Wedding season is fast approaching, and with it the stress of trying to figure out: How much should I spend on a gift?
Ultimately, how much money you drop depends on how close you are to person on the receiving end, and what your budget situation is. But that's not to say there aren’t general expectations attached to gift giving—and they’re hardly limited to weddings.
No one wants to be known as the cheap friend, but it’s not easy to find that sweet spot between skimping and splurging. To help, we pored through the survey data to figure out how much people typically spend on gifts for everything from weddings and birthdays to baptisms to baby showers, and asked some etiquette experts to weigh in, too.
According to American Express research, Americans spend an average of $127 on wedding gifts for relatives and $99 for friends. But the number tends to go up for urbanites: Jeff Beil, cofounder of cash gift-giving platform Tendr, recently told Brides that people in big cities like New York, Miami and Dallas spend an average of $200.
The Knot echoes the advice of Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, to match the gift to your relationship with the happy couple, and suggests the following guidelines. (Keep in mind that most etiquette pros agree anything less than $50 is bad form.)
- Distant friend/family or coworker: $50-$75
- Semi-close relative or friend: $75-$100
- Close relative or friend: $100-$150
When someone in your social circle gets hitched, you may be on the hook for more than just the wedding gift. Maximize your budget with the 60-20-20 rule, taking the total amount you plan to spend and divvying it up like this:
- 60 percent on the wedding gift
- 20 percent on the engagement gift
- 20 percent on the shower gift
So if you have a $300 budget, you'd spend $60 on an engagement gift, $60 at the bridal shower and $180 on the wedding gift.
My elementary-aged daughters usually attend multiple birthday parties a month, which is why I’ve started making these gifts a line item in my monthly budget. Today's Parent—and my mom friends—agree $20-$25 is sufficient.
As for family and friends, there’s no set rule, Gottsman says—but you can get ahead of the game by brainstorming who’d you like to buy for a few months out. "Then you can buy things when they're on sale that reflect the [recipient’s] personality,” she says. “Just start putting them in your closet with a sticky note. When the person's birthday rolls around, you've already got their gift ready."
In other words, lead with thoughtfulness, then adjust your spending based on the closeness of your relationship and the flexibility of your finances. For many friends, a thoughtful card and an offer to pick up the dinner tab (or bake them a cake) is plenty.
Of course, it’s completely acceptable to spend more on your sister-in-law’s gift than a coworker's, so take that into account when prepping your budget. “Generally speaking, $25 is a good average,” says etiquette expert Elaine Swann. “For a closer relative or friend, you can find really useful gifts for $75 to $100.”
In some cases, a congratulatory "new baby" gift may be in order, so make the call that feels right for your situation. If, for example, your boss welcomed a little one, consider teaming up with coworkers on a bigger-ticket item from the group.
My nephew, who's also my godson, just received his first Holy Communion. We gifted him $100. The following weekend, we gave $50 to my friend's son for the same occasion. Given our budget and our relationship with each recipient, the amount we spent on each felt right.
When it comes to baptisms, first Holy Communions and the like, the average gift lands between $25 and $50, says Swann.
Gifts in the Jewish tradition are typically given in multiples of 18, which is considered a lucky number. According to The Nest, a good rule of thumb for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs is to consider what you'd spend on a birthday present, then give about 1.5 times more in a multiple of 18. So if you'd normally spend $50 on a birthday present, you’d drop $72 here.
As a former teacher, I’d get flooded with gifts three times per year: the holidays, Teacher Appreciation Week and the end of the school year. I got everything from $10 gift cards to jewelry to handmade presents from students.
Now that I'm a parent, I’ve noticed that members of my parenting circle spend about $25 per teacher. (We most recently doled out $20 movie gift cards, which were a big hit.) Swann says the idea is simply to give a small token of your appreciation. “Try not to go overboard, which might make the teacher feel uneasy,” she says. “Set the right tone by giving a moderate gift.”
If that's out of your price range, don’t worry—there’s plenty of wiggle room. "As long as it's heartfelt,” Gottsman says.
Whether it’s Administrative Professionals Week or National Boss's Day, Swann says that thoughtful gestures, like a handwritten note or small gift card, can go a long way when it comes to fostering office relationships.
“Especially when it comes to purchasing gifts for your boss, I would tread lightly,” she says. “You want to make sure it’s not sending the wrong message to him or her, as well as to fellow coworkers. Play it safe and steer clear of expensive gifts.”