Peak wedding season is upon us, and if you're lucky and got invites to a few of these celebrations, you may be faced with enough additional expenses to bring even a cake to tears.
And on top of added costs for hotels, potentially travelling and having to miss work is figuring out what an appropriate gift is to give. Between cultural expectations, those of your social circle and of the newlyweds—giving a wedding gift 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? Does the 'cover your dinner costs and add more' rule still stand? 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 the rules around wedding gifts.
Special day. Not special debt
No matter how much you choose to spend, 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 to help them get started in their life together," said etiquette coach, Louise Fox. “You spend what you can afford to spend, no matter how close you are to the couple. No one is ever expected to go into debt for a wedding gift."
Some couples might indicate on their invitation that they don't want any gifts at all. In this case, 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," said Fox.
Your relationship with the couple is what matters
When you're figuring what or how much to give to the soon-to-be newlyweds, Fox said it's important to consider your connection to the couple, how long and how well you know them, your own financial means, and how much help they need furnishing their household.
Be it a sugar shack or chateau—the venue is irrelevant
As the monetary value of your gift should be based on 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 is never up to the guests to finance the wedding," said etiquette expert, Julie Blais Comeau.
Destination wedding? A gift is not necessary
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.
And yes, gifting cash is acceptable
"In some cultures, the gift of money over something more tangible is common. For couples who don't have a gift registry, cash is king," said Adeola Damie, a wedding planner.
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.
But on how much to spend when giving money or buying something on the registry—it seems there is no hard and fast rule. According to a 2017 poll by Ipsos Reid, the average acceptable wedding gift amount was $147.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).