A formula for wedding gifts

Wedding guest woes

Weddings have significant financial implications for guests. Here’s a formula for wedding gifts and tips on how to graciously decline invitations.


Weddings have significant financial implications for guests. Just ask anyone in their 20s or 30s and they’ll tell you, it’s not just the wedding. It’s the all the preamble: there’s the engagement party, the Jack’n’Jill soiree, the bridal shower, the stag, the bachelorette party…it never ends. Each of these events holds the expectation of gift and then there’s the money you’ll spend on outfits, transportation and in some cases accommodations.

I get a warm and fuzzy feeling every time a wedding invite is delivered to my doorstep. It means someone close to me is preparing to celebrate a truly joyous occasion.

But that feeling fades just as quickly as it came and is inevitably replaced with another: dread. It hits me at precise moment I realize how much the couple’s union will cost me.

I’ve easily spent $1,000 on couples in the past. (Now you can appreciate the pain I feel after receiving a half-dozen invites in one season, in case you didn’t before.)

I may be a romantic at heart but the reality is I can’t afford to attend every wedding-related event I’m invited to. The good news is I don’t have to.

Lew Bayer is the president and CEO of Civility Experts Worldwide teaching etiquette in 12 countries.

She says invitees are free to decline any or all nuptial-related events, including showers.

The old-fashion etiquette used to be that if you were invited, you were expected to send a gift regardless of whether you could attend. These days, attitudes have shifted.

“There is an expectation in response to being invited, which is in theory recognition of a valued relationship, that you would do something. At least respond in a timely fashion that you can’t go,” Bayer said.

“And then, if you have the means, give some gift, maybe it’s even flowers that you send the day of the bridal shower as a token of esteem.”

Don’t try and explain why you’ve declined an invite either, especially if money is the reason. “Sometimes it turns out to be more offensive,” Bayer said.

It’s better just to decline graciously and say, “Thank you so much for the invitation, but unfortunately I can’t come.” A polite couple will not demand to know why.

If you’re like me, you enjoy weddings and do in fact hope to attend. But deciding how much to give can be tricky.

Luckily, Bayer has a formula for that. She recommends giving a sufficient amount to cover the cost of each person attending, plus one. That means a swanky wedding at the Four Seasons requires a more substantial gift than a simple backyard celebration, keeping in mind the average Canadian couple spends roughly $23,000 on their big day.

For a typical wedding, give $100 per attendee and an extra $100 (as if there were one more person in your group). Using this formula, each couple would give $300 worth in cash or gifts.

Shower gifts can be less.

Technically, you don’t ever have to “match” a gift given to you, Bayer said, however, there is sometimes the unspoken expectation of reciprocity in families.

“The primary guideline for gift giving no matter what the occasson or circumstance is that you should give what you can afford and sincerely give, and do so in a thoughtful way, with no expectation of return,” Bayer said.

“And the gift receiver should graciously accept each gift with gratitude and show appreciation.”

These days, more brides are requesting “presentation,” or monetary, gifts only.

“Soliciting cash is really quite rude,” Bayer said. “Presentation graciously accepted,” is a slightly more polite way of saying, “We prefer cash.”

Some brides have even gone as far as to recommend a specific dollar amount or “donations” to their registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs).

“They actually dictate how much money you’ll be giving, which is very, very rude,” Bayer said.

Fortunately, I’ve never received an invite like this. Until I do, I will continue to assume that each pearlescent envelope that finds its way into my mailbox is a sincere gesture and not just a callous way to collect. This approach has worked well for me. It keeps finances from getting in the way of a good party.