Last week, I had a conversation with work friends about the awkwardness of modern wedding-gift-giving. The big problem: my peer group is being generationally-scandalous by dispensing with gift registries and flooding their wedding invites with cringeworthy poems in italics. Example:
We’ve just moved home and have filled it with stuff,
From books to sofas, we’ve certainly got enough!
Instead of more wine glasses, we’d really love some cash,
So that we can book a perfect honeymoon and head off in a dash.
A romantic beach break would really do the trick,
As soon as we can afford it, we’ll be on that plane quick!
Just so we’re clear, I didn’t write that. I took it from an article of recommended wedding gift poems, which self-described it as ‘cute’.
Personally, I don’t believe that a poetically-articulate way of asking for cash exists. You just have to wait for all the other marrying-couples to establish ‘cash’ as the traditional gift to give, and then add a PS with bank deets.
Then yesterday, as often seems to happen in the Universe, BBC Radio 4’s More or Less podcast released a new episode titled “Wedding Gift economics“.
First off, the podcast was no help. The summary:
- Some people try to give enough to cover their ‘cost’ at the wedding (either in cash or in kind).
- But this is hard, because modern weddings are often destination weddings, and:
- The cost-per-head to the couple is often a lot more than a reasonable wedding gift; while
- The guest has frequently spent a fair amount of money to get there.
- If all else fails, give a round number of either £50 or £100. Because ‘a lot of research work has gone into that number’.
Then I found an article on TheConversation.com, which went into some detail around the ‘marginal rate of substitution’, where you’re supposed to measure your joy up the financial scale until you hit the point where giving an extra £1 leaves you feeling less joyous than the joy the couple would feel for receiving it from you to spend on their honeymoon.
Which also seems unhelpful.
“The monetary equivalent of joy” – honestly.
So let me go back to the “£50/£100” number. Having now read more articles on wedding gifting etiquette than I’d ever have expected to read, that number represents something a lot more basic: the consensus.
Surveys were done, and this is where everyone more or less landed on the size of appropriate wedding gift:
And where you land between £50 and £100 (or between $70 and $150, or between R500 and R1,500, or whatever) depends upon:
- How close you are to the couple (the closer you are, the larger the gift); and
- How much you spent to get to the wedding (the further the distance, the smaller the gift – although ‘your presence’ is apparently not present enough).
Which makes sense: you’re just trying to make sure that you’re not being cheap relative to everyone else*.
*Some people seem to think that being too showy is also a problem. Me, not so much. Generosity is awesome.
There is also this 2013 infographic from American Express that may help:
If all else fails, club together with a group of people. And then unfriend the bridal couple – because they should have done better by their guests.
Some Closing Thoughts for the Bridal Couple (because this is your party)
First off, I don’t believe that soon-to-be-newlyweds should ever budget for wedding gifts to cover any part of their wedding/honeymoon. It just makes the whole wedding business feel like a guest’s value is rather precisely defined by the size of their bank transfer. No – if you’re sauntering off into wedded bliss, then save up for it. If that seems unpractical, then you’re doing this wedding thing wrong.
Secondly, make sure that there is some kind of a gift-registry, rather than cornering your guests into cash gifts with annoying poetry about having all you need. Because ‘having all you need’ is great, but then why did you ask for cash?
Thirdly, my feeling is that there should always be some kind of sentimental option, that can then be ‘topped-up’ by the people that think you’re really important. Some ideas:
- A Wedding Wine Cellar (‘Gift request: please bring us a bottle of your favourite wine, so that we can lay it down and drink it with you when we’re too old to taste that it has turned to vinegar’)
- A Wedding Teacup Set (‘Gift request: we’ve found an awesome display case, and we want to fill it with tea cups. Old or new, big or small, plain or patterned – help us fill our lives with tea.’)
- A Wedding Library (‘Gift request: fill our bookshelves with whatever you think we need to read. Explanations via inscription, please.’)
And then you’ll have an awesome set of the type of gift that you can never buy yourself – and the people that were going to be generous with their gift will likely be generous anyway. #PSbankdeets
Just a thought.
Rolling Alpha posts opinions on finance, economics, and the corporate life in general. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha.