Should You Still Buy a Gift If You Don't Go to the Wedding?

If you can't attend your sister's ceremony, you've got to send a gift. Your co-worker is another story.
Wedding gifts and cards are displayed together.

NOTE: The information below is from 2017, but questions about wedding gift purchases still pop up. These days, popular wedding gift registries include those at Amazon, Target, Crate & Barrel, and Macy's. Always check to see where the engaged couple you're buying for has registered, and take a look at kitchen supplies and bed and bath deals to see if you can save more on registry gifts.

Getting an invitation to a wedding is usually cause for joy. A friend or family member has found the love of their life, and they're inviting you to share in the celebration.

But if you can't make it to a wedding, can you also skip sending a gift? We consulted wedding and etiquette experts to answer that query, as well as other questions surrounding this touchy topic.

How Much Should You Spend on Wedding Gifts?

Everything comes down to how close you are to the couple. A 2016 survey by FiveThirtyEight pinpointed the average amount people spend on wedding gifts, depending on relationship:

  • $50 for a friend
  • $71 for extended family
  • $82 for a close friend
  • $147 for immediate family

Those numbers can go even higher. A more recent survey by Bankrate says 30% of people spend $200 or more on family or close friends, and 46% spend $100 or more for distant relatives or casual acquaintances. So if you're set on giving a gift, it's a good idea to start saving as soon as you get the invite.

Do You Still Have to Spend If You Don't Attend?

Expert opinion on the topic is mixed. The Emily Post Institute, the go-to source for etiquette advice, suggests the invitation itself carries "an unspoken obligation to give a gift, regardless of whether or not a guest can attend." But wedding-goers don't always agree, as only 42% of FiveThirtyEight's survey respondents said you were obligated to send a gift if you didn't attend.

These contradictory opinions don't offer much help if you're staring at a wedding invitation. "Some rules of etiquette are not set in stone, so it can be difficult to judge what is the best to do particularly when it comes to wedding gifts," says Julia Esteve, owner and founder of The Etiquette & Protocol Consultancy.

Wedding Gifts Are About Relationships

As you might have guessed, gift-giving is all about your relationship to the bride and groom; the more distant your relationship, the less your obligation. As the Emily Post Institute advises, "Let your affection for the bride and groom and your budget be your guide." This applies whether you're attending a wedding or not. If you're invited to the wedding of a casual acquaintance or distant relative, skipping the gift isn't a social faux pas.

If you're invited to the wedding of a casual acquaintance or distant relative, skipping the gift isn't a social faux pas.

But bear in mind that you're probably being invited to a wedding because the couple wants to share their joy with you — they're likely to be friends or family. "You have been invited as a guest to their event because you mean something to the couple," says Jenny Garringer, professional wedding planner and co-owner of Pink with Envy Event Planning Services. For people you're close to, sending a gift is the right thing to do.

If you're still at a loss, try thinking of wedding gifts in the same way you might think of birthday presents. You probably spend more time and money on the perfect present for a sibling than you would for a co-worker. The same general idea holds true for weddings. Even Esteve, who says you aren't obligated to send a gift if you don't attend, says the rules are different for close relations: "If you really can't attend, that a gift should really be sent and it would be expected."

Alternatively, if you're invited to a wedding for a casual acquaintance — say, a co-worker you occasionally run into in the break room — that's a different story. While any gifts are sure to be appreciated, it's acceptable to spend less (or nothing at all). Even if you decide to skip the gift, you should return the RSVP card and your congratulations. Esteve suggests a short, handwritten note tucked in with the RSVP card.

What Kind of Gift Should You Send?

If you've decided you to send a gift, there's no need to get creative (unless you really want to). Most couples these days will have a gift registry that tells you exactly what they want. If the items on the registry are too big for your budget, a gift card for whatever store the couple is registered at works, too.

SEE ALSO: 6 Hidden Costs of Being in a Wedding Party

That's right: A gift card is a perfectly acceptable wedding present. Unlike other gift-giving events, there's no stigma attached to giving cash or gift cards. From the wedding to the honeymoon to setting up a new household, getting married can be pricey! Gifting cash helps offset any expenses the new couple has, while a gift card can help them pick up anything left on their registry.

As for how much to spend, that goes back to the relationship you have with the couple. Garringer advises spending as much as you would if you attended the wedding — which would mean around $100 for a close friend or $150 and up for an immediate family member. For more distant relations, a smaller gift is acceptable (or, as we mentioned earlier, a simple "Congratulations!" will do).

When Should You Send Your Gift?

Regardless of whether you're attending, it's polite to send your gift before the wedding (or very soon after). Going back to the birthday present example, sending a belated gift is often seen as thoughtless. So if you want to send a gift, send it right away.

What If You Can't Afford a Gift?

Despite the price ranges we listed above, think about what you can afford to spend rather than what you feel you're expected to spend. If you're in a tight spot financially, the unspoken etiquette of wedding gifts should take a back seat to practicality.

SEE ALSO: Rent, Buy, or Borrow: How Should YOU Score Formal Wear?

Couples sending out wedding invitations are thinking about who they want to be with on their big day — not doing the math on how many gifts they can get. Your friends and family will understand if you're struggling to pay off student loans or are in between jobs. We agree with Brides magazine, which advises gift-givers to do "what you and your budget feel is best at this moment."

If you want to send a present but are strapped for cash, ignoring the couple's gift registry can be a good idea. A personalized gift, whether it's from store shelves or a handmade keepsake, can be worth more than its cash value. Just remember that a wedding probably isn't the time to break out the "ball and chain" joke gifts.

Elizabeth Harper
Contributing Writer

Originally working in IT, Elizabeth now writes on tech, gaming, and general consumer issues. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Time, AOL, PriceGrabber, and more. She has been one of DealNews' most regular contributors since 2013, researching everything from vacuums to renters insurance to help consumers.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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I was invited to a wedding shower where I didn't approve of the groom because of the attitude he had already displayed in previous years, and the one who extended the invitation (over the phone), asked me to get a pen and paper, and she'd give me the instructions on how to get there.
When I told her I didn't have a car, she said: "Oh. Well, I guess I'll have to find somebody more suitable," and hung up!
Three days later, the prospective groom phoned me, and told me that since I had been INVITED, the bride still "deserved" a shower gift--valued at nothing less, than $100.
I knew where this was headed, so I declined the wedding invitation, as well.
When it came to the wedding, after the ceremony, the groom phoned all those who had been invited but didn't attend, and DEMANDED that they hand over the "entitled" wedding gift, valued at nothing less than $100, and if there was no gift, the cash would be "acceptable."
Maybe I'm being to harsh, but I'm keeping him at arm's length.
We always send a (less expensive) gift if we are invited and do not attend the wedding. Weddings are expensive and we try to budget as least $100 per person - if we attend the reception.
Destination weddings are ridiculous! We give ZIP to those!
It seems like more couples are opting for cash and making it well known. That is a much smarter way as many of our wedding presents "disappeared" while being stored away at a relatives' house. I wish we had thought of that.
Since so many live together for a while first, I figure that finally getting married is more a "business", "gift collecting" or "tax" reason than finding the one they love for that type. As such, a small gift is all that is appropriate even for cousins, nephews/nieces and the like and even more so for kids of friends.
A relative recently got married to the service guy she was living with for a number of years. She had to before the military changed the rules on spouses getting free education. So what did love have to do with the reason for marriage? Moreover, instead of having the reception near her or her family, it was in outer space where few would want to go or would want to spend the high dollars to get to. In that case, was the invitation a request to come or to turn down and send money instead?

On the other hand, those whose marriage has as much meaning as ours had, deserve help in getting started in life.
Sometimes what we forget about is the significance of the wedding.

When I was putting together my registry, I used a universal one. Not only did it allow me to add gifts from other websites, it also allowed me to compare prices.

Some people feel because they're getting married, they should request things they wouldn't normally buy themselves. If you feel it's important to you, more power to you. Some people feel they're beginning a new life together so they would request new things, which they put on their registry.

I had a friend, who after she & her husband put together their registry, took their old pots & pans & gave them to their college friends. My husband & I had been together for quite a while before we got married. Since we already had quite a few things I really didn't feel it was necessary to request too many items.
RG3 was one of the very few Redskins who qualified as a decent human being. Sorry for him it didn't work out.
Greg the Gruesome
Speaking of buying a gift even though you don't attend the wedding: I wonder whether those Redskins fans who bought wedding gifts for RG3 have regrets, ha ha.