As the resource for all things wedding registry, we get a lot of questions here at Zola from guests looking to pick out the perfect wedding present. The question we get most often is, “How much should I spend on a wedding gift?” The answer varies depending on a few factors, such as how well you know the couple and how many different wedding events you’re invited to. Some of you may even be wondering if you need to purchase a wedding gift at all. Read on for our complete guide on wedding gift etiquette.

What’s the “cover your plate” rule?

Once upon a time, it was considered good etiquette to purchase a wedding gift with a price tag comparable to the cost per plate (i.e. your meal) at the reception. Although it’s outdated, this sneaky piece of advice still gets passed around by wedding attendees like a piece of wedding gospel.

Here’s why you should leave it behind:

  • Following this guideline means having to ask around (or ask the couple directly) how much they’re spending per plate at their wedding, which is a pretty uncomfortable question to circulate.
  • It implies that you as a guest have to spend a certain amount on a wedding gift regardless of your budget (which isn’t true).
  • Attending someone’s wedding isn’t a food-for-gift exchange—it’s about celebration and coming together.
  • This practice indicates to the couple that you’re only interested in giving them a gift that matches their wedding catering budget.

How much should I spend on a wedding gift?

These days, where cost-per-plate does not factor into your choice of wedding gift, exactly how much you should spend on a wedding gift depends on a variety of factors. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Choosing a wedding gift isn’t about the price tag—it’s about giving the couple a special acknowledgment, from you to them, of this happy moment that they will use throughout their new life together.
  • Try to find a gift that has both special significance to you and fits within what you can comfortably spend.
  • Most couples register for gifts in a range of prices, so while big-ticket items might be exciting, couples also want those smaller gifts that hold just as much meaning, purpose, or joy in their daily use.

If you’re still itching for dollar amount suggestions, follow these very loose guidelines for how much to spend on wedding gifts (but remember, a smaller gift from the heart is just as valuable!):

  • If you’re a coworker, acquaintance, or distant relative: $50-$75
  • If you’re a friend or relative of: $75-$100
  • If you’re a close friend, immediate family, or part of the wedding party: $100-$150+
  • If you received a +1’s on your invitation: 1.5-2x more on the gift

Is it OK to give a group wedding gift?

Yes! If you want to give the couple a big ticket item that you can’t afford on your own, it’s a great idea to go in on a group gift with other guests. Zola’s Group Gifting feature can make this process extremely easy. Two pieces of advice here:

  • Make sure that everyone contributes the same amount they would have spent on smaller gifts purchased on their own.
  • If you are attending a wedding as a large family, it’s a good rule of thumb that all adults (or each household) give their own gift.

Is it OK to give a cash wedding gift?

Cash gifts are not only totally okay, they’re becoming more and more requested by modern couples who are getting married later in life and have already outfitted their homes. If the couple is using Zola, they may have even registered for cash funds to help them save for the honeymoon, a new home, a puppy, or even a lifetime supply of avocados (yes, it happened). However, there are a few best practices you should follow when contributing to a cash fund:

  • Make sure that you contribute cash through the couple’s registry, if their registry provides that option.
  • If writing a check, mail it before the wedding day. Giving cash or check on the big day isn’t necessarily wrong, but it does run the risk of being lost in the chaos of the day.
  • If writing a check as a wedding gift, make sure to write it out to one person and to use pre-married names. Couples don’t always share joint accounts or change their names after the nuptials, which can lead to the bank refusing to accept the funds.

Is it OK to buy wedding gifts that aren’t on the wedding registry?

As a rule of thumb, it’s always best to purchase a gift on the couple’s wedding registry. That way you can ensure that they like (and need) the item. If all of their registry items have been purchased by the time to get around to buying a gift, you have a few options:

  1. Ask the couple if there’s anything else their hearts desire.
  2. Contribute to a cash fund (or give them cash or a check directly).
  3. Opt for an off-registry gift you’re 100% confident they’ll love. If you go with this option, make sure to get a gift receipt so that the couple can easily return duplicate or damaged items without hassle.

Should I buy a gift if I can’t attend the wedding?

In short, yes. But there is some flexibility here depending on well you know the couple and your personal financial situation. If you’re close friends, it’s best to send a gift and a personalized note with warm wishes. Your mom’s boss’s daughter that you’ve never met? While it’s always polite to send a gift if you can, in less personal circumstances, you’re less on the hook.

Should I buy a wedding gift if it’s a destination wedding?

Yes again. However, the travel and lodging costs that come with a destination wedding can put a big strain on your budget. It’s likely that the happy couple views your presence as a gift in itself, but if you want to get technical about it, purchasing a wedding gift is proper form even in the case of a destination wedding. If you’re shelling out quite a bit to actually make it to the wedding, then feel free to spend less than you typically would for a local celebration.

Do I need to buy a gift for every wedding event that I’m invited to?

Not to sound like a broken record, but yes, you should purchase a gift for each event. We know—buying this many gifts can be tough. If you’ve are invited to the engagement party, the shower, and wedding, we suggest planning ahead and setting a budget for gifts in advance. To make things easier on your wallet, follow the 20-20-60 rule, which dictates that you spread out your spending like so:

  • 20% on the engagement gift
  • 20% on the bridal shower
  • 60% on the wedding

Should I carry a gift to the wedding, shower, or engagement party?

Follow these rules to determine if you should physically bring a gift with you to any wedding-related festivities:

  • If you attend a shower, engagement party, or purchase a gift that isn’t on the registry, take the wrapped gift along with you to the event.

  • If you bought a gift on a registry or are giving cash/check, gifts should be mailed to the couple before the big day.

Zola Perk: Couples with a Zola registry have the option to ship your gift whenever is convenient for them, whether that’s before the wedding, after they return from the honeymoon, or months later.

How late can I give a wedding gift?

Some will say that you have up to a year to purchase a wedding gift, but best practice is to always buy and send gifts before the wedding day or within 3 months of the nuptials. Any longer and you’re likely to forget. Plus, it’s more convenient for the couple to manage receiving gifts (and writing thank you notes) sooner rather than later.

Still have questions? Our registry advisors are just a call or email away. Happy gift giving, wedding guests!