Invitation Gifts Etiquette – How to Handle Expectations

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We receive invitations on so many occasions, yet one question is always hard to answer: What about the gifts? This is what etiquette recommends for hosts and guests.

It has become increasingly popular to put "no gifts, please" on the invitation. It shows good taste, and you won’t come off as greedy. However, in the past, it was considered poor taste to mention gifts at all on your invitation. And today, it’s still regarded as inappropriate to indicate gifts in any way on our wedding invitation.

Gifts mean trouble, but that doesn’t mean you should disregard them entirely – neither as a host nor as a guest. If you follow a few rules, the gift will precisely do what it was invented for: making the receiver and the sender happy.

When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed. Maya Angelou

Hosts, ask the right questions

The most important rule of all when sending out invitations is: no mixed messages. It can be daunting to ask for gifts in "no gifts, please" times, but it’s inappropriate to say you don’t want any gifts, but later on, ask for a donation or, worse, link to a gift registry anyway. If you don’t want any gifts, say so. If you do want them, say so either.

There are a few occasions when it’s not appropriate to expect any gifts; a perfect example would be a super bowl watch party. And gifts are usually not expected when you invite someone for dinner or afternoon barbecues, except for a small host token.

Today’s etiquette says you should put "no gifts, please" at the end of an invitation when gifts are usually expected, like birthday parties or anniversaries. That is not a good time to stock up on your vinyl collection; be gracious and abstain from asking for gifts.

If you want to receive a gift, mention it in the invitation. But don’t force this expectation onto anyone. Tell your guests that you appreciate their presence more than the existence of any gift. However, if they should like to bring something, they may do so.

Invitations are not the only source of trouble. You don’t only need to ask for them politely; you also need to receive them graciously. If someone shows up with a gift who was expected not to, don’t make them feel bad for doing so. Thank the person nicely and don’t make too big a deal out of it.

Remember always to send a written thank-you note after you’ve received a gift – not only if it was a wedding gift. It’s generally considered good taste to take the time to thank the generous person by writing a handwritten note. It’ll only take a few minutes but will leave a lasting impression. That doesn’t hold true for small tokens, by the way: They resemble a thank-you themselves, and another "thank you" is not the right response to the "thank you" of your guest.

Guests, respect the hosts

If the invitation has been unambiguous, the guest’s job is quite easy (that’s why invitations should never contain mixed messages in the first place).

Gifts are usually expected for birthdays, anniversary parties, and weddings. Don’t bring expensive gifts to a dinner party; otherwise, the same might be expected when the host of today will be your guest tomorrow. Instead, buy a small token of appreciation and bring it with you.

Always respect the wishes of the hosts. Especially today, when "no gifts, please" is the norm, don’t embarrass the hosts and the other guests by bringing a gift anyway. If you feel the strong need to purchase a gift, send it ahead of time (or another time). This way, you won’t embarrass anyone and make the receiver even happier.

Wedding Gifts Guide (Photo: Close up of a bride's shoes and gown)

Weddings – the 5000 pieces jigsaw puzzle of invitation gifts

Being the most special day of people’s lives – weddings demand more from hosts and guests alike. There are specific rules that you can but shouldn’t break.

Couples getting married, beware of these pitfalls

Generally speaking, it’s considered bad taste to mention wedding gifts on invitations at all. Even saying "no gifts, please" would be too much. Information about gifts is usually spread by word of mouth, often by family members and close friends of the couple.

If you have a wedding website, though, you can put links to the registries there. Your website is a good place for all sorts of information that make the lives of your guests easier. Mentioning wedding gifts on the site is usually considered appropriate (and helpful). It’s the word of mouth of the digital age.

Today, it’s not considered greedy to have wedding registries; times have changed. Registries reduce the time your guests need to spend finding a gift that you’ll happily receive. Your guests also won’t need to wrap and send the gifts themselves. However, don’t set up more than 3-4 registries, and please limit the amount of items. Registries are meant to be helpful, not yet another burden.

Try to mix different kinds of items and different levels of prices. While you shouldn’t include every wish you’ve had in your life, there should be sufficient items at every price level for all guests. While it’s okay to ask for gifts that only one half of the couple can use, they usually don’t get picked because guests tend to choose gifts that both people will be grateful for.

It’s perfectly fine to have a less traditional registry (after all, that lawnmower looked too attractive), but consider setting up a traditional one as well. There will always be some guests who are uncomfortable gifting secateurs.

There is no way around thank-you notes. It is considered inappropriate to spare them. Don’t wait months or a year to send them either because you’ve read somewhere that you’ve got this much time. Ideally, you should send a thank-you note one day after you’ve received the gift. That might not be possible in every case, but try not to send your thank-you notes later than one month after returning from your honeymoon. Even if this adds to your workload, you don’t want to end up having to write hundreds of notes within a couple of days.

Wedding guests, stick to the rules

Guests should generally adhere to the wishes of the couple. The wedding registries usually offer enough options at all price levels, so it wouldn’t be a good idea to stray off course unless you are sure that the couple would be happy about your particular idea.

If the couple hasn’t put any information on the invitation card, consult the wedding website (if it exists) or ask family members or close friends whether the couple has set up any registries or expressed any wishes. You can even ask the couple themselves.

In case you can’t attend the wedding, consider sending a gift nonetheless; it’s usually regarded as appropriate, though you can spend a little less than if you were attending. Don’t send any gift only if you’ve been out of touch with the couple for a very long time, but send a handwritten note instead.

By the way, sending is better than bringing. There is so much going on at weddings; the couple can’t keep track of everything. Send the gift in advance or shortly after the wedding. But don’t take more time than a year. The more affordable and less unique the gift, the sooner you should send it. It would seem odd to gift a corkscrew six months after the wedding.

But how much should you spend on a wedding gift? In a recent study from 2016, American Express found that a friend of the couple was projected to spend $99 on the gift, while family members came in at $127. It’s considered inappropriate to spend less than $50 on a wedding gift. You can keep it around $50 to $75 if you’re only a coworker or distant friend.

Gladly, it doesn’t matter how formal the wedding is. Only your relationship to the couple and your means determine how much you should spend on a wedding gift – not how exquisite the wedding itself will be.

A good registry should give you enough possibilities at your price level to choose from. But if everything left is over your budget, it’s okay to get the couple a gift card for one of the stores where they registered. You could also consider giving money. If you’d like to provide the couple with a more expensive gift, you can team up with other guests and give a group wedding gift. You might even save a bit money individually.

And don’t worry if you bring a plus one: You are not expected to spend more on your gift just because there are two mouths to feed – though it might come across more tasteful to spend at least a little more.