The wedding gift as price of admission.

I want to get married. That is, I want to get married after I’ve finagled an introduction to J. Money of the Budgets Are Sexy personal finance blog. Once he and I are best buds I want to get married a whole bunch of times, because J. Money’s wedding gift of choice is a hundred-dollar bill.

“Nothing more, nothing less – just a straight up Mr. Benjamin for all our friends and family,” he wrote in a recent post.

All right, I’m not actually looking to get married. (Unless it were for something really romantic, like health insurance.) But I have to say I’m tempted by J. Money’s largesse, which is, well, large.

Also probably a touch wasteful. He knows he’d spend less if he bought from the gift registry, but cheerfully cops to slackerhood. Cold hard cash is the procrastinator’s best friend.

But here’s what really struck me about the post: The folks who left comments suggesting the size of the gift should be equivalent to the cost of the food served at the reception.

Cake and punch or surf ’n’ turf?

“Heather” wrote that her gift is based on “what is put into the wedding.” A backyard barbecue would rate $50, whereas she’d shell out $100 for a fancier affair.

“Uncle” suggested that $100 per person is the rule; if it’s you, spouse and three kids, then your gift should be “at least $500.”

And “Phanzy” admitted to bringing along both $50 and $100 bills. When the reception food is “sub-par,” guess which picture of a dead white guy gets handed over?

Those of you who are allergic to old-school rants better leave right now. Because here’s what I think:

If the bride and groom want to throw a big party and invite me, I’m touched. But they decide how much the reception will cost – cake and punch? salads and sandwiches? rubber chicken? filet mignon? – and they should pay for it.

The gift I bring will be a symbol of my good wishes, not reimbursement for the number of glasses of champagne the caterer thinks I might consume.

It’s your call

Then again, I’m disturbed by the way weddings have turned into floor shows. Aren’t people just as married if they don’t spend the $26,000 that the average wedding allegedly costs?

If you’ve got the do-re-mi and that’s really how you want to spend it, obviously you’re free to do so. It’s your money. You can spend it all on Snickers bars and dancing boys if that’s what makes you happy. But here’s what you can’t do:

  • Spend way more than you can afford and demand that your friends cough up enough cash or expensive gifts to pay for it;
  • Hint broadly afterwards that you felt shortchanged by guests who didn’t perform according to your expectations;
  • Complain ad infinitum about how much the wedding cost and how stressful it is to be in debt

Myself, I think you can stick to a budget and still get married in style. But it’s up to you to set that style, rather than let wedding planners and bridal magazines tell you what you want. Or more to the point, sell you what they want.

And what they’re selling is, frankly, a marketing myth. Check out wedding websites or read those magazines and you’ll see phrases like “The best day of your life” or “The most important day of your life.” All to be determined by the number of attendants, the cut of the diamond and those glasses of champagne. (I don’t drink, by the way. One of you can have mine.)

Weddings have enough baggage

All you about-to-be-marrieds, listen up: You have no way to ensure the wedding will run smoothly. If you nerve yourself up into thinking that this must be the best day of your life, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Besides, other days might possibly be more “important.” How about the day you were born? The day you met your soul mate?

Maybe it will be the day you have your child. Or the day you win the lottery. Weddings have enough baggage. Why add to it?

An afternoon wedding and a light repast vs. an evening extravaganza that lasts until last call – such choices should not affect future happiness. Why would the amount you spend on the ceremony determine the success of the marriage?

It seems to me that the opposite could sometimes be true: If you start out your marriage deeply in debt, it would add a lot of stress to what is a challenging life (though delightful) transition.

Gobs of money spent do not necessarily guarantee a great time. Ask anyone who’s ever been to a bad big wedding, or a joyful small one.

And hey, J. Money: Call me.

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  1. karla

    Not to mention that engagement ring ads say a ring should cost a specific number of months’ salary. Who even decreed that the engagement should be marked by a diamond or even a ring?

  2. Donna Freedman

    @Karla: Jewelers, of course! 😉

  3. The amount I give depends on my closeness with the ones getting married, not how much they chose to spend on their wedding day.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Beth: I’m with you on that. We could have peanut butter and crackers at the reception for all I care. Thirty years from now, will you remember (or care?) that you provided a chocolate waterfall for your guests?
      Thanks for reading.

  4. The answer is Yes. I will marry you.

  5. Donna Freedman

    Settle down, there, J.: I don’t want to marry YOU (although you’re a nice young man from a good family). I want to get married a bunch of times to other people so you’ll keep handing over the Benjamins.
    Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for the flowers and the candy! 😉

  6. Well, you helped out at my wedding, so you know how I feel: Why spend a bunch of money when you can just put your family to work???

    Seriously, though, we had a great time and I’d say, not including jewelry, we spent under $3,000. Maybe even under $2,000. I’d have to sit down and add it up to be sure.

    And our friends had a great time with the “make your own sandwiches” section. Or they could just avail themselves of fruits, veggies (and dip), crackers, cheeses or cold cuts.

    Of course, we also expected that any friends who did decide to grace us with gifts would be much appreciated, but that our friends’ presence was our present.

    So I really don’t understand the assumption that you should get anything from a wedding — especially based solely on what you spent. It’s *your* day. Do what you want with it, and I’ll support you. But don’t expect me to subsidize you.

    PS. Tim and I both went into the wedding day assuming that things would go wrong because there were so very many details that could. Surprisingly few happened, so we were pleasantly surprised. I’d say that’s a lot better than spending the whole day stressed out about everything being perfect.

  7. I do agree that a gift is a symbol of good wishes & people should give what they can afford. At the same time, I do give $100-200/person when we go to weddings. It is not wasteful, it’s just a little something to wish the new couple good luck. The most I’ve ever given was $800 to my sister when she got married.

    As for me, when my husband and I got married, we spent $50 at the courthouse w/o any guests (plus I wore a casual dress I already owned). We didn’t receive any wedding presents either.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Jersey Mom: I’m not opposed to generous gift-giving. I just resent that someone has decided it’s mandated. Sounds to me that you make the decision yourself, which is all I’m asking.
      Thanks for reading.

  8. I attended a wedding recently where the bride and groom specifically asked for cash gifts–the horror! What would Miss Manners say? (Actually I know exactly what she would say and I love her for it!). Not having any idea what to get the happy couple, I did end up coughing up cash ($50)–albeit in the form of a Discover gift card. For some reason they were astounded at my largess and I ended up getting a $30 Gap gift card from them on my birthday.

    * Note to self: $20 bill is perfectly acceptable wedding gift. 😉

    Thanks for posting this. The whole wedding extravaganza thing has gotten well out of hand. $10k for a wedding dress? Puh-leeze!

  9. I suspect the whole “cover your plate” notion is a regional thing. Or at least, I’ve never lived anywhere where that was common. I tend to base my gift-giving (for weddings and in general) on both what I cam afford and what I think the person would like. I’ve given 20 cent gifts that the recipient loved, and I didn’t feel compelled to spend more just because it was 20 cents…

    • Donna Freedman

      @Jackie: Unless you tell them, they’ll never know.

  10. I’ve been married for a couple of years now, but I only recently heard (actually, read) about the idea of your wedding gift ‘equaling’ the cost of your meal – and it was a per-person thing, too. The notion that I, as a guest, was essentially expected to ‘pay my way’ to the wedding was appalling. My budget isn’t determined by anybody but me, and that includes my gift budget. I’m with you on this one, Donna. 100%.

  11. Donna Freedman

    @bashtree: Once these folks are married, I wonder if they’ll expect dinner party guests to bring a bottle of wine equivalent to the amount of pot roast they will consume?
    Thanks for reading, and for commenting.

  12. priskill

    Sigh. I don’t get this at all. I keep telling my 20 year old daughter to consider Vegas when the time comes, and save everyone a lot of time and $$$. I am only half kidding. . .

    And the idea that you “cover your plate” is anathema — and completely new to me. I first heard of it from Dog Ate My Finances, who was severely drubbed by lots of people, but it made for great reading. And it really sounded like a notion tied to a cultural norm that was new to me, with mores and traditions that i didn’t fully understand, as opposed to grasping materialism. She insisted that her family would be hurt and scandalized by cheap gift cards and uncovered plates and that her mom would be keeping score — would HAVE to keep score — because that’s how it was done. I kept trying to figure out what culture this was tied to. Poor Dog took a beating, but you could see she was concerned about how this stuff would affect her extended family relations. It was just so alien to me — and i really hear your rant today! — but i’m also curious to know if there is more to this . . .Am i missing something??

  13. Donna Freedman

    @Priskill: Probably it varies from culture to culture. I’ve heard of things like the “money dance” or a “money tree.” [[pauses to shiver theatrically]] Anathema! Anathema!
    Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion. This one just happens to be mine: If you want to give a gift, then give one — it’s not mandatory, by the way — and don’t go into debt to give it.
    Thanks for reading.

  14. Weddings crack me up. The more of a broadway production it is, the less I’m impressed, the less special it is. I suppose the people in the camp of “give a gift that covers the amount of your meal” also think I should send $800 if I opt to send a gift rather than pay for cross-country flights!

  15. Laura

    How about the best man walking around with the bride’s shoe, expecting everyone else to give again? Tacky, tacky. And all this is after countless showers for the bride, bride and groom, ad nauseum. Where does it stop? It doesn’t. Next will be the baby shower, with the note that you should also bring a box of diapers with your “real” gift. Aaaarrrggghhh!!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Laura: Seriously? Yikes.
      @Marcia: I’m also starting to be glad that I haven’t been invited to many weddings lately, either.

  16. Marcia Carli

    I have not been invited to a wedding since 2000 and boy am I glad! Everyone in my family expects the $100 or more! That is why all occasions make me crazy with them! They are the “YOU MUST” give me alot people.

  17. Bruce

    The companies who push everything under the blanket statement “it’s the most important day of your life” are understandably interested in their bottom line. They don’t care about your finances as long as you shell out as much money as possible to them. As said, you are just as married if you spent $50 getting married at the courthouse versus a $50,000 wedding. Personally, I’d like to have something inbetween, a good party for my family and friends and no huge bill the next month.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Bruce: I like the idea of a good party and no unpleasant debt waiting in the wings. Do it your way and the heck with what “everybody” does.
      Thanks for reading.

  18. “(Unless it were for something really romantic, like health insurance.)”-LOL! That was one of your best!
    I’m with Beth, it depends on the person. And with limited funds, we give what we can. One of DJ’s teachers told me that they will only pay for their 3 girls education not their weddings. She said that they can’t divorce their degree!

  19. I will first off say that I had a “Dollar Dance” at my wedding. It wasn’t because we needed the money (well, we could have used it!) or that we expected people to shell out money to dance with us. It was a tradition in my mom’s family for over 50 years. If people didn’t want to participate, they could dance with us for free when the Dollar Dance was over. It didn’t matter. But it was fun and it upset me when I hear people saying that it is a tacky thing to do because they don’t understand that it’s a family tradition that our guests EXPECTED to participate in.

    On the flip side, I don’t think a single person gave us over $50 in cash for our wedding. Admittedly, it’s been almost 11 years. But I don’t remember much cash at all and definitely NO envelopes with $100. I can’t even imagine what I would have thought if someone had given us $100!! We registered for what we wanted but accepted everything everyone gave us graciously–even the things we couldn’t figure out what to do with!

    After reading this article, I’m glad that I do not get invited to many weddings these days!

  20. akwillis

    Ah, the wedding dilemma! As we did not have piles of cash lying around, we had a simple wedding. The most expensive thing was my dress. Altogether I spent maybe $1,500. I made the cake and didn’t spring for table arrangements just the bouquets and boutonnieres . The reception was pot luck, yes I said pot luck…don’t judge me people. No DJ, just a bunch of mixed CDs we made with music for both the ceremony and the reception. Everyone had a great time!
    Oh and thanks for bringing a dish to share! 🙂

  21. One of my peeves is that church wedding = expensive wedding. It doesn’t have to happen that way, people.

    I’ve attended five very low budget church weddings.

    Two were second marriages where the bride and groom wore “Sunday best” and immediate family members were the witnesses.

    Two were young married couples who wanted the church atmosphere and wedding clothes, but were on such tight budgets their parties were cake and punch.

    The fifth? Ah, that was a couple that had eloped with a civil ceremony. When they became parents and had the child baptized, they asked minister to include a blessing of their marriage on the christening day. Done.

  22. Donna Freedman

    Monroe: I would think that sometimes a church wedding would be LESS expensive. You could hold a reception in the church’s fellowship hall instead of paying a lot more for a commercial venue. In addition, your faith community might know your circumstances and not be offended if your reception were just cake and punch — it would be more about the joyousness of the occasion than an expensive party.
    Thanks for reading.

  23. This is a huge dillema for me, and we’ve turned down wedding invitations because sometimes we can’t “afford” to go. Not of close friends – I’ll dig into my grocery budget for their gift and budget in advance- but weddings of people we like, but aren’t close to. Sometimes only one of us will go (I’m married) so we can give less in the check. How sad is that!

    I live in Israel, and the “rule” is to pay AT LEAST the cost per plate. In reality, people pay a lot more. For a couple, $100 is considered cheap. If it’s a good friend, a couple is expected to give $120-135 – and the average salary here is less than $25K a year! We just turned down a wedding invite for a former colleague, so that we can send a $65 check instead of $120 (plus gas, babysitter, and work lost, since my husband works evenings).

    Weddings are an expensive business!

    – that is, when you’re a guest…

  24. Oh, and while I’m ranting – our wedding was low budget compared to most of our friends. My dress was second-hand (actually, third-hand), we decorated the hall ourselves, and did not bother with a lot of the “must haves” (like videography). Most of our guests were from a community that often does not gift, and so we did not come close to making what we spent – but then, we never expected to.

  25. Maharani

    @Marcia: I no longer attend weddings. Viewed as events, weddings are all alike and very tedious, I am tired of all the silly rules (cant wear white, outshine the bride, blah blah blah), and I’m still buying household stuff for myself. Often the combined incomes of the couple exceed mine, so they are welcome to buy their own stuff. It might be etiquette, but I do not agree that receiving an invitation means I have to send a gift, even if I do not attend. It goes straight into the trash can. Weddings seem to have become occasions of naked greed. And dont even get me started on bridal showers……

  26. Hm… Hm… Hm…! This is a tough topic because I just planned a wedding for a bunch of people I didn’t care to see to please my parents. Of course, they footed the bill. BUT I think wedding guests have a very flippant attitude about how much it costs to have a wedding. My grandparents told us, “We just can’t imagine spending thousands on a wedding.” We had the wedding in my parents’ yard. We had Buddy’s BBQ cater; BBQ alone cost $900. We had to rent tents in case of rain, plus tables and chairs – the rentals also cost close to $2,000. So, yes, many couples do CHOOSE to rent expensive china, hire a professional band and serve expensive alcohol. But even when you use your iPod for music, skip alcohol all together, buy plastic tablecloths and use paper plates supplied by the caterer, you’re still shelling out $5,000 or more to entertain people who want to be a part of your “special day.” I’m not saying guests should foot the bill, just that they should be more mindful of this fact.

  27. I think this whole concept is just plain silly. Many of my friends have a large savings account from their “wedding gift money”- often enough money to put as a down payment on a house. These people had large weddings, invited lots of people, got lots of money as gifts, and have more money in the future.
    On the other hand, people like myself who have a small wedding in a cheap place, simply because they can’t afford any more, get measly little wedding gifts.

    Usually the people spending more money on weddings are the people who need the money less, whereas the people who spend less money are not well to do and could actually really use a large wedding gift.

    I rarely go to weddings now that I have kids, but when I do, I rarely give a gift because we’re not in the financial position to do so, and everyone knows that. They don’t like it? Too bad.

  28. Arthi K

    I’m a bit late to this post, but wow – I had no idea that couples expect gifts based on how much they have spent on the wedding. I’ve always grown up with the thought that you should give more for people you know better. And yes, I know that that implies we get invited to strangers’ weddings – because we occasionally do! Our weddings in India tend to be these expansive affairs where you *have* to invite every living relative you know, and that usually is over 200 every time. So, occasionally our family will go to a third cousin’s son’s wedding and we are expected to pony up something nominal, whereas when I went to my childhood friend’s wedding, I gave a much larger gift.

  29. My wife and I married when we both were 50. First marriages for both of us (long story).

    Anyway, not having a lot of money, and not wanting to have to schedule a year or more in advance, I rented the hall at the local Senior Center for a Saturday afternoon. Cost about $80.00 if I recall correctly. Then weall went to a local fancy restaurant for dinner. Done.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Average: Yes, but was it too late for the early-bird special? 😉
      Thanks for reading, and congratulations on finding love eventually.

  30. Do you still want to marry me? 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      Re-read the piece! I didn’t want to marry you (although you of course have my deepest respect), but rather to get married so that you would give me a $100 bill as a wedding gift.
      Besides, you’ve got kids now. It would never work. 😉


  1. Festival of Frugality #281: Lessons About Money Edition | remodeling this life - [...] Donna Freedman shares in an excellently written article her views on wedding gifting in The Wedding Gift as…
  2. Festival of Frugality » Blog Archive » Festival of Frugality Number 281 - [...] Donna Freedman shares in an excellently written article her views on wedding gifting in The Wedding Gift as…

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