Dear Prudence: Wedding gift etiquette?

Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist "Prudence."


TESS VIGELAND: Now, every so often we get a question from one of you where I think to myself, "I wish I could ask Ann Landers about this." Or maybe Dear Prudence at Slate.com. It's usually a question that's about money but not really about money. And we got one like that this week. Ursula contacted us from Surry, Maine, with a dilemma.

Ursula: My fiance and I would like to request that our friends not give gifts we do not need for our wedding, like dishes and china. If they decide in their generosity to give a gift, we want to ask that they contribute to a fund for something we want, like land or gift certificates. Is there an artful way to make this clear to our guests?

Now this is a question that I know Dear Prudence has answered more than once. So we called her up! Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. Prudence, welcome to the show.

Emily Yoffe: Thank you.

Vigeland: Now, I'm not going to pretend I don't know your thoughts on this. You are not a fan of these "give me cold hard cash" wedding registry, right?

Yoffe: When people are getting married, their friends and loved ones want to get lovely things for their home. They don't tend to want to get them a home.

Vigeland: Is it ever OK to put qualifiers on gift giving, really no matter what the occasion might be?

Yoffe: Well, there are ways to do it. First of all, let me just say, when you send the invitation that is not the place to specify the gift. The money question is really touchy and hard. It's probably best if the word gets put out by other people in the family -- "Look, they're paying off their student loans" or "they're saving for a house" -- so if you feel moved to write them a check, of course they'd appreciate it. But you just can't say, "Hey, don't go shopping for me. Here's my PIN number, make a deposit."

Vigeland: That's so romantic, isn't it? You know, you mention the invitations, and I will say that I did receive a wedding invitation one time that listed the gift registry. It didn't ask for cash, but it did actually list the gift registry. And you're saying "nuh uh" to that as well.

Yoffe: Well, how did you feel when you got that?

Vigeland: I thought, "Oh, well I guess that's the price I pay for going to the wedding."

Yoffe: Thank you, yes, exactly. You thought, "Oh! Price of admission." That's not the feeling you're supposed to get when you get a wedding invitation.

Vigeland: But I suppose the argument is that we live in modern times, a lot of couples already live together, they've got things like blenders and towels. So, what should a guest do in that case?

Yoffe: How is it ever wrong to go out and say, "You know, I'm so happy they're getting married. I want to get them this beautiful pitcher, so every time they pour their juice or milk with it, they'll think of me and I'll imagine them enjoying it." I mean, that is part of the pleasure; it's not just an economic exchange.

Vigeland: All right, well Ursula, there you go. Dear Prudence says maybe you should be a little more prudent about all this, right?

Yoffe: Enjoy everyone's good wishes, even if it takes a physical form of a blender.

Vigeland: Emily Yoffe is Dear Prudence at Slate.com. It's been awfully fun. Thanks so much for joining us.

Yoffe: My pleasure.

Vigeland: OK, what's your reaction to requests for gifts of cold hard cashola? Tell us at Marketplace.org. And no, you do not have a year to write us a thank-you note.

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I thought this was interesting because in my viewpoint a guest's position should be considered. I have received the registry locations in an invitation, I appreciated knowing where to go, I don't like calling the bride to find out where to shop. I have been sent registries where I could not afford anything, two items under $50 and everything else $100-$350. I have also been informed of registries at shops I can afford, general life supplies at Target, Pier One, and Bed Bath and Beyond. It was helpful when I saw that I didn't have to go to an overpriced department store. I think Prudence had a point about letting word get out that the couple would prefer money, but some people might not be able to afford a nice monetary gift. When you give a registry gift, even an inexpensive one, it is a desired item. When you choose a gift the couple doesn't know the price, especially if it is from the heart. But if you give money then the couple and possibly others can become aware of your financial limitations or you might overstretch trying to hide financial limitations. Family can give money, but friends should not be expected to, finances and money can be tricky.

I totally disagree. I am in the age group in which all my nieces/nephews and children of friends are getting married.
1. I appreciate getting the 'registry' in a wedding invitation, rather than trying to figure out what to get the newly-weds
2. I am personally overwhelmed with 'stuff' that I've bought and gifts given to me...I really don't' have room for any more. I hate getting rid of gifts given with good intentions...so I wind up a personal dilema. I deplore the idea of giving pitcher that they probably won't use or want, adds to Their dilema AND only makes the Giver feel good!! I WANT to HELP newly-weds by giving a gift they will help them in their new life together. I tend to give cash.
3. I think our Modern Era is in need of rethinking 'gift-giving Etiquette' in an age in which we are overwhelmed with Stuff. Please, Prudence, don't add to our problems, help us find a way to politely help gift-givers give something that will be appreciated...and not something that will be a burden.

It is NEVER acceptable to ask for a gift, let alone specify a gift! Before I got married, people did ask me what I'd like as a gift, and I simply told them that absolutely no gifts are requested other than their presence. When I got married, I must admit I was lucky, because most people gave me cash. But I did get tens of other gifts, some of which I liked and kept, some of which I returned for credit (many gifts contain a receipt for this purpose!)and some which I gave away! But of course all the gift givers received a detailed, sincere, thank-you note! I could have worse problems than receiving an ugly candy dish from a dear old friend.
I am relieved to know that Ms. Yoffe feels similarly. I also feel offended when I receive a list of expected gifts before a shower, especially when it comes to me at work! If I'm being told what to buy someone, I should at the least receive an invitation at my home!But of course that's another issue...

I think asking for donations to charity is a great idea, but suggesting help with the wedding expenses or gifts for a house is unforgivably rude.

I personally don't mind being asked for a cash or registry present. I have a cousin who recently started her second marriage. For her first I gave her a carefully chosen, personal gift which she still enjoys. She and her new husband are both about 40 so they have all the blenders and towels they need. They asked for donations to pay for their honeymoon and used mine for a tour when they got to Belize.

Great matter for discussion. Given so many have all they need, I have been pleased to learn some couples are saying "No Gifts - please give to your charity of choice" or to _____ if you wish. This allows for those who have given and given (college tuition, financially tight times, other) and who may not be in good financial situations themselves, to feel they can attend the wedding and if not able, to at least not feel obligated to produce more stuff/cash. Really want to hear others' thoughts on this.

I would have to agree with Rain. Some people don't get married right out of school. My wife and I didn't tie the knot until our 30's. We were both established and didn't really need anything. And are people giving gifts just for the sake of giving gifts? If the guests gave us silverware, china, etc, we would need a bigger house just to store the stuff. No thank you! Also, in this time of high unemployment and a new frugality under some roofs, is that the "right" thing to do? I would have to say no.

In many far eastern cultures, the parents give money to the new bride and grooms. Cold hard cash. So this is not unheard of.

I received a wedding invitation and thought "thank heavens they included a registry list!" We are old but out of town friends and spreading the word through family and friends would not have worked in this case. And as it turned out, we got them something she will appreciate every time she cooks.

I could not disagree more with Prudence. Her answer was incredibly outdated and takes into account neither premarital cohabitation, sometimes for years, nor a couple's desire to live more greenly or just more simply. My fiance and I have spent the last few years striving to whittle down the belongings that clutter our home and have no desire to once again fill it up with items that we neither need nor want.
Additionally, weddings are no longer necessarily paid for by the parents of the bride and throwing a party for all of those who may wish to join you in celebrating your union can be a taxing expense on a young couple. Asking friends and family who feel they must give something to make a monetary donation towards defraying this expense is entirely appropriate.

Prudence's perspective is romantic and traditional yet unrealistic and impractical. When I get a gift registry for a couple's upcoming wedding, I think "Oh thank God! Now, I don't have to guess what they need or want." It saves time and money. If you buy them a juice pitcher, changes are, you'll get something that doesn't match their style, or they already have one. They'll either regift it, Goodwill it, or pack it away in the attic. If they do use it, chances are, they won't remember it's from you. Therefore, you've just wasted $33.99. My husband and I lived together before marriage, so we needed few things on our registry. We kept that small so we didn't get overloaded with unnecessary stuff. And we noted on our website that we were saving for a down payment on a home. It worked out beautifully and after checking with other recent brides, it passed the etiquette test.


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