We know. It’s an outrage. Over the course of the last year, you’ve pillaged your savings to buy her a diamond, pledged that you would eschew all other women until you die, accepted her mother as your own—as if you needed another—and now, on top of all that sacrifices, you need to get your fiancée another gift?
The system is broken. But it’s still the system—and you’ve made it this far—so you need to play along. In the grand scheme of things, you’d be a fool to drop $30,000 on the wedding and then now, at the 11th hour, botch one final detail that will leave her disappointed.
Two bits of good news:
1. There aren’t many rules to worry about. It’s not like the engagement ring and the “two months salary” benchmark. Unlike most facets of the wedding planning, you’re not boxed in by price, family politics, or vendors looking to turn a profit.
2. It’s a rare opportunity for surprise and even—shockingly—romance. After months of budgets, invoices, and spreadsheets, it’s clear (even to your fiancée) that very little about wedding planning is romantic. This one item, since it’s a secret, still has a rush of discovery.
So what should you get? Stick to the Rule of 2 Ps: Permanence and Personal. It needs to be timeless. And it needs to be about your relationship. A failure in both those criteria, for example, would be a $100 gift card to Starbucks. It can’t be permanent but not personal (stainless steel cookware); it can’t be personal but not permanent (a pack of her favorite lipstick).
See also: Gifts for the Bride
And as for timing? Again, there’s no hard and fast rule. But the general idea is to give her the gift on either the wedding day or the night before the wedding.
The following 10 gifts could work:
Original? Nope. But who cares. When you’re at a bar, it’s not “original” for someone to buy you a beer, yet you’re grateful each and every time. Jewelry is like beer for most women (as is beer, come to think of it).
Add a personal touch with an inscription or by selecting something that matches the engagement ring or wedding theme. It could be a bracelet, earrings, necklace—basically anything but a nipple ring. For a few unique ideas, check out these custom stud earrings or personalized necklaces.
Framed Sentimental Pictures
She’s not allowed to not like this. It’d be like having a baby and thinking it’s ugly.
1) Find a photo of the two of you before you were engaged. Not a boring pose (you’ll get plenty of those at the wedding), but something active like horseback riding, splashing water on the beach, crowd-surfing a mosh-pit, whatever. The idea here is that the spirit of your relationship is carried through the wedding ceremony.
2) Splurge for a good frame.
Personalized Wedding Magazine Cover
Careful. A personalized magazine cover can be cornier than a bad Drew Barrymore flick. So think about whether your bride’s into that kinda thing. Undercut the schmaltz by writing clever, inside joke headlines only she will get.
See also: Reader Question of the Day – “WTF Is a Bridal Gift? Do I Need One?”
As much as this screams against every fiber of your being, if there’s any occasion in your life to purchase a sentimental “keepsake sculpture,” this is that occasion. But here’s a better idea. Along the same lines, consider the following:
At least there’s an ostensible purpose. You can engrave whatever dopey stuff you want on the top of the box, and then she can use the damn thing to store her jewelry, perfume, or pot. This one even plays music.
Boring, and a violation of the “permanence” rule above. Flowers are recommended by most of the “wedding-porn” sites, but you can do better. If you get her a rose to compliment another gift, fine. But flowers by themselves are, at this moment, unsatisfying. (Besides, there are going to be a ton of flowers at the wedding already.) Even on a shoestring budget, you’re better off with…
Personalized Photo Album
This we like. It nicely sticks to the rule of Ps and gives you extra credit on the Personal. Look back at your relationship and pick out the photos that tell a story, in chronological order, from your early awkward dates to this current era of domesticity. Write a caption for each. You can ritz it up with a pricey album, or, if you’re getting your butt kicked financially, you could do it for only $35 bucks.
See also: The Groom Speech: 10 Rules
Only if the heirloom is inherently attractive—get someone else’s second opinion. Don’t foist grandma’s necklace on your bride, for instance, if the jewelry is uglier than a blob fish on a plate of worms.
No matter what, in addition to getting one of the above “proper” gifts, we also recommend the following:
The Bonus Fun Gift
Small, token, utterly non-sappy. Something silly and flirty that will make her laugh. Maybe it’s a trashy book or guilty pleasure DVD or edible underwear. (For The Plunge’s guide to buying lingerie, click here). But it must be something fun that helps counterbalance the other Hallmarky stuff. It’s a reminder that underneath all the layers of pageantry and guest lists and cuff links, you are still you.
This isn’t a gift, per se, but in the final days leading up to the wedding, surprise her with a breakfast in bed or a candlelit dinner. Cook. Get champagne. Flowers (for this, flowers will work). Careful: do not do this on the wedding day itself—she has every second meticulously planned. The traditional “romantic’ stuff works best when it’s spontaneous and unexpected; this is the reason why Valentine’s Day is often the least romantic day of the year.
Next up, one of your most important (and certainly the most visible) responsibilities: picking your formalwear.