It's wedding season — a time for big parties, elaborate ceremonies and plenty of blank stares when it comes to deciding what to give as presents.
There aren't a lot of hard rules but plenty of questions. Are certain types of gifts more appropriate than others? How much should guests spend? Is cash acceptable?
Those are the types of topics that could be running through your mind. Here are some suggestions.
What to give
All sorts of items can make good choices, especially those for the kitchen, bedroom or bathroom. Theknot.com, a wedding-focused website, scanned thousands of bridal registries and noticed several common denominators on wish lists, including upscale glass-bowl sets, bakeware sets, blenders, utensils and measuring spoons/cups.
But these items are more suitable for first-time couples rather than those tying the knot a second or third time around, so it pays to know the couple. Also be aware that a lot of specialized items — ice cream makers, panini presses and formal China dishware — can be bulky and might not see much regular use.
Start with the registry
When in doubt, it's a good idea to find out if the couple has a registry — the vast majority do — and look for ideas there. After all, these are the items that already have gotten a green light. Many couples also have wedding websites, another place where they might reveal their wish list.
While the items on a registry typically are safe bets, this apparently isn't always the case. In a 2016 wedding survey by faucet maker Moen, roughly one-quarter of the more than 2,000 respondents said they dropped or added items from their registries, behind their partner's back.
While it's a good idea to check the registry, it also can be acceptable to stray a bit. For example, theknot.com cited a trend in recent years toward luxurious gifts that can help a couple feel like they're waking up in a resort or visiting a spa — items such as super-soft pillows or towels with high thread counts.
Other suggestions might include a prepaid weekend retreat, other travel gift certificates, a cooking class for two, a Netflix subscription, a subscription to wine or dining clubs, or a retail warehouse membership. Whatever you give, it's acceptable to include the receipt, making it easier for the couple to return a gift if they choose. Otherwise, they might wind up listing your item for sale on eBay: Four in five respondents to one European survey admitted doing just that.
What about cash?
Cash is still king — and acceptable as a wedding present. In one survey last year, 77% of Irish couples said they prefer cash as a wedding gift. In a mostly-American survey by website FiveThirtyEight.com, 94% of respondents agreed that money was perfectly acceptable.
As a practical matter, writing a check is more secure than handing over currency, especially if sent through the mail. If you do give currency, some experts suggest handing it directly to the couple.
Better than cash
As another alternative to currency, consider gift cards, which can be used at an ever-expanding number of department stores, markets, specialty retailers, restaurants, airlines and elsewhere. A majority of gift cards examined recently by Bankrate.com allow users to set up personal identification numbers or PINs to minimize the risk of theft in online transactions. Also, lost gift cards frequently can be cancelled and replaced if not yet used, assuming you registered the card or have a receipt.
Gifts to avoid
One4all, an Irish website, asked this in a survey a few years ago. Some of the worst wedding gifts received included: a toilet brush, a coat hanger from a nice hotel, a tarantula, a wrapped banana and a garden ornament shaped like a meerkat. If in doubt, stick to the gift registry or cash, and don't try to get too creative.
The Moen survey revealed a few more examples of unwanted gifts, including a Chia pet, a machete, an IOU and a cake holder that obviously had been regifted since the card from the original giver was still included.
How much to spend?
This is the tough one. The short answer is that there's no minimum or maximum amount. The longer answer hinges on what you can afford, how well you know the couple and even where the wedding is held (couples in high-cost cities expect more).
Theknot.com suggests $50 to $75 as an appropriate gift amount for co-workers, distant relatives or casual friends; $75 to $100 for most relatives and friends; and $100-plus for close friends and family members. A survey last year by FiveThirtyEight.com came up with these median amounts: $50 for friends/extended family members, $60 for close friends and $100 for close family members.
What if it's a lavish affair?
You might feel more pressure to buy an expensive gift if the event if upscale, but that also can be a quick way to dig yourself into a financial hole. Wedding costs clearly have been rising, hitting a record $35,300 in 2016, reported theknot.com. With 141 guests on average, that works out to around $250 per person.
But many expenses — such as for the photographer, event planner or limousine — are fixed costs that have nothing to do with whether you attend or not. At any rate, base your gift on what you can afford — not on the expectations of others. You don't want to feel resentful toward the couple by spending more than you can handle.
Going in as a group
If money is tight or you don't really know what to get, consider chipping in with a few other people. This can be a wise option for work colleagues who might not know their co-worker well, and especially his or her mate. Group purchases also can generate more impact — it's a chance to buy a big-ticket item. Group gifts suggested by theknot.com include high-priced kitchen items such as an espresso machine, televisions, upscale luggage sets and even furniture like sofas.
But getting all the members of a group to agree on an item can be a hassle, and the couple still might not like what you choose. So perhaps a group check or gift card worth a few or several hundred dollars might be the better way to go.
Are gifts even required?
Technically, no. But in practical terms, yes. The only marriage event for which gifts are required is the bridal shower, when guests are supposed to shower the bride with presents, reported theknot.com. But while gifts aren't mandatory, they're clearly customary. In fact, gifts are expected even if you don't wind up attending the ceremony, states another website, giftypedia.com.