Wedding Etiquette: How Much to Spend on a Gift

  • Attending weddings can be expensive—so how much are you supposed to spend on a gift?
  • Ignore the old-fashioned “price per head” rule—let your relationship with the couple and your budget be your guide
  • Skip the gift if that’s what the couple wants, and don’t feel obligated to go broke if you’re already spending a lot to attend a destination wedding

Weddings happen throughout the year, but wedding traffic tends to get particularly heavy from late spring through early fall.

Whether you’re a first- or second-year, in your late 20s and starting to get invitations from giddy first-timers, or you’re a partner in your 40s and your friends are on their second marriages, you’re probably going to need to attend at least one of these functions this year. Depending on the travel and dress code, simply attending a wedding can cost a pretty penny. And just how much of your available cash are you supposed to spend on a gift?

Are There Rules?

Well, yes…and no. An old-fashioned, somewhat cut-throat rule that some people still use is to buy a gift that costs around the amount you think the couple is spending per each wedding guest. But how are you supposed to know how much someone is spending on their wedding—a friend with flair can make a $75-per-head wedding look like it costs twice as much. And why should how much a person spends on their wedding dictate how much you spend on a gift—your wealthy second cousin gets a luxurious offering while your less-privileged best friend of 15 years gets a budget gift? That doesn’t sound right.

So Which Guidelines Should You Follow?

The most sensible way to decide how much to spend is to consider your relationship with the couple. A gift for a close friend is necessarily a different animal from a gift for a fellow attorney whose wedding you’re attending out of obligation. The average amount spent on a wedding gift is $100, so use that as a starting point, adding and subtracting from that number based on your closeness with the marrying couple and your budget.

Speaking of your budget: You need to have one. Be honest with yourself about how much you can afford to spend and stick with it. Remember that your attendance is more important than how much you spend on a gift. A wedding invitation is not supposed to be a gift request, but more of a “celebrate with us” request. So if your budget doesn’t allow you to spend $200 on every wedding gift you’d like to give, don’t sweat it. Be thoughtful and personal and that attitude will show through in your gift. And don’t feel as if you must buy a gift from the registry—registries should include options in every price range, but that’s not always the case. Feel free to skip the registry and buy something unique from somewhere else.

How much do you usually spend on wedding gifts? Have you heard of the old rule about spending an amount equal to what the couple is spending on each guest?

When Can You Skip the Gift?

We all know those couples who say they don’t want gifts of any kind—not tchotchkes, not gift cards, not cash. Listen to them! If they say no gifts, they most likely mean it. This is especially true for those who have been living together for years or older couples getting married for the second time—they probably already have a fancy coffee maker and a chic dinnerware set, and don’t need extra stuff cluttering up their lives.

For those who request honeymoon donations in lieu of gifts, go ahead and contribute if you’re able, but if you know the couple well and have a meaningful gift idea for them, don’t hesitate to do that instead or in conjunction with your honeymoon contribution. If the event you’re attending is a destination wedding, you can forego a gift if there’s no more room in the budget. It’s understood that after shelling out so much money simply to attend the wedding, a gift on top of that is asking a lot, so most couples know (or should know) not to expect a gift from every guest.