'Do I really have to cover the cost of my plate?': An etiquette expert breaks down your burning wedding gift questions

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Key Points
  • Americans are set to attend 2.5 million weddings in 2022 — the most since 1984, according to The Wedding Report.
  • The notions that you have to cover the cost of your plate and that you have up to a year to send a gift are both myths, says etiquette expert Thomas Farley, also known as Mister Manners.

Americans are set to attend 2.5 million weddings in 2022, the most since 1984, according to The Wedding Report. Which means that invitees across the nation are now Googling all the little rules and protocols that weddings entail.

While some dress codes may remain a mystery — and before you get excited, no, no one Grow has talked to knows what "cowboy cocktail casual" means either — there's one area where it's important to get things right: gift-giving.

Ignoring proper etiquette on this front can get you in trouble in more ways than one, says Thomas Farley, an etiquette expert and author of the NBC Today column "Mealtime with Mister Manners."

Miss the mark with a gift, and you run the risk of creating a rift between you and the happy couple. But during a red-hot wedding season, you also stand a chance of hurting yourself financially, he says. "I shouldn't be late on my credit card payments because I'm going to eight weddings this summer."

Read on for the rules of wedding gift giving that ensure that you're as kind to your wallet as you are to your friends tying the knot.

Do I really have to cover the cost of my plate?

The idea that the value of your gift should cover the cost of your plate is a myth, says Farley. A more lavish wedding, in other words, would mean that you need to give a fancier, more expensive gift.

What's more, given the wealth of factors that go into the cost of a wedding reception, good luck figuring out what that number would actually be. "As a guest, you can't be expected to do a research project to determine the price of your gift," he says. "Your presence isn't some kind of zero-sum game to cover the cost of the reception."

Rather, you should be asking yourself two questions when determining how much to spend on a gift. The first: "How close am I to the couple?" says Farley. "Is this a fringe work acquaintance and I can't even believe I'm invited? Or is this my godchild?"

Second: What can I afford? Being a guest at a wedding shouldn't be a strain on your budget. "Give what you can, what your heart tells you, and what you can afford," says Farley.

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Video by Courtney Stith

How late can I send a gift?

There is a notion that you have up to a year after a couple gets married to send in your gift. "That's an urban myth," says Farley. "By no means do you have a year to give a gift. What, are you waiting to see if the marriage will last a year?"

Farley says you should give your gift in a timely fashion, but notes that doesn't mean you should show up to the reception with a wrapped up box — one that some unfortunate member of the wedding party will likely have to corral. Instead, send your gift to the couple's address ahead of time, or, if you're superstitious about that sort of thing, within a month of the ceremony at the latest.

Should I buy something off the registry?

In short, yes. And the sooner the better. "If the couple is registered, get yourself on that registry as soon as you decide you're going," Farley says. "The longer you wait, the more likely you are to be stuck with either items that are over your budget or having to buy washcloths and pillowcases to try to bring it up to $100."

Farley prefers giving a gift to a registered couple than handling over cash or a check. "Every time they make espresso with the machine you gave them, they're going to think of you," he says. "They won't remember the check you gave them on their 25th anniversary."

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Video by Sofia Pitt

Is it OK to give cash?

If you can't find anything on the registry that suits your budget, it's OK to give a monetary gift, but Farley suggests writing a check rather than stuffing bills in an envelope. "You can write a check out and put it in a card that includes a thoughtful, heartfelt note," he says. "That's going to feel more sincere than if it looks like you put whatever cash was in your wallet."

The couple may also list contributions to their honeymoon as a gift on their registry, and that is a perfectly fine way to celebrate the lovebirds, Farley says. But whatever you do, don't stray far off the couple's script.

"I would always go with something the couple asked for as opposed to 'going rogue,'" Farley says. "You may think they'd really like a subscription to the cheese of the month club, but to get them something they haven't asked for is really presumptuous."

Do I have to give a gift if I don't attend?

As a general rule, yes. Even if you're not attending the event because it falls outside of your budget. "If its someone close to you, provided you have the means, you should send something. At the very least, send a card with a really nice message," Farley says.

And if you've been invited to several weddings this summer, sending gifts rather than plunking down money for travel, lodging, and a hat and bolo tie (that sounds cowboy cocktail casual, right?) will likely mean that you come out ahead, Farley notes.

"If you have the means to send a gift and a card, particularly for someone close to you, it's a really nice solution," he says. "If I'm skipping a few weddings, I'd rather send out five nice gifts rather than making a go at it and spending the next five years in debt. Plus, if you look at summer 2023, there will be plenty of weddings then, too."

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