How Much Should I Spend on a Wedding Gift?

"Estimate how much you’ll spend on weddings, divide that total by the number of months you have to save, then tack that number onto your monthly budget."

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The modern wedding is getting pricier and pricier, and the bride and groom aren't the only ones shelling out serious cash in the name of love. A new Bankrate.com report puts the final price tag at about $628 for guests attending the nuptials of a close friend or family member—a figure that includes everything from attire to bridal shower costs to the wedding gift.

How much you should spend on that gift has fallen into the gray areas of proper etiquette, but there are some ways to keep from being among the 39 percent of U.S. wedding guests a NerdWallet survey found turn to credit to cover the costs of being a guest.

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Lead with your budget.

RSVPing “yes” shouldn’t mean going into debt. The same NerdWallet survey found that 15 percent dip into savings to cover costs. To help keep your financial health intact, see wedding season for what it is—a non-monthly expense that deserves a line on your budget.

Ideally, you’ll estimate how much you’ll spend on weddings through the end of the year, divide that total by the number of months you have to save, then tack that number onto your monthly budget to save little by little.

Consider your relationship.

There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to how much you should spend on a wedding present, but the average cash gift lands at about $160, according to the 2017 Tendr Wedding Season Report. That number fluctuates from state to state though. Many in the Northeast, for example, spend upward of $200 per wedding gift.

Make things simple by letting your relationship with the bride and groom be your guide. Here's how the experts suggest breaking it down:

RelationshipAppropriate Gift Amount
Coworker or distant friend or relative $50-$75
Semi-close friend or family member $75-$100
Close friend or relative $100-$150

Whether it's your best friend walking down the aisle or your third cousin twice removed, you'll risk losing etiquette points if you spend less than $50.

Look at the big picture.

Your relationship with the couple directly plays into your total wedding spend. If you're particularly close, engagement parties, bridal showers and bachelor/bachelorette parties might all be on the agenda. And those costs will add up fast.

Keep your spending in check by relying on something called the 60-20-20 rule. Begin by taking all the celebrations into account, then coming up with an amount you're comfortable spending on the whole thing. From there, break down your expenses this way:

  • 60 percent toward the wedding gift
  • 20 percent toward the engagement gift
  • 20 percent toward the shower gift

Using this formula, a $250 total wedding budget means spending $50 on the engagement gift, $50 for the shower gift and $150 on the wedding gift.

Adjust your spending expectations for destination weddings.

Attending a ceremony and reception nearby is very different from jetting off for a destination wedding. According to the same NerdWallet research, over a quarter of Americans say they'd spend less on a wedding gift if it was for a destination wedding, though it’s a blurry line.

Now for the sticker shock: A recent CompareCards.com survey found that the average destination wedding guest spends a whopping $1,422 on travel, gifts and everything in between. Ouch. The good news is that save-the-dates for destination weddings usually hit mailboxes around nine months to a year ahead of the event, which leave more time than usual to decide if this works with your budget and plan ahead. If it doesn’t, remember that you can always respectfully decline and mail a nice gift you can afford.

Think about going in on a group gift.

A tight budget doesn't have to mean not attending a wedding that's important to you. Scan the bride and groom's registry for any semi-big-ticket items still up for grabs, then ask around to see if anyone wants to go in on a group gift. A $200 kitchen mixer split three ways comes in at under $70 per person, for example. The couple gets something they want, and no one in the gift-giving trio comes out looking like a cheapskate. It's a win-win for your budget and your reputation.

And remember that at the end of the day, what couples care about most (or should) is your presence on their special day—not what's inside the gift wrap.

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