a lavish wedding require an expensive gift or more cash? Do you give a gift if the wedding is out of country? And do you need to stick to the registry, or is cash still king?

We spoke to several etiquette experts to get their take on what rules to consider and questions to ask when determining how much you should consider spending or giving for a wedding present.

What is my personal budget?

No matter how much you choose to spend on a gift, it's important to remember this special day is to celebrate the union of the happy couple—not how much they can collect in wedding gifts.

“The gift is an expression of your wish for the couple's future happiness and their life together," says etiquette coach and owner of The Etiquette Ladies, Louise Fox.

If you are attending any pre-wedding celebrations (for instance, a bridal shower), consider what is your overall budget and allocate a smaller percentage—less than 40 per cent—to those gifts.

How close am I to the couple?

Fox says another important factor to consider is your relationship with the couple.

This means asking what your connection is to the couple, how long and how well do you know them, and how much support they may need to furnish their household.

For instance, you may be more comfortable spending or giving more for a sibling or best friend than you would for a colleague or casual acquaintance.

Even so, no matter how close you are to the couple, remember to spend only what you can afford to give.

"No one should ever be expected to go into debt for a wedding gift," says Fox.

Do I spend more if the wedding venue is extravagant?

While the monetary value of your gift may be influenced by your relationship with the couple (while respecting your budget), whether the wedding is held at someone's condo or a castle is irrelevant.

“The choice of venue is up to the couple and whether they can afford it. It should never be up to the guests to finance the wedding," says etiquette expert, coach and author, Julie Blais Comeau.

What do I do if the invite says, 'no gifts'?

If the couple indicates on their invitation that they don't want any gifts at all, in those cases, you are free to take them at their word. But if the thought of showing up empty-handed makes you uncomfortable, flowers or a gift certificate for a nice dinner might be appreciated.

"Never underestimate the power of a hand-written note—accompanying a gift or on its own—in which you express your heart-felt wishes for a happy life together," says Wendy Mencel, who directs and co-owns an etiquette school.

Do I still give a gift for a destination wedding?

If expense is a factor in you attending a wedding out of country, it is acceptable to forgo the gift altogether as those tying the knot often see your attendance as more than sufficient.

If you do decide to give a gift, send it ahead of time to the couple so that the newlyweds don't have to lug it back home.

Can I give cash as a wedding gift?

"In some cultures, the gift of money over something more tangible is common. For couples who don't have a gift registry or request guests contribute to a honeymoon fund instead, cash is king," says Adeola Damie, cultural wedding planner and founder of Celebration Events Management.

If you do hand over an envelope, Damie says to write a cheque rather than enclosing cash bills (as cheques are traceable) should the envelope get misplaced.

So how much should you spend when giving money or buying something on the registry? It seems there is no hard and fast rule.

According to experts, the average wedding gift nowadays can range anywhere between $100 to $200. This amount can go up or down depending on your budget, your relationship to the couple, or if you bring a plus one.

If you are reluctant to give cash, or nothing from the registry appeals to you, proceed with caution before buying off-registry. One should only really consider this route if you are a close relative or friend and know the gift you choose will make the couple happy.

And while it used to be acceptable to send a gift up to one year after a wedding, several experts agree that today's faster-paced, digital world has shrunk that timeline to fall somewhere closer to the three-month mark (or the sooner you send the gift, the better).

This story was originally published July 2, 2019.

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