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Wedding Registry Etiquette

wedding registryWedding registries have become so pervasive in the past few years that guests have now come to expect them. The concept of the wedding registry was first created in the 1920′s, and allowed the bride and groom to choose a pattern for china, silver, and crystal dinnerware. In the 1990′s, Target introduced the electronic self-service gift registry, and now registries include everything from the traditional china to towels, cash funds, charities, and even DVDs.

If you’re like me, you’re probably conflicted about wedding registries. On the one hand, they make it easier for guests to purchase gifts without worrying that the couple doesn’t want/need the gift, but on the other hand, telling people what to give you just seems so damned tacky.

Unfortunately  (or fortunately?), the decision has been all but made for us nowadays, with wedding registries being so common that not having one would turn heads. And it’s not all bad, registries do certainly make the gift buying process easier, but they also introduce a host of new complications and stress inducers that you should be aware of. After the jump, some of the most common wedding registry headaches.

“Help! Everything on My Friend’s Registry is Insanely Expensive!”

Most couples have the good sense to register for items at a variety of price points, but very often the less expensive gifts get fulfilled with lightning speed, and if you procrastinated you’re left with a choice of the $500 lounge chair or the $300 vacuum cleaner. If you know several other people who were invited to the wedding, ask around to see if they have yet to purchase a gift. If you get a group of people to chip in, the couple gets the expensive gift they wanted and no one guest has to dole out several hundred dollars. If that’s not an option, you can always give cash (what couple wouldn’t want cash?).

“I wrote a gift message Online, Do I Still Have to Bring a Card?”

Often when you buy a gift from an electronic registry, you have the option to include a gift message or an e-card. Call me old-fashioned, but that just doesn’t cut it, sentimentality-wise. There’s something so impersonal about an electronic card. They’re fine for birthdays, but this a wedding damnit! Go to the store and buy a nice card to bring to the wedding.

Also, if you’re paranoid like me and worry that if you come to the wedding empty-handed, the bride and groom will have forgotten you sent them their gift months earlier and deem you a rude moocher, you can use the card to free yourself of that paranoia by including a message like “I hope you really enjoy the [whatever it was you gave them].”

“I Don’t Like Anything on the Registry, So I’m Going to Get Them Something Else.”

I’m going to a wedding in a couple weeks, and one of my friends told me that she didn’t see anything on the registry that she liked, so she bought the couple a his and hers cookbook instead. Let that sink in for a second. She didn’t see anything that she liked on the registry, so she bought them something else. It’s not about what you like, it’s about what the couple likes. Even if you think the items on their registry are the most hideous, gaudy things you’ve ever seen, it’s what they want. If you’re morally opposed to certain things on their registry (this particular couple has several charities on their registry that I would never give to), simply choose something else you feel comfortable buying. And if you absolutely must stray from the registry, cash is really the only acceptable choice.

“How Much Should I Spend on a Wedding Gift?”

This has always been complicated, but with registries it’s even more complicated. Now in addition to your internal debate over the proper gift amount, you get to see every item the couple wants and try and guess what they’re expecting each guest to spend. That towel set is $60, so maybe that’s a good amount, but they also registered for a $20 vase, did they intend for the person who buys that to also buy something else as well? My infuriatingly unhelpful answer is to give whatever you feel comfortable giving.

While it’s considered very poor form for a couple to expect their guests to give a gift that is of comparable value to the per person cost for the wedding, that can be a good place to start if you’re not sure what to give. If you know the wedding is going to be very fancy, maybe you’d like to give a slightly more expensive gift. If you know it’s going to be a more casual wedding, you can get away with a less expensive gift. At the end of the day, remember that if the couple holds any resentment against you because you didn’t give them an expensive enough gift, they’re probably not worth having as friends anyway.

What other complicated situations have you encountered regarding wedding registries? How did you deal with them?

2 Responses to Wedding Registry Etiquette

  1. Pete and Re-Pete

    I disagree with your answer to “I don’t like anything on the registry”. The registry is for convenience, and if someone wants to go out of their way to get a more personal gift, that should always be an option.

  2. I always hate having to go through a wedding registry.
    I much prefer wishing wells as 9 times out of 10 it is easier and people who are just getting married ALWAYS need more money.

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