Frugal Living: How Much Should You Spend On A Wedding Gift?

April 9, 2013

How Much Should You Spend On A Wedding Gift? A Savvy and Frugal Gift Guide


When you’re living on a budget, getting invited to a wedding can seem like a stressful blessing.  Many times, when we are invited to be a guest at a wedding, we are also expected to come up with the cash for shower gifts, travel, bachelor/bachelorette parties and more recently- an engagement shower gift.  (This one still makes me a bit uncomfortable, though luckily most of my friends who throw engagement parties specifically have asked for no gifts, thanks friends!)  Even without a gift, you can easily spend $500 on pre-wedding festivities!


So, what to do if you’re on a tight budget and you’re invited to a wedding?

How much should you spend on a wedding gift, and should you calculate in other costs for travel, outfitting and pre-wedding celebrations when deciding how much to give?


Before I go on, to make things uber simple, here’s my opinion after reading about a dozen articles that annoyed my frugal sensibilities and agitated me with unrealistic etiquette.  Many articles out there (if you’re a Google junkie like I am) seem to assume we all have full time jobs, are out of debt and that picking out a wedding gift is centered around “proper etiquette” and not our latest paycheck- well tough cookies Google, you weren’t very helpful this round, so here’s my frugal take on deciding how much you should spend on a wedding gift!


When calculating what to spend on a wedding gift, consider two things:

Your relationship to the couple & your budget after calculating other wedding expenses.


My take on wedding gifts is this:  Expect to spend at least $50+ on a wedding gift regardless of how much it costs to attend the wedding.  If you’re a student, actively paying off your debts, under or unemployed or recently experienced some financial stressors (like attending 5 weddings in a season, yikes), $50 is a good gauge.

Expect to spend $100+ if you’re bringing a guest, know the couple really well, and you’re more established financially.  On average, most relatives fork over $130+ for a gift, but only get in the triple digits if you can afford to and it feels right.

After doing an unofficial poll- many people under 30 (recent grads, paying down debts) seemed to pay $50-$100 for a gift.  Married couples or more established folks have reported anywhere from $150-$250 as a gift.  Regardless of age and your relationship to the couple- do what feels right for you.


Some “experts” argue you should spend at least $125, since that’s about the cost of your actual plate at the wedding, but playing the guessing game of what the bride/groom is spending on you is tricky indeed.  Honestly, if you’re on a tight budget you should put the relationship first, then apply it to your budget- simply as that.  No crazy rules, no ridiculous calculations.

Should you spend $125 on a coworker’s wedding gift if you don’t know her all too well and it’s stressing you out? Probably not.

Additionally though, if one of your besties is getting married and she deserves a $200 wedding gift since you’ve known her since you were in grade school, but you’ve already spend $550 on an engagement gift, shower gift, bachelorette party and a bridesmaid dress… not even counting the hotel, travel expenses and your hair appointment, should you go into debt for a gift? Also, I’d say not.

Many couples now realize they won’t be able to recoop the cost of the wedding through gifts and are also savvy that not every attendee will be able to afford the high price attendance when other costs are calculated.


What should you spend on a gift for a destination wedding?

I really wish there was a tidy formula for this one- but many brides and grooms host a destination wedding simply to avoid the stresses and hassle of traditional wedding planning, so they’ll understand that attending an event in a far away location could be hefty for guests who could typically gift more for a local wedding.

After you’ve calculated costs for attending in relation to your overall budget (did you set a budget? you should!) if you’re stressed about the gift, it’s time to have an honest talk with your friend-to-wed or look at some budget friendly wedding gift ideas below.  I would still set a base of $25-50 even if the location is exotic and pricey,  but keep things simple with a cash gift or gift card so you can say on budget.  Many couples understand that your presence is their present, but if you’re feeling uncomfortable, be brave and have a conversation about it, or bring a card or small money gift.


What should you spend on a gift if you’re racking up bills in the bridal party?

As soon as your friend-to-wed ask you to be a member of the bridal party, you will need to set up realistic expectations in terms of a budget and stick to it!   Calculate costs for attending the bridal shower, bachelorette party, wedding day, wedding prep (beauty/hair), apparel and travel, then set aside a budget for a gift.

As stated earlier, the closer you are to the couple getting wed, the more you’re typically expected to spend on the gift itself.  If you’re not particularly close to the bride or groom and you’re asked to step in the bridal party (perhaps out of obligation) give it serious consideration before you say yes- and if not too awkward, have a conversation about price expectations.  While it can be uncomfortable turning down an invitation, being in credit card debt over a distant cousin isn’t fun either-  you can find a classy way to decline (trust me!) as long as you do it early and you communicate clearly.

If you’re in the bridal party and you’re stressing about the gift, it’s time to have a conversation with the bride (or groom to be) and let them know where you stand.  Many times, wedding costs get out of control for the engaged couple, often bringing their bridal party along for the budget busting ride. If their spending is out of control, do your best to curb costs by finding a gift that’s realistically within your comfort zone, or see if you can offer your talents & craftiness elsewhere.


Do you need to gift if you’re not attending the wedding?

Even sending a small gift resonates with my frugal rule about “gift giving based on the relationship.”  If you can’t attend the wedding, sending a gift is a way to demonstrate you cherish the relationship you have with the bride and groom, regardless of your attendance.

If you’re unable to attend the wedding, look at what’s realistic within your budget and either have a registry gift shipped to them before the big day or send them cash or a gift card to the stores they’ve registered with.  Again, depending on the relationship and your budget you’ll know how much to spend.


What should you do if you’re invited to numerous parties before the wedding?

Here’s one suggestion for how to spend your gift budget:  

So, if you budget that you can only spend $200 on gifts for the wedding, $50 will go to the engagement/bachelorette gift (depending on what you’re invited to), $50 on the shower gift and $100 on the wedding gift.



Budget Friendly Wedding Gift Ideas:








So, how do you calculate how much to spend on a gift?

Any funny (or horror stories) you want to share about wedding gift giving?


21 comments so far.

21 responses to “Frugal Living: How Much Should You Spend On A Wedding Gift?”

  1. Best wedding gift I ever gave: I did the entire bridal party’s make up for wedding and photos. It cost me nothing because I already had the make-up and they’ll see it forever in the photos 🙂

  2. I understand that couples want to make their big day as special and unique as possible. If you go the money, spend it on your wedding day as much as you want. But if you are on a tight budget, there are supplies and contractors out there who are inexpensive. You just have to click a few buttons.

  3. Ugh, I hate it when people say “thou shalt spend a million dollars!” is etiquette. BS. What we give depends on our relationship to the couple and a few other things, like our cost of attendance. That said, most of the people we’re very close to require a lot of spending to get to their weddings!
    It’s like “don’t accept a wedding invite if you can’t afford to give a gift.” I HATE that idea. I invited you because I wanted you to be there, not because I expected a gift! My only must is that people give cards, preferable with something written inside that is thoughtful. You can make a card from a piece of paper in a recycling bin if you have to, it’s what’s written in it that counts.
    I like your $50 benchmark and for most people that is achievable, though for some it will still be a fair stretch.

    • Shannyn says:

      I agree Anne, $50 is a good benchmark but it’s not the end all be all rule. I attended a wedding last year where I could only gift $25 after travel and hotel were covered. Another wedding I couldn’t attend but I did send a gift for the bridal shower as well… you do what you can with what you have and don’t stress about what the experts say.

  4. jesort415 says:

    I am a bad wedding guest. My budget is low but varies by couple. My reason is that most of the weddings I attend are by couples who have lived together for a long time. When I go on to their registry and see stuff like $400+ vacuums, and $300+ coffee machines, and 12 place setting china, etc I don’t feel guilty for being cheap. They don’t NEED half of what is on the list; they just want to upgrade their current stuff. I go with the practical stuff instead which oddly is cheaper (off the registry of course). When the couple is young and just starting out I will go a little higher but the only person I am buying a $400+ vacuum for is me, and even then it was refurbished for half the price.

    For my own wedding we actually said no gifts. Not everyone listened of course but since it was planned in 3 weeks and it was a Friday afternoon meaning ppl have to miss work and it was fairly small/intimate (20ppl) it was more about having ppl we love there not the money or stuff.

    • Shannyn says:

      Ya, the dynamics of gift giving are dramatically changing since there are different circumstances now for couples to get married… many are older, had their own condos or homes and aren’t starting fresh straight out of school- it’s really changing what we expect!

  5. Mary Ann says:

    I agree with jesort415! I like the $50 benchmark — this all helped me a LOT! I wished I’d had your advice 10 years ago… I can afford it a lot easier now, that’s for sure. But in this age of excess, I first see if I can make something for the bride and/or groom with my sewing skills. Then I take into account how much abundance they already have. Recently I had friends who had a private ceremony (not invited) with a larger post-ceremony party (invited). They registered for gifts but I know for a fact they both make more money than I do. So, I got them Good Karma In a Card — I made a charitable donation on their behalf because the honest truth is… they don’t actually need more STUFF. And I’m not buying a KitchenAid mixer for anyone other than myself because that is a kingly gift. As a single gal, I might pull a SATC next decade, throw myself a Happily Single Celebration, and register for gifts. All of those baby showers & weddings can’t just go one way… right? 😉

    • Shannyn says:

      HAHA!!!! Girl- I feel you! When I was in grad school my roomie and I would joke about this all the time… can’t we have a party because we haven’t had kids, marriages or anything other than school/work? lol….

      Man, I do want a KitchenAid Mixer though… 😉

  6. Jessica775 says:

    I loved this article…very practical and reasonable advice. I would say the same also applies to graduation gifts…set a price range you can afford and go by your relationship to the graduate. It’s great if you have $100 and you spend that much on your best friend who is getting his or her BA one year after you…but there is no need to spend that much if you get an announcement and find yourself staring into the enclosed portrait thinking that must be so and so from your last job’s kid.

  7. Deb says:


    Good article and info.
    Note, you can find some very nice gifts for $50 and under if you do some sale research. Gifts that retail for more. Personally, I think it should be more about knowing who the couple are (adventurous, eco folks, entertainers, etc.) so that you get a gift they will love and remember. And, you can do that for $50 and under. And if you have time to plan, you can get really nice (often originally overpriced) merch for that. Thanks for the info. Tweeting it out!

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  9. Joy says:

    Ok so maybe I’m not in the know, but since when do you give a bridal shower, engagement and wedding gift? That’s 3 gifts!! An engagement party I would think is a get together for the guests or just immediate family to hang out and mingle, a bridal shower is just for the bride which I would assume is a more intimate setting with close friends, and I thought bridal showers were just for the wedding party? yeah so that leaves wedding gift! i mean you don’t have 3 parties when you’re about to become a mom… some of this is ridiculous. Where I’m from it’s bachelorette/bridal shower and wedding party.

    • Lacey says:

      I’ve seen women do “gender reveal” parties plus a baby shower. So now that’s 2 gifts for moms-to-be. I’ve been asking around and a lot of my friends say they make a registry but what they really would like is cash, however, it’s rude to ask for cash. So, my new thing in 2014 is to give cash in lieu of gifts.

  10. Janine says:

    Attending my first wedding with the boyfriend in late August. I had no idea how much to give as they are an asian couple and the culture is to give cash! Thanks so much for this post <3

  11. Linda says:

    I’m currently on both sides of this right now. I’m attending a coworker wedding soon and am planning to frame their invitation in a shadow box and offer to dry and add to it some of their flowers if the would like. I’ll also get a gift card, but $50 is steep for me especially with a wedding in my immediate plans.

    For our wedding we are having a “picnic reception” at our new home. We are stating “no gifts” but cover dish welcome. We are also inviting our musician friends to play a few numbers as part of the entertainment. We want the people there, not teh gifts.

  12. laura says:

    Honestly, spending $50 on a wedding gift is so far above anything that I have ever been able to give and ive been able to gift things that were on the registry (and off) and that were pretty awesome. A cake stand, or putting together a basket of kitchen utensils are a few examples. If you know the couple well, they will know how tight money is for you, and if not, well. … I’m not a mean person, but too bad. I love giving gifts, for any reason at all, but if you want me to spend a lot, I’d rather get you a card with a thoughtful inscription. My advice to someone strapped for cash? Go for something simple, you know they will love and wrap it awesome. 😉

    • Shannyn says:

      There are usually a range of choices on the registry, and since they asked for it, they can’t be too disappointed. I like the idea of kitchen utensils in a basket!

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