One thing to buy, many gifts to give
November 3, 2012 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Lots of people getting married! So little time to think of wedding presents for each of them! And I find getting stuff from the registry so boring. Help me find a good gift that can keep on giving: something that I can buy multiples of, and then thoughtfully personalize for each of my wonderful friends.

Budget range: I'm unemployed at the moment, so between $25-50 a piece. Right now there are about half a dozen gifts that I need to make. My friends are all, geez, young witty urban professionals. Any ideas, lay it on me.
posted by greggish to Shopping (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Our off-registry gifts fell into one of three categories:

1) Gift cards (to places we would already be spending money, like amazon, or new places, like an italian restaurant in our neighborhood)

2) Unique personal items (e.g. two bottles of custom gin from a friend who works at a distillery)

3) Garbage

The point of a registry is to avoid #3, so if you aren't absolutely sure you're landing in 1 or 2, you're better off just getting them those new hand towels they registered for. Unique is better than boring, but boring is better than something you don't want.
posted by tsmo at 6:31 AM on November 3, 2012 [31 favorites]

People register to avoid getting crap they don't want.

I'll forgive you the impulse to shower your buddies with crap they don't want and I will give you a truly useful service you can do for them.

A gift certificate to address the thank you notes would be good. I would have kissed the feet of the person who gave us that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:32 AM on November 3, 2012 [8 favorites]

And I find getting stuff from the registry so boring.

It's not your wedding, it's theirs. Respect their wishes and stick to the registry.
posted by mhoye at 6:34 AM on November 3, 2012 [16 favorites]

something that I can buy multiples of, and then thoughtfully personalize for each of my wonderful friends

Cash. Inside a nice card where you've written something thoughtful.
posted by belladonna at 6:39 AM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Put cash in something cute and personalized. That way, they can say, "Aww!" at the thing you got them and put it with all the other off-registry gifts they have (closet, basement, attic) and use the cash to start their lives together.
posted by xingcat at 6:45 AM on November 3, 2012

If you can identify similar stuff on most of the registries, that might narrow things down. Also, how crafty are you looking to be? Something that immediately came to mind was some sort of alcohol decanter, perhaps personalized with a simple glass-etched design (glass etching cream isn't expensive). But this really only makes sense if everyone has wine/whiskey/whatever glasses on their registry.
posted by eralclare at 6:46 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly- I just imagine this couple going through the somewhat agonizing process of filling out a registry, only to receive 150 sets of lovingly hand-embroidered bath towels from each of their well-meaning friends, none of whom wanted to do something so gauche as just buy stuff from the registry. People make registries to subtly discourage exactly what you're considering.


You could buy them all $50 bottles of port and include a nice card about how it will only improve with age, just like their love, so they should save it for one of their many anniversaries to come.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:52 AM on November 3, 2012 [9 favorites]

I just got married. I'm going to nth tsmo so hard right now. We got almost everything on our registry (keep it modest and you're likely to get what you ask for), a bunch of gift cards and checks (which just about paid for our moving expenses), one or two more unique things (beautiful hand-knit afghan!) and a... "lovely"... set of mass-produced kitsch prints from a dear old lady at the church whom I've talked to approximately two times. Can we say "Goodwill"?

This isn't about you, it's about them. If you don't want to get them what they've asked for, either get them booze you already know they like or just give them $25. You want to get personal, personalize the card.
posted by valkyryn at 6:59 AM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would say that the two sort-of exemptions to the advice to use the registry are a) cash and b) consumables (especially alcohol). Otherwise it mostly falls under the "garbage" category mentioned above.

And I say "sort-of exemptions" because some people find cash tacky (I don't, but this is going to strongly depend on the culture and family expectations of the people actually getting married, not random people on the internet) and consumables are tricky because people's tastes are so personal -- it might be a lovely bottle of wine, but if I don't like wine then that's one more gift for the "garbage" column. For either cash or booze to work well as a gift, you need to know the people involved very well.
posted by Forktine at 7:08 AM on November 3, 2012

You can also give money to a charity that is important to them in their name, if you don't want to give them cash directly.
posted by k8lin at 7:15 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another newlywed here. I have to say, we got extremely lucky with regards to many of the off-registry gifts—a commissioned, hand-made quilt, a pretty ceramic bowl (although admittedly we still have no idea what to do with that one), and a stunning picture frame made by a wood-worker friend, to name a few. That said, we also got our share of well-meaning gifts that went straight back to the store from whence they came (yes, we love coffee; no, we do not want a Keurig).

Honestly, the registry really is there to help you, not to make you bored. We picked out things that went well together and to start shaping the aesthetic of our life together. The blues, greens, and browns in our dishes will surely be echoed in paint, curtains, etc. once we can finally afford our own home. I'm sure your friends have done the same—and by picking something from the registry, you're helping them fulfill that vision. Truly, some of the best stuff we got was from the registry, but came with a sweet, super-personal note/card. The sentiment means so much more than the gift—especially if your friends are apartment dwellers who can barely fit everything in their places as it is.

All of that aside, there was one person who managed to take a registry gift and turn it into something more—the family friend who got us our chosen spice rack, but then added a bunch of Penzey's spices, as well. So, perhaps thinking along those lines might help you (although you probably wouldn't be able to do the same thing for everyone).
posted by divisjm at 7:23 AM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think a really personal letter to the couple, one that brings together your friendship and their relationship, the way a stellar toast does, would be treasured longer than any personalized gift. (In a heartbeat, I would give the 12-goblet set of Waterford crystal we got from one guest for a copy of even one of the toasts given at our wedding; it would really mean a lot to me to have those kinds of sentiments from our friends memorialized.) You could enclose two $5 wine glasses from Crate & Barrel and a $15 bottle, if you felt like you really needed a thing. But really, if you think any of these young, professional couples are the kind of grubby people who think they are entitled to a gift with monetary value from every guest, including the unemployed ones, then don't go.
posted by palliser at 7:24 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Echoing the above's thoughts on off-registry gifts, with the addition of mentioning that most young urban professionals have a serious lack of space for stuff, but more to the point of your question of what you can buy in multiples and personalize; GCs to places like shutterfly and other online photo album printing stores allow them to personalize, and we're using the ones we got to make wedding photo albums, custom holiday cards this year, etc. Also, stamps. There are a ton of stamps out right now for every interest, and frankly the one thing we forgot to budget for for our wedding was the stamps for sending all the thank you notes, which is really adding up.

Please please on behalf of all newlyweds everywhere, I beseech you not to ask your friends, "What is not on your registry that you really want?" Because putting together the registry takes time and effort, and planning a wedding is excruciatingly stressful and requires a ton of brainpower, especially for people doing a lot of DIY. Every time someone asked me that, my stress level ratcheted up.

The only exception to "don't ask the couple what they want" is if you are in a position to use YOURSELF as the gift by asking them if there is anything you can do to save them some money or stress for the big day itself, such as volunteering to set up the ceremony site so their bridesmaids can relax, picking up the booze in your truck and delivering it to the reception site to save the delivery fee, offering to chauffer some of the elderly guests in your nice clean car, etc.
posted by juniperesque at 7:25 AM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I can't believe nobody has mentioned this one yet, because it's one I learned about on Mefi: A fire extinguisher. All credit to ocherdraco, giver of fire extinguishers!
posted by pie ninja at 7:32 AM on November 3, 2012 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Creative gifts just have so much potential for backfiring. Someone mentioned getting a lovely handmade afghan above... it might have been much less appreciated had it been in colors the couple didn't care for. Even if it was made to match their current decor, what if they are planning a change? I have a couple of nice handmade gift afghans guiltily stored in a closet that haven't seen the light of day since the end of the 80's when I abruptly got way over my love of "country" decor and the dusty rose/smoky blue color scheme that went with it.

Years ago I got the idea to make a decorative mat and frame for my cousin's wedding invitation. I spent what was at the time a significant amount of money and a ton of time embellishing the mat and frame with lace, pearls, flowers, etc. and it turned out really nice. When I gave it to her mom at a family function to pass along to her, I learned that the invitations that had been sent out were the WRONG COLOR (blue instead of yellow) and there had been much tears and drama over this "disaster" but no time to rectify it. So not only did I wind up giving her something that was a color she didn't care for, I also framed a lovely reminder of this crappy memory from her wedding preparations. And of course the big downside to this is that she couldn't return it.

Lots of wedding couples love to get cash, as stated many times above. For unique presentation, you could learn how to fold money origami. A big bouquet of dollar bill roses, or perhaps a single rose or a fancy heart made from a $20 along with a nice card with something personal written inside would be unique and special.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:00 AM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I hardly ever buy from the registry, but I'm not going to get into an argument with those above who think this is rude. I find that if you are a decent gift giver, you can definitely avoid getting something kitschy or terrible, and I am not particularly interested in "helping people fulfill their vision of a color scheme". Here are some examples of things I have gotten folks:

For wine lovers:
- Wine of the month club

For a bacon lover:
- Bacon of the month club (yes, this exists!).

For board game lovers:
- A board game that I knew they did not have and would enjoy. We've gotten to play it many times since.

I have also done gift cards for certain places when this would be very appreciated (i.e. people who are moving cross country after the wedding), or donations to charity for people who care about charity. I'll oftentimes combine gifts if I'm not certain it'll be something they'll love, like for a couple who shared my love of a certain comedian, I got them a DVD of one of his specials that I knew they hadn't seen, but also a gift card. Or I got one couple some local artwork depicting a place that they had spent a lot of time in/enjoyed, and also gave a generous donation in the bride's name to a charity that she volunteers for and is passionate about.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:22 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just realized I had sort of ignored the price/need for multiple element of the question. Definitely if you're short on cash, instead of an X of the month club, you could just give them one good bottle of wine or one special gourmet bacon. If they're nearby, you could also do your own X of the month club, like if you're good at making pies, you spend one afternoon a month for the next 3 months making a pie for them.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:26 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe picking from the registry is 'boring', but to be honest, buying multiple somethings you then slightly personalize is also boring --- in the end, you get all of these many wedding couples almost the exact. same. thing. I fail to see how that's an improvement.

Go with their registries, please. Or the bottle of wine ideas.
posted by easily confused at 8:30 AM on November 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

I get around this urge by finding the weirdest thing on the registry and buying that. "Really? You guys registered for an [slightly inexplicable item]? *Click!*"
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:36 AM on November 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

Can you get something from the registry but personalize it by including a memory/recipe/creative use in the card? IE get them a muffin tin, but also a compilation of your tried and true muffin recipes, or towels and a card telling that hilarious story about the awful towels in the hostel you all stayed at. Alternatively, is there something you can get for cheap that is usually expensive? For example, the well-knitted afghan listed upthread, or if you can get discounted tickets to a theater you volunteer at or something.
posted by fermezporte at 8:39 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everyone thinks their taste is better than what's on the registry.

Everyone, by definition, is wrong. Because the registry is what reflects the couple's taste. Your taste is for your stuff. Their registry is for theirs.

I got a few creative, crafty things off-registry and you know when we use them? Never! And they're not returnable; and because they were personalized I feel guilty throwing them out and now I have to store them too.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:16 AM on November 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

If your friends could really use towels or wineglasses, get the stuff from the registry; the traditional reason for wedding gifts was to help the new couple get started in life. I still think of the group that got me the food processor 27 years ago, and it held up better than the marriage. If you know that your friends have an interest not reflected in the registry, and you know they'd genuinely appreciate a water barrel, composter, some piece of kit for beer making, some tools for new homeowners, etc., then that's a great gift, but only if you really know their interests and needs.

Whatever you give, it's better to give high quality. A really good corkscrew or paring knife is better then a cheap mixer. Most people can use a good tool bag, with pliers and visegrips. In fact, you could buy a variety of nails, tacks, screws, cup hooks, etc., and put together tool bags with a good variety of useful hardware. Fire extinguisher, really good smoke detector, emergency radio/ LED usb charging emergency flashlight. A monogrammed L.L. Bean Bag is really useful.

If you are very, very good at crafts, you can make something like a "1st Christmas" ornament with some dried flowers & ribbons from the wedding in a glass ornament. Hand-hemmed beautiful cloth napkins. One thing about craft-y gifts is that they can be an albatross. The decoupaged wedding invitation plaque takes a lot of wall space, and they'll feel they have to display it.

It's okay to get something inexpensive from the registry. It's always a good idea to to write a personal note. And one of the very best gifts I ever got was an evening with a good friend, drinking wine, and writing the thank you notes.
posted by theora55 at 10:07 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to get a couple a unique gift and you know them well enough to know what they like, go for it. But there's no way to get lots of unique wedding gifts that will appeal to lots of your friends and also be not generic. Plus, won't all your friends notice that they are getting the same gift?
posted by jeather at 10:19 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Re: the first Christmas ornament, this is a nice idea, but I would hesitate. We were registry-less for the first months of our engagement because we did not need any gifts and felt weird about asking for things. Everyone asked for a registry anyway. We finally realized that our friends and family really wanted to give us SOMETHING as part of the happy marriage ritual tradition thing, and this would help make it easier for them, so we relented and made a modest registry. In those registry-less months beforehand, though, we received so many unsolicited but well-intentioned first Chrismas ornaments that we literally cannot put them all on the tree at once. The most special ones from our nearest and dearest get used without fail. The rest just sit in boxes (along with all the equally well-intentioned candleholders we received at the same time).

However, the amazing Dutch oven a relative gave us from the registry? That is an everyday thing that will last forever, and almost every single time we use it to make a delicious dinner for our new, tiny family one of us invariably comments on how thankful we are that our beloved relative gifted it to us to enjoy together (along with a very very sweet and memorable card). That sounds corny and made-up, but it's true. It is therefore sort of a meaningful gift, even though it came off (EYEROLL) a registry list.

This is one of those occasions when it's a good idea to listen to the giftees--they're telling you what will be used and loved in their home! Listen to them, and your gift will be cherished like our incredible Dutch oven.
posted by anonnymoose at 11:26 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing about registries. People think they're filled with basic, boring crap. But you know what? That's what I want. I cook every day. Upgraded equipment makes that process a lovely, more efficient experience. And it makes my kitchen look nicer, which by default, makes me happy.

By the time most folks get married these days, they've already assembled a house full of crappy kitchen utensils, cookware, and worn linens. Many of these things were purchased in college or on an extreme budget right after graduating....but because they don't break or go bad, they're never replaced.

I still have a plastic colander that I hate, but haven't worked up the extra cash to spring for a nice metal Oxo one. I would seriously LOVE someone who bought me an Oxo colander for my wedding or for Christmas! Same with my kitchen knives, bath towels, frying pans, and serving bowls. Someone bought me a beautiful wood cutting board, and I seriously love the warmth it adds to my counter, and the utility. It was a huge upgrade from my warped plastic things. Don't overestimate how much people want and appreciate their everyday dishes, cookware, linens and other basic items.

I don't want random crap in my house - more to clean, organize, store, and think about. Wanting to immediately discard some random gift makes me feel guilty, so I end up keeping it for awhile, then moving it to the basement, and finally getting rid of it. Why put me through that whole process? Just let me enjoy the really nice salt grinder that I would use every single day, and that would be a huge pleasure to use compared to the crappy plastic semi-broken one from the grocery store.

The only alternatives are:
(1) Gift card to Amazon or a locally known restaurant, or room service at their honeymoon hotel
(2) Nice wine which can be used for a 1st or 3rd or 5th anniversary, and only if you know they both enjoy wine.

Pro tip: when you get the registry info, log on within a few days, and just buy something within your budget. Then it's done. You'll get something good within your price range - a nice serving platter, or colander, or set of spatulas, or mixing bowls, or part of a place setting. That way you're not stuck buying the shower curtain liner or something. No stress on your side, and a happy couple on their side!
posted by barnone at 2:22 PM on November 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seriously, cash or a check. I think this is even better than something off the registry because the bride and groom will get MORE with $ than you will. Most stores offer a 10-20% completion discount for registries. So you can buy one set of drinking glasses that costs $40, plus shipping, plus tax, plus packaging/gift wrap OR give a $50 check and the bride and groom can get those glasses plus $10 towards something else.

We got a lot of off-registry gifts. They were all bad. A tea set (pot and 2 cups). Decorative blown glass plates (size enormous). Monogrammed wine glasses (his last initial, I didn't change my name). Coasters. A crystal globe. An oddly sized frame. I know they were all well intentioned and we appreciated the thought, but we would rather have had just a card with a thoughtful note. All of these things were work to get rid of. First the feeling guilty, then trying to find the stores these things came from, then trying to return them, then taking whatever we couldn't return to Goodwill.

The cards were the best, I made a book out of them. We pull it out on our anniversary and read the cards together :)
posted by tealcake at 3:37 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The only time I go off-registry is if I know the couple cook, in which case I might get them a spice assortment. Otherwise it's registry all the way, for the reasons people have explained above.
posted by Lexica at 7:21 PM on November 3, 2012

Best answer: All the above arguments against non-registry gifts may just make me change my ways. BUT, if you are determined, then a good quality electronic picture frame has often proven the perfect gift for a couple who are about to start generating a lot of family photos together. It takes up very little room and can hold and display thousands of photographs.
posted by wjm at 3:59 AM on November 4, 2012

Best answer: I'm getting married next year and actually would prefer not to have a registry and look forward to all the interesting off-registry things my family and friends come up with that they can't get at the mall. (I keep creative company so this should be fun.) Seriously, we were both living for several years alone, merged our things into an apartment and then bought a house together more than a year ago. We really don't need anything. We already have duplicates of many household items, even after divesting alot. Even "upgrading" what we have seems kind of wasteful since a lot of what we already own is quality. However, we'll do a registry just because lots of people don't like to get creative and our grandparents would probably find it easier to have a list. So, personally, I'm going against the tide here and saying do something fun and original!

The two best received gifts I gave friends at there weddings were not, strictly speaking, on their registries.
• For a pair of my college friends getting married (and buying a fixer-upper) I made them a wooden sign for their front door that says "THE <3 (LASTNAME)S". I got a wood plaque and wood letters at the craft store. I decoupaged newspapers on the plaque (they were both reporters, but if your friends are travelers you could go with maps, or like books, with old novels, etc.) and painted the letters black and the heart red. It took about an hour and didn't cost much at all, so I packaged it with a gift certificate to Home Depot. They told me it was their favorite, most memorable gift.
• For two friends that my fiancé introduced to each other in college (he had gone to elementary school with one and high school with the other), we gave them the bookend wine racks they registered for (~$30) and to personalize it, a nice bottle of wine from the small winery based in the college town where they attended school and met. (They had moved several states away, but we were still close enough to make a day trip, so this was something special that tied them back to the place they first met.) It was a hybrid gift of taking something they registered for but making it more interesting and personal.

As for ideas... Personally, get them something fun that they can use together. Such as:
• A giftcard to a local restaurant and a pair of movie ticket vouchers as a reminder that they should still make time for dates when they're married not "just dating."
• Tickets to a local comedy club, for the same reason as above.
• A board or card game. Something they can play together or at a dinner party. Depending on their sense of humor, one truly hilarious game we've recently picked up is "Cards Against Humanity," which is sort of like Apples to Apples for horrible (or politically incorrect) people. Apples to Apples is also good but it seems like everyone already owns a copy. As for two-player games, Carcassone is simple but fun for two players.
• A subscription for one-year of Pandora, Spotify, Netflix, etc. (assuming they don't already have it and like these types of services).
• A donation to a cause they care about. Honestly, I'd love to see money go to the local library or humane society, since we're book and animal lovers. They could use the money more than we could use a new set of pots and pans.

If you're looking to DIY/something crafty...
• Pre-make a scrapbook for their wedding memories and include a gift card to like shutterfly or CVS for them to print photos. Scrapbooks are incredibly time consuming, so if all they have to do is pop in photos and write a few lines, it will make memorializing their wedding that much simpler.
• Make a nice wooden plaque for their home with their family name (make sure she's taking his name). Maybe get them some large wooden letters of their first initials and spray paint them to hang on the wall. This only works if it fits their style and you're sufficiently crafty enough to make it professionally.
• Look on Etsy and see if you can find something personalized to their names, professions or even home states. I'd love, for example, to have wood cut outs of my fiancé and my home states with a heart by our hometown to hang side-by-side. Also, the whole poster print of names/wedding details in a picture frame is pretty popular right now, so you could make it in Photoshop and have it printed/framed, or have someone on Etsy do it for you.
• If there's going to be time between their ceremony and reception (and your friends would be cool with you snapping a photo or two during the ceremony or in the receiving line), try to find a CVS or one-hour photo place that could print the picture immediately. Buy a nice quality picture frame and wrap or bag that with the just-printed photo inside. It would be very special and unexpected to have an immediate glimpse of the already fading memory when they open gifts. (You could make the high-quality frame itself the gift, but the image a placeholder for their favorite formal photo.)

As for buying off their registry, I'd advocate something like what we did above with the registry wine rack but the wine that had a special personal connection to them. What that extra something is will vary depending on who they are and what's registered. Take a look at the registry and see what they've asked for and how you could take something inexpensive up a notch. If they registered for a mixing bowl, for example, buy it but also get them the dry ingredients to make their favorite cookies or a quality cookbook. If they registered for a tool set, get them part of it and a gift card to the hardware store. If they registered for camping equipment, get them a metal smores sticks along with chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers.

Good luck!
posted by ilikemethisway at 2:17 PM on November 5, 2012

Response by poster: Great stuff here! Helpful pro-registry insight into a perspective that is just totally foreign to me -- and even still, some good off-registry ideas.

I especially liked

FYI, right now I'm thinking about actually going old-school, making a 'mixtape' with a long personalized letter that corresponds track-by-track with the playlist -- and for good measure, purchasing (or otherwise providing :) the accompanying albums from each track as part of a digital jukebox compendium alongside it. This only really works for couples that I know appreciate music but don't often take time to discover new stuff themselves... and it also will take a lot of time, but that's time I would gladly spend (as opposed to shopping, which makes me anxious and sad).

Thanks, AskMe!
posted by greggish at 6:36 AM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

P.S. - I always do cutting boards. I like them because a nice cutting board is a little bit of a luxury item, but you can use it every day and they can be really pretty. If they hate them, they're small and easily stored away; but a really nice cutting board is surprisingly nice to have. Plus extra cutting boards are never a bad thing (can double as serving trays, etc). And there are lots of options out there at a range of price points, so you can personalize it by picking out different ones for each friend.

example 1
example 2
posted by annie o at 12:21 PM on November 10, 2012

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