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How to Beat Wedding Gift Sticker-Shock

Designer kitchen knives, pricey electronics, upscale furniture, camping gear. Wedding registry trends are running more toward big-ticket items these days, giving guests good reason to eye that wedding invite with trepidation.

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“You wouldn’t believe what I’ve seen on registries: the matching sea-worthy kayaks, the shares of a vacation home, the $10,000 grills that get built into your deck,” says Jodi R.R. Smith, the chief executive of Boston-based etiquette consulting firm Mannersmith and author of “The Etiquette Book: A complete Guide to Modern Manners.” “They can register for anything these days, and sometimes they get a little slap-happy with the registry guns.”

As a story in today’s Wall Street Journal points out, the shift is largely a result of couples marrying at older ages and, for more than 70%, after they have already been living together. More input from the groom has also driven additions of gear like barware, tents and flat-screen TVs.

Which all prompts the question: If the happy couple can shoot for the moon, how far should the guests go to appease them? PayDirt talked to Smith about how to manage your budget, and the couple’s expectations.

Pay Dirt: Some of these registry gifts seem unrealistically expensive. Are you really obligated to spend that much?

Smith: Invitations are not invoices. The idea here is you got an invitation for a wedding and you are so happy for a couple that you want to tangibly show them with a gift. You are not obligated to cover the cost of your meal in the gift, either. Just because they can cover a $500 meal for me doesn’t mean that I as a school teacher can afford that as a gift. Base your gift on your budget, not their budget.

Pay Dirt: OK, but whether I’m able to buy a sea-kayak or not, that’s what they have registered for. What’s my next move?

Smith: Look at the registry to get a sense of the couple’s lifestyle. If their lifestyle is extravagant beyond your budget, use it as a clue or a cue. If a couple has registered for matching sea-worthy kayaks, maybe get them matching life vests, a travel journal, or one of those water bottles that filters out dirt. It’s also good option time to reach out to other guests about splitting the item. Send a Facebook message: “Do you all want to go in on this?” Ask, and give the recommended donation.

Pay Dirt: So it’s OK to go off-registry?

Smith: Absolutely. Something you like, something you think they would like. Buy them a toaster if you want. You give whatever you think is appropriate. Just make sure to include the gift receipt.

Pay Dirt: I’m always hunting for bargains and have often come up against two problems: I found an item the couple wants that is cheaper elsewhere, or I have a coupon for the retailer where they’re registered that isn’t eligible on registry purchases. Do I have to suck it up and pay full price?

Smith: No! Buy it and immediately send an email to the bride or groom, whoever you’re closer to. Say, “I purchased your MixMaster 2000 in avocado green, but I didn’t get it through the registry. I just wanted to let you know so you can take it off your list.” Again, include the gift receipt.

Pay Dirt: But some stores offer a kick-back to the couple, like 5% back on registry gifts at Macy’s or a free knife with $500 in Calphalon purchases at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Won’t the couple be mad they’re missing out?

Smith: I commend the stores for incenting the brides and grooms, but this is a wedding and not a fundraiser. The bride and groom should be thrilled that the guests like them enough to get them a gift, whatever that is and wherever they get it from.

Pay Dirt: What if I want to give them cash instead?

Smith: That’s fine, but I’d recommend not cash. Use a check or a gift card that can be tracked. Cash tends to disappear along the way.

Pay Dirt readers, how do you handle wedding gifts? What do you think of the trend toward more expensive items?

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    • Why don’t you do what any gift-giver is supposed to do: pick out soitnhmeg you think she would like that is within your budget and your own choosing. She is a close friend , so you should know her tastes well and easily be able to find soitnhmeg you think would please her. Otherwise, you’re just doing her shopping for her, and it’s best to let her do her own shopping. Certainly it’s more thoughtful.

    • Debbie / Hi!I stumbled acosrs your blog while searching for more information on Shadow Lawn. I was hoping if you could possibly share some information with me to my email? I attempted to email the address on the Shadow Lawn website but I haven’t gotten anything back yet. I really want to go the same route you guys are going and have my wedding in a barn. I LOVE everything you have done so far. The save the dates are so cute! If you don’t mind, I was wondering what the site fee is for Shadow Lawn? Is planning to have a wedding there ending up being too much work (like do they have bathrooms there?). I am so afraid that I’ve fallen in love with a place our of my price range. I seriously have my whole wedding planned there already and I haven’t even visited it yet!Thanks!

    • Another way to avoid the registry is just to buy a gift certificate at the store that they are registered at. Then, even if it is a much smaller increment, they can still apply it towards a larger purchase. This way, you don’t have to go to the trouble of organizing and splitting with friends.

      Another idea is a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant or an activity that you and the couple have done together. This way, you can again set a certain limit to the amount that you are giving and you can avoid the registry.

      The final idea is to buy a pre-wedding gift of the bride’s attire. Something like shoes from http://www.weddingfeet.com or a fun dress that she can use before or after the wedding.

      Finally, something that they can bring with them on their honeymoon is also a good idea. Create a honeymoon travel package with a bag, suncreen, chocolate and champagne.

    • We have some big ticket items on our registry but was able to split the cost of the items up into smaller gift increments. For example a dining room table is split up into 13 $75 gifts. We are using a wedding registry called SimpleRegistry and it is working perfectly for us! They are at http://www.simpleregistry.com if this type of registry is of interest.

    • i am generally not fan of registries of any kind. i am not comfortable with the idea of “i expect you to get me a gift, and not only do i expect a gift, it better be X, Y or Z”.

      registries also have completley taken the fun out of showers. by the time the shower comes along, the bride has “stalked” the registry and knows exactly what she’s getting before the day even arrives. guests also know, particualry those that buy last minute as they see the full list and what’s already been purchased.

      the new trend towards extravagant stuff is disgusting. if you dont need anything, dont register. period. or if you want those expensive gifts, have a modest, simple wedding and use that $20K you would have dropped on food and booze to buy those luxury items.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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