To give or not to give, that is the question
Posted: Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012
Photo by: Nathan Abplanalp Photography
Brittany Sajbel is an associate attorney in Concord. Her March wedding planning has hit quite a few bumps in the road, but she remains positive and sane with the help of her amazing fiance, Neil Love, and their two furbabies, Gemma Bean and Kitty Caroline. Contact Brittany here.
In June, a blogger for a New York state newspaper posted a reader question: [W]hat is the going rate for a bride and grooms cash wedding gift? The question-asker stated that she was going to four weddings in the Washington, DC, area over the next several months and made it clear that she planned on giving cash.The range of answers that the blogger received mostly made me cringe or made me angry, though a few gave me hope for my upcoming nuptials. Many bloggers responded that guests needed to pay back their portion of the bill, and three particularly egregious individuals went so far as to say:I find anything less than $250 sort of an insult. I understand times are tough, but if you couldnt afford at least $250, Id send a gift and not bother embarrassing myself by attending.If you feel comfortable giving $75 for two people to attend an average wedding when they spent $360 to have you there, you do NOT care about them as much as they care about you.and Its 2012 people! 100 was ok (yes, just ok) in the 90s .. Today, its 200 per [guest].Here is a portion of the response that I left on the blog, hopefully for the next thoughtful, generous bride-to-be. Are the rest of you still out there???
When I was in law school and putting more each month on my credit cards than I was getting in student loans, I found a way to gift generously to the people whose weddings I went to. I could not necessarily afford it, but I always found that the couples were incredibly generous and would say, You REALLY didnt have to do this. No, I did not, but if people considered me valuable enough to attend their wedding, I could make a gift to them a priority.
Now that Im an attorney and can pay the bills (AND am getting married in March), I consider my relationship with the people above all else when making my gift. I do not consider their venuethey chose it, they chose the cost. If they want to impress me with their venue, thats their choice. I dont have to impress them with my gift. I also do not consider their financial status. As an attorney, people now think I make plenty of money, when in truth, I am paying down those thousands of dollars in credit cards bills while saving for my own wedding. Anyone that has found me valuable enough to invite to their sacred day has understood that.
When you host a wedding, you choose how much debt you want to take onthats part of forming a functional, marital relationshipnot throwing a party that neither spouse can afford. I am willing to take on debt to see friends I havent seen in a long time, who will spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to fly across country for my wedding. I dont expect a gift other than their presence from my friends that are paying $500 for a flight and $100 for a hotel room. Its darn expensive to host a wedding and darn expensive to attend one. To put a set price per head on a gift is unbelievable to me. Certainly, if money is no option, cover your cost to the couple and toss in a little something extra. But hopefully the bride and groom know you well enough to understand that money might be a constraint.
Heres the real lesson for the folks making commentsdont throw a wedding or invite guests that you cant afford and you wont have to worry about going into debt from the festivities. People that see wedding guests as a money-making opportunity need a reality check. You can hope for cash gifts, but to expect themor a set amountis just awful.
For the original poster or anyone else stumbling across this question, heres my advice as a frequent wedding guest and soon-to-be-bride: consider whether the people who have invited you see you as a friend or as a money-making invitee. If its the former, give them as much as you can afford (if it must be cash), taking into account the cost of your travel and accommodations. I will appreciate every dime I get because its more than I had when I started the day. Many of our guests will be making gifts or creating something personal not on our registries, and I can tell you those will be some of the most cherished items we receive. If youre close with the family, dont be afraid to ask their parents or someone close to them if theres an expectation or recommended amount. Or ask other invitees what they are gifting. I ask my similarly-situated friends all the time about what theyre doing, and often if I can go in on a gift with them. That way couples get large registry gifts they may not have expected to receive, and youve only paid a fraction of the cost. Also, dont be afraid to check out stores with coupons or incentives. Virtually everyone I know has either registered at Macys or Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and those coupons come out at least twice a month. Many stores will give you an extra gift card during the holiday season if you purchase a certain amount for the couples gift card.
If you feel like your situation is the latter, when youve been invited to a wedding only as a gifthorse, dont bother attending the event. That way no matter how much you gift them, a couple cant complain that you didnt cover the cost of their presumptive invite. I also think its then appropriate to give them less than you would have if youd attended. You save money getting there and staying there, and they save money on your place setting. If you are going as a social or networking function where you derive a benefit from attending, I would think about it much like attending a fundraising dinner, where it would be appropriate to pay a per-head price.
When I have been budgeting as a bride, the only costs that I consider when thinking per head are the cost of the dinner and the cost of the seating or venue. Costs like the dress, the wedding jewelry, the photography, the music, the transportation, and the flowers are NEVER per head and will not fluctuate based on attendance. To include them in the calculations is bogus.
If someone has a $50,000 wedding for 200 people (which is awfully pricey, but about average in major cities), every budgeting calculator Ive seen says 50% to spend on the reception, including food, favors, cake, and seating, and 3% to spend on stationerythe only things really affected by the number of guests. If thats 53% of $50,000, 200 guests will run a maximum of about $133 per person, and thats an extremely generic guideline.
As a bride, getting 50% of the guest cost back would be phenomenal, so $50-$75 would be awesome, and thats for an expensive wedding. Mine, which is going to cost well under $50,000 on a beach in Georgia for 100-125 people, will only be affected about $60 per person if someone does or does not attend. It would be great to get that back, but I dont expect it because I have been saving, as well as my parents, to afford this wedding, no strings attached. I would much rather see a friend that I have thoughtfully invited than get a check from them in the mail.
That said, if someone is having a wedding that is legitimately $180 per cost of attendant, then they clearly have enough money to not worry about getting cash gifts from people. If they do need the money, then they were selfish in planning their wedding and could have saved thousands of dollars with a smaller or less elaborate event. Budgeting for a wedding with the expectation of recouping any certain percentage of it is just ridiculous and offensivefar more offensive, I believe, than only getting X number of dollars.
If someone values your attendance so little that a cost is placed on your seat, please dont attend that event. Its insulting to those of us that do take the time, energy, and money to really invite the guests that matter most. A wedding is a celebration, not a fundraiser.
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