I generally agree with Nina Callaway from About.com when it comes to issues of wedding etiquette, but I was surprised to see her promoting the old “cover your plate” myth. When it comes to buying wedding gifts, she writes: “The general rule of thumb is to try to estimate how much your meal will cost, or generally between $65 and $150 per person.”
While that is a reasonable amount to budget for a wedding gift, associating how much you spend with the cost of the wedding strikes me as highly ridiculous. Putting aside the fact that it is perfectly polite (though not at all socially acceptable) to attend a wedding without sending a gift, when else would you consider basing the value of a gift on how much a host or hostess has spent? Do you select a bottle of wine only after estimating how much the dinner party will have cost? Or choose presents based on how big of a bash the birthday boy will throw? Probably not.
The cover your plate myth is likely an offshoot of the pernicious idea that brides and grooms will recoup the cost of the wedding in wedding gifts. For some couples, this may be true, but I wouldn’t recommend counting on it when you’re putting together your wedding budget… and if you’re choosing well-off wedding guests in the hopes of making back the cost of your wedding you have bigger issues than we here at Manolo for the Brides can fix.
A recent NY Times article about wedding gifts attempted to clear up the issue of how much guests should spend on wedding gifts, and the expert responses were fairly uniform.
Roseann Hirsch, a freelance book editor from New York, is a veteran wedding guest who has “probably been to 75 or 80 weddings over the years.”
“There’s no rule of thumb about how much to spend,” she said. “There are lots of ways to give welcome gifts within a tight budget if you think outside the box,” she said. “Maybe a gift certificate to a restaurant, concert tickets or a stack of art books from a museum. Art books are an interesting gift that has legs in terms of longevity. They will decorate a coffee table long after they are read.” She said those gifts could be bought for about $100.
Letitia Baldrige, the etiquette expert in Washington, said giving a gift isn’t just about emptying the pocketbook. “The whole idea of a present is to please people and make them happy,” she said. “We’ve gotten so blasé in the past few years with all the gift-giving by people wanting to look rich.”
What is her chic, money-saving secret? “I always go to a small, unknown antiques shop and buy something very inexpensive,” she said. “I write a lovely note on the card that this item is very old, perhaps 100 years old, and from Vienna. Just that note makes the gift rise in value. It’s called a gentle white lie.”
I think the best advice I’ve read regarding wedding gifts came from Weddingchannel.com: “The rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t spend more than you can afford. If money is an issue, try your hardest not to be impulsive when you’re out there shopping for just the right present.” I’d suggest that you also take your relationship to the bride and groom into account — feel free to spend more on beloved friends and relatives, and less on acquaintances or coworkers.
Other than that, how much anyone spends on a wedding gift is up to that person and that person alone. While I wouldn’t recommend hitting up the Dollar Store (unless you have some kind of wacky idea in mind that you know the bride and groom will love) for wedding gifts, there is no rule that states wedding guests must spend enough on gifts to “pay back” the hosts of a wedding for the cost of dinner or anything else.