Cash For a Wedding Gift: How Much Is Right?

@mylove4art via Twenty20

Once upon a time, it was considered gauche to give money as a wedding gift, unless you were a close relative, boss, or made guy. It’s not that newlyweds didn’t want cash–quite the opposite–but etiquette required they obtain it in a less obvious form. Wedding registries effectively achieve the same goal, but avoid the direct transfer of cash between guest and host.

But today, that stricture against handing over money as a wedding gift is fading away. With this behavioral change come questions about how much to give and when to give.

In a video posted by Elvis Duran’s radio show, a group of men and women discuss the topic with radically different notions about proper procedure. Our summary of the gifting options is below.

Suggestion 1: Give $100 per person

This is not a bad start, but we don’t feel it should be taken as a strict standard. The right number depends on several things, including how close you are to the couple, who you’re bringing as your +1 (if anyone), and your personal financial situation. According to our friends at WeddingWire, the national average for wedding gift is about $160. But you can go as low as $75 or as high as $250 if you feel the occasion demands it.

Suggestion 2: Bring your checkbook and decide once you’re there

The idea here is that you give more if the ceremony and reception are fancy, and less if it’s more casual. The skinflint who suggests this takes the attitude that you’re basically paying for your meal, and should come as close to the per-head catering cost as you can.

Here at the The Plunge, we’re going to give this suggestion a hard no–not only because whipping out your checkbook at a wedding is crass, but because there’s a transactional aspect that doesn’t seem right. You’re giving the couple a gift to celebrate their wedding, not pay for the food and drink you consume.

Suggestion 3: Call the caterer and find out how much the couple are paying per guest

First off, no caterer worth their license is going to share what they’re charging with a stranger. Secondly this is an even more exact case of “paying the bill.” Again, this money is to help the couple start their life together, not reimburse them for a meal.

Suggestion 4: Pay on a sliding scale based on your age

It’s easy to imagine general guidelines: Under 30, you give $100-150 per person. Over 30, you give more. As is quickly pointed out in the video, however, it all depends on how much you’re making. If you’re a puppeteer from Vermont, $150 might represent a sizable chunk of your weekly budget. If you’re a Silicon Valley founder who retired in Vermont at age 35, $150 is downright insulting.

Suggestion 5: Give a gift from the heart

Great idea, but the reality is not so easy to follow. The nice thing about money is that once you’ve decided how much to give, your work is done. You don’t have to worry about whether the gift is exactly right, or whether they have one already. And what if you don’t have anything in your heart for this couple? What if they’re distant cousins, or work friends, or the children of your college roommate? What if you don’t really care about them at all? That’s why God invented hundred dollar bills.

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