Can you have your wedding cake and open gifts too?
July 18, 2006 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Cheapskatefilter: If I'm traveling out of town (1500 miles) to a wedding for people who live in town, do I have to get them a gift?

Known groom for 20+ years, but her friends are in her hometown so the wedding is there. I found out about it after I already had something big on the calendar so I'm making it work out and they know it.

If I didn't go, then I could have gotten them something really nice, but it meant a lot to them for me to be there so I'm going and as a result have much less to spend to the point of it being embarassing.

At what point and with how much grace do I say, "I care enough to show up, but I plunked down 600 clams to get here, that's your gift."?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total)
You have to get a gift. Sorry.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:01 PM on July 18, 2006

Couples don't care about gifts and understand the expenses of travel, unless they're petty. If you can't afford a gift in addition to your present, then don't sweat it.
posted by deadfather at 2:01 PM on July 18, 2006

... in addition to your travel ...
posted by deadfather at 2:02 PM on July 18, 2006

Yeah, you're on the hook for a gift. But it doesn't have to be an awesome gift. Fifty bucks on an inexpensive crystal serving platter or a juicer or something like that will be fine.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:03 PM on July 18, 2006

Yes, you have to get them a gift. Get them something cheapie off their registry.

And also, I'm sure you mean well but they're going to feel guilted I think if you strenuously hint what a pain it was to get there. I think it's meant to be a joyous occasion so if it's easier for you to send a gift instead of going, then do that and go out to dinner with them some other time.
posted by clairezulkey at 2:08 PM on July 18, 2006

i'm a fan a gifts that aren't just cheap crap that won't get used. if you don't want to spend a lot, give something that they can experience, maybe even with you if they enjoy your company. ex: promise to get them a great meal , a six pack of quality beer and enjoy it all with them one evening. as a busy person who doesnt always get enough quality time with all my friends, i really appreciate that kind of gift.
posted by cubby at 2:09 PM on July 18, 2006

What would happen if you didn't go and got them a $600 gift?
posted by hoborg at 2:12 PM on July 18, 2006

Why oh why is wedding gift-giving considered compulsory? Why must we promote this quid-pro-quo, the very antithesis of the spirit of gift-giving? A wedding is too often some robotic formula of an occasion, instead of a celebration with friends and family. Whether it's $10,000 or $5 a head, it shouldn't be about what you get in return; what you get in return is irrelevant to how much you spend on the party or receive in gifts.

Which do you think the bride and groom would rather have: a nice gift in your absence, or your presence with no gift? If you think they'd choose the former, then oblige them--some friends they are.

Either way, I agree that this should not be discussed with them. They have enough on their mind without being privy to your internal wranglings.
posted by deadfather at 2:15 PM on July 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Get them something small... do a search for their names on the wedding registries of Bed, Bath and Beyond, Linens and Things, Amazon, Pottery Barn, etc. and buy something for $15. OR if you know other people in your situation, go in with them, each throwing in $15.
posted by k8t at 2:16 PM on July 18, 2006

No, you don't have to give a gift!

The decision is really up to you, and keep that in mind. You could simply not go (because it's your life/money/time) *nor* give a gift, and send a card.

Give what you want, but make sure it's freely given. And if it ends up you can only freely give a $20 glass pitcher, then that's that.

The bottom line is that they are your friends, and a wedding gift shouldn't make or break the friendship.
posted by Pocahontas at 2:20 PM on July 18, 2006

I would say that it totally depends on your relationship with your friend. I would give something as a token of your congratulations, even if it's a bottle of wine, a box of microwave popcorn, and a $5 Blockbuster certificate. If you friend knows you had to spend a lot to get to his wedding and knows it was a sacrifice for you, he shouldn't be surprised that you didn't get him five place settings of china.

It depends also on your financial situation-- if you're rolling in it, then your friend might be insulted at the lack of a gift. But if it was a stretch to even make it to the wedding and your friend knows that, then even a card with a note-- "Good for a special meal cooked by me when you come to visit me" would be ok, in my opinion, as long as you honor it and make it special.

But I was a bride who cared more about the people and friendships than I did the presents-- I can't speak for your friend.
posted by orangemiles at 2:20 PM on July 18, 2006

Maybe I'm an asshole, but I had to travel 6000 three times in 2 years for my best friends' weddings, and I didn't get any of them gifts. I honestly considered what I had to spend a kind of gift, as it allowed me to share their day with them. It felt like enough to me, and I believe it felt like enough to them (unless there's some simmmering resentment I haven't heard about, but I doubt it).

If any of my friends traveled to Seattle from NYC for my wedding, I absolutely would not expect a gift.
posted by tristeza at 2:20 PM on July 18, 2006

I'm aware that I am way out on one end of the spectrum here, but I usually try to bring tasteful small gifts that represent my feelings about my friends and my joy at their marriage. Usually this is some combination of something from here (local syrups and cheeses) and something from our friendship like photos, a book, a keepsake. I put it together and wrap it to make it look lovely. I write some sort of a letter, nice paper and envelope, etc. People who invite me to their wedding generally know that I earn very little money and that travelling, while something I'll gladly do, can be financially taxing. I've never, ever had a problem with this approach.

Keep in mind that according to more standard etiquette, you have up to a year to get them a gift, so if it's just a "I don't have the cash NOW" situation you can plan on something else later. Your sacrifice to get to their wedding is, at some level, something you are doing for YOU, not some sort of big favor to them unless you are actually in the wedding. In short, your friends do not want you to go broke celebrating their union.
posted by jessamyn at 2:20 PM on July 18, 2006

At what point and with how much grace do I say, "I care enough to show up, but I plunked down 600 clams to get here, that's your gift."

You don't. If you honestly think it's possible to send that message with grace, then you don't understand the concept of grace. Suck it up and give them a gift. It doesn't have to be expensive and it doesn't have to be lavish, but you have the give them a gift. That's just the way it works.

Why oh why is wedding gift-giving considered compulsory?

Yeah, and why do we have to shake people's hands when we meet them. Grow up. Other people's weddings are not the place for your adolescent rebellions.
posted by cribcage at 2:21 PM on July 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

I don't believe you have to give them a gift. I've been to two weddings this year that I had to travel to -- at great personal expense -- and I did not give gifts. I am getting married (in 12 days!!!), and although registered I have explicitly multiple times asked out guests not to get us anything and not to feel obligated to get us anything.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:31 PM on July 18, 2006

Go the wedding and bring a gift, but you don't have to get them a freakin' home theater system. Troll your local vintage stores -- you might be able to find a real, one-of-a-kind, non-bank-breaking treasure that when you see it, you'll think, "My friends would love this."
posted by Gator at 2:32 PM on July 18, 2006

I can't give a recommendation as such, but a bit over a year ago, we made a haul up to Vancouver from LA for a friend's wedding (a 1300 mile trip).

But we also made it a multipurpose trip, using the trip as an excuse to visit friends in Seattle.

We got them 100 Euros to spend on their honeymoon in Paris.
posted by chimaera at 2:37 PM on July 18, 2006

Yes, you have to get them a gift.
posted by onlyconnect at 2:38 PM on July 18, 2006

Also, you have a year to get a gift so if you can't afford one now, maybe later.

In addition, I think face-time at a long-distance wedding that you don't really want to go to is overrated--the bride and groom will be way too busy to spend much quality time with you. I went to a long-distance wedding recently and no, I didn't get to hang with my friends who were getting married at all. But we went b/c we wanted to be a part of it and also we were intrigued by the destination. We got them some bar stuff off their registry with the note "Think of us whenever you get plastered," and even though the gift wasn't personal, the thought was.
posted by clairezulkey at 2:38 PM on July 18, 2006

Yeah, and why do we have to shake people's hands when we meet them. Grow up. Other people's weddings are not the place for your adolescent rebellions.

This from the person making ad hominems on an Internet forum. I don't want to take up too much more space in someone else's question, but this is a terrible analogy. Handshakes don't require debits from your bank account. Questioning a tradition that in certain situations causes real harm is far from adolescent. A number of people at my wedding did not bring a gift because of the expense of travel. Were I to expect one any way--now that would be adolescent.

All this said, a thoughtful gift that requires more time and creative energy, and less money, is a great solution.
posted by deadfather at 2:44 PM on July 18, 2006

according to more standard etiquette, you have up to a year to get them a gift

Emily Post disagrees with this, for whatever that may be worth.

Miss Manners also feels that a gift should be given even if you paid to travel to the wedding.
posted by Gator at 2:45 PM on July 18, 2006

While I agree that a $15 gift (I like the wine/popcorn/blockbuster gift) is a thoughtful gift, and I would always give a gift no matter how far I traveled, I think this:
You don't. If you honestly think it's possible to send that message with grace, then you don't understand the concept of grace. Suck it up and give them a gift. It doesn't have to be expensive and it doesn't have to be lavish, but you have the give them a gift. That's just the way it works.
is awfully dense. It's a gift, not an entrance fee. I say, if you're feeling cash-strapped, sometime between the wedding and present-opening ceremony, catch the groom, tell him you spent your wad getting out here, but that you'd love to do something like pet-sit (or baby-sit, or some such non-monetary gift) whenever they want to get away and have a nice romatic weekend. Putting something like that in a card can make you feel like a cheapskate as they pass the card around and everyone kinda smirks at you, but it'll be every bit as appreciated as the $50 decorative bowl.

A couple I'm friends with recently got married... I hadn't spent much time with them, but got to know them both very well over email and IM... As my gift, I volunteered to drive them from the wedding to the reception, stopped to get some of their favorite drinks (Olive Garden has this ice-cream drink.. I don't know what it was, but it was awesome) on the way, and made sure they knew that whatever they wanted was on me, as my gift to them. (He started to get nervous when he realized he didn't have his wallet in his tux)
posted by hatsix at 2:49 PM on July 18, 2006

At what point and with how much grace do I say, "I care enough to show up, but I plunked down 600 clams to get here, that's your gift."?

At no point whatsoever do you say that.

If you're not going to get a gift, fine. Unless it's a spectacularly small wedding, and it sounds like it's not if there are a set of the bride's friends, they're not going to notice. Unless they're some sort of amazing jerk who keeps a list of people who didn't bring gifts.

But for God's sake don't go out of your way to draw attention to it, or make a fuss about what a pain in the ass it was for you to get there. That's not graceful, that's being a jerk.

A token would be preferable to no gift. Frankly, for weddings I'd say that something cheap from their registry is preferable to some manner of gewgaw that really means a lot to you, summarizes your feelings in some deep and special way, and that you think is just the most perfect thing ever. Weddings are practical affairs, and lots of people have wedding-gift gewgaws cluttering up closets and getting dragged out if the giver is in town. Far fewer people have too many spatulas, or suffer the infinite indignities of an extra electronic thermometer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:55 PM on July 18, 2006

You don't *have* to gift them anything..but if you feel like odd man out or embarassed, just get some inexpensive crystal thingie + card..(25-30$)..and that should take care of both probs.
slight derail: I don't know if it's the norm across the spectrum in American weddings (I am learning, help me) -- but I found it v.odd when I first heard that couples actually publish a list of items they'd want as gifts and guests pick them off the list. Hulloo!! Isn't it as good as saying, we just bonked down $10K on this lavish wedding and we expect you to get these things worth $5K for us. Isn't a "gift" something you give voluntarily? Personally I belong in the camp of simple weddings.
posted by forwebsites at 2:57 PM on July 18, 2006

etiquette is what you use when true sentiment does not exist. wedding etiquette in particular is a convoluted set of outdated rules and regulations that emerged over time to try to ensure that somebody's mother-in-law doesn't get pissed off--though no matter what, somebody's mother-in-law is going to get pissed off, and there's nothing anybody can do about it...

you've known the groom over 20 years, so etiquette is not necessary--i mean, considering your friendship, doesn't it seem that calling upon some rule made up by someone else adds a layer of artificiality to your relationship? why not write a thank-you card everytime he buys you a beer!

...and after all the time, effort, and expense they will have put into the wedding up to that point, your friends are pretty much going to be sick of all these silly rules themselves...

with people who are not close to you, etiquette comes into play, but its only as strict as you're willing to accept...any bride and groom who expects a gift doesn't deserve one, and you have no obligation to go beyond what you are comfortable and able to do...i would tend to get a gift because i would not accept an invitation from someone i wouldn't get one for...but if i were broke or otherwise unable to, i would show up to celebrate with them without apology and without explanation...

...and in those cases where someone in the wedding party calls into question my motives with regard to some point of etiquette, my policy is to insist on knowing whether the happy couple have followed the ultimate golden tradition of not having sex before marriage...
posted by troybob at 2:58 PM on July 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

A token would be preferable to no gift. Frankly, for weddings I'd say that something cheap from their registry is preferable to some manner of gewgaw that really means a lot to you, summarizes your feelings in some deep and special way, and that you think is just the most perfect thing ever. Weddings are practical affairs, and lots of people have wedding-gift gewgaws cluttering up closets and getting dragged out if the giver is in town. Far fewer people have too many spatulas, or suffer the infinite indignities of an extra electronic thermometer.

I agree. I had a pair of very arty friends get married and I was thinking that they'd want something very personal and off-registry until the bride said "Actually, we spent a LOT of time and thought figuring out what we wanted to put on the registry and setting it up." So even if it feels weird spending $20 on a plate, they want that plate.
posted by clairezulkey at 2:59 PM on July 18, 2006

Well, for what it's worth, we specifically told one friend of mine to not bring a gift since we knew it was a financial stretch for him to come at all.

In general, gifts are optional, but most people do expect them (for better or worse). If you decide to skip the gift (we didn't mind that a few people (including the one above) did, a card would probably be appreciated.
posted by JMOZ at 3:08 PM on July 18, 2006

If I knew someone for 20+ years I would get a gift, no matter how much I spent on travel. It doesn't matter if it's cheap or expensive--but if you've known him for 20+ years, you should hopefully know him well enough to be able to pick out a present that's personal and meaningful but also not too expensive.

I wouldn't do it because it's required of the wedding. I'd do it because it says "Congratulations on your wedding, here's something to remember it and my presence at it by".
posted by schroedinger at 3:13 PM on July 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Forwebsites, that tradition of making a list comes from the times when people got married earlier in life and were making a new home directly from their parents' homes.

So they needed things like silverware, plates, sheets, towels, vaccuum cleaner, etc.

Nowadays, many people live on their own for years and buy all of this stuff themselves. And a lot of couples live together and merge their stuff anyway.

But, back then, it was important for a couple to choose a "plate set" or something that all of their family and friends could split up the cost of.

If I got married tomorrow, I'd ask for a Dyson vaccuum cleaner and a Scoomba, but we have way too much household stuff already!
posted by k8t at 3:18 PM on July 18, 2006

When Mr. Schnee and I got married, people had to travel across the country to come to the wedding. I no longer remember who gave us a gift, and who didn't (and it was a really small wedding). You know why? I was thrilled they came, but I remember they were there.

When we've gone to people's weddings out of town, we usually give a small gift. Something from where we are from or sometimes a homemade item.

Anyway, it's really tacky to say, "You're not getting a gift because my trip was expensive!" If you don't want to give a gift, give a card (include a picture you have of the couple if you have one - bonus if it's in a frame), and include a nice note about, "I'm so glad I was able to be here for your day. I'm thrilled you two are married and....." blah blah blah memory lane.
posted by schnee at 3:19 PM on July 18, 2006

The idea of saying, "My travel and my presence is your gift!" seems kind of egotistical to me. Maybe it's not, but I wouldn't do it. But your friends obviously know that you spent a lot to come out there, so getting something inexpensive from the registry or something cheap but personal (and old photo of you and the groom, a voucher for a meal you can cook yourself later) seems appropriate.

Also, just as a warning, these are people who just plunked down several grand for a dress she'll wear once, flowers that won't last through the weekend, and a bunch of expensive extras. They may or may not be sympathetic to your $600 expense after eyeing up their own bill...not that their attitude is right, but it may be how they're feeling. A token gift may be more well-recieved than coming empty-handed.
posted by christinetheslp at 3:25 PM on July 18, 2006

Unless your friends are complete cads, they probably won't notice the lack of gift. And if you really are hollowing out your wallet on this trip, then don't get one.

But if you can afford a little something—$25 or so—get it. What's another $25 after you're already on the hook for $600? Something that is inexpensive but shows you put some thought into picking something special for them is a nice gesture. Picking something off their registry (if they have one) is also a nice gesture, because it's stuff they're telling you they need.
posted by adamrice at 3:31 PM on July 18, 2006

Why do gifts have to be spendy? Do you have any art skills? Writing? Carpentry? Glasswork? Whatever?

Make them a mix CD that reminds you of them, then create the CD sleeve with the liner notes that explain it.

One of the coolest wedding presents I've ever heard of was old computer hardware converted into an MP3 jukebox using Otto (used as the dj/request kiosk at the wedding). I mean damn, you can do that cheap, but it shows time, effort and skills the couple might not have access to.

I'm of the "it's the thought that counts" camp. You've travelled a ton and spent mad cash. That shows you care. They may even feel like you resent it (which you may a little).

But even if you wrote a long, interesting letter to both of them on your plane ride and plunked it in a card, that's a gift too, yeah? And that shows that you're happy to take part, have warm wishes, etc. etc.
posted by Gucky at 3:53 PM on July 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

A well thought-out card, original painting or photograph would mean more to me than a pricey gift.
posted by starman at 4:02 PM on July 18, 2006

Gifts are never compulsory. A card with thoughtful best wishes is enough. You could say "Dear Jane and Michael, I really wanted to be with you for your wedding because you and your friendship mean so much to me." If you have any talents to make a special gift, that would be great. If you have an old photo of your friend, get it copied and frame it up. Whatever you do, do it with good cheer.
posted by theora55 at 5:21 PM on July 18, 2006

I don't remember a single gift from my wedding, but I remember all the people who made an extra effort to be there.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:39 PM on July 18, 2006

Yes. But given Crash's wise reminder above, it doesn't have to be anything expensive.
posted by LarryC at 6:00 PM on July 18, 2006

No, you don't. There is no such thing as a mandatory gift (unless they are King Charles I). And if the couple ever mentions it, they would be the rude ones.
posted by jb at 6:13 PM on July 18, 2006

In terms of etiquette, it would be polite and appropriate to get them a gift. Price doesn't matter; it's a gift.

In return, they are obligated to completely ignore it if you get them nothing, and treat you just as graciously.

Get them something small (meaning, what you can afford), meaningful, and that shows you definitely put thought into it.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:59 PM on July 18, 2006

First off, no. You do not need to buy them a present. This is a tradition, but certainly not a law. There's also a tradition that says that the bride has a certain amount of time to send out personal thank you cards. I don't receive many of those.

We buy close friends what is appropriate to them. (I despise the idea of a 'buy me something from this expensive list we've chosen', and always have. Right up there with money trees. You want money? Don't throw an expensive wedding.) One couple we knew who was into Victoriana got books on the period. Another couple who were into roleplaying got books they really wanted but which they couldn't afford due to wedding costs.

If you have pictures of them as they met, dated and became more an more involved, a scrapbook of these pictures would be a very thoughtful, and memory-giving present. (Most of us don't have enough pics of our "courting" time, after all.) There are all kinds of thoughtful things you can do that aren't horribly expensive. A letter telling them of your memories of them as they met and became close. Anything that is personal to the three of you. It's more personal than going out and buying something off a checklist, anyway.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 8:15 PM on July 18, 2006

You are never obligated to buy a gift. But pointing out that you didn't get a gift and why is just asking them to feel guilty about you spending so much money to see them. Believe me, they already know and appreciate how much trouble you're taking.

Unless it's a very small wedding, they probably won't notice the lack of gift unless you point it out. Years later, when you get married, they'll have this conversation:

Her: What are we getting for anonymous?
Him: I don't know. What did anonymous get us?
Her: Hmm. Oh God, isn't that awful? I can't remember!
Him: Man, do you remember when anonymous danced the funky chicken with your grandmother? That was awesome.

But if you feel awkward not getting them a gift, then something inexpensive is totally fine - especially since you're spending so much to get there, but an inexpensive gift would be fine regardless.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:30 PM on July 18, 2006

I was recently in the same situation, Bride's hometown wedding not where she lives, about the same spend on travel. Happily the bridal couple had the good grace to put on the card that they were not bothered about a gift but would prefer to see us and knew that it would be quite costly for many to get there. As many have advised here I got them something small from their wedding list. However, I could easily have not done and I don't think a failure would really have shown up. Are they planning to have a big pile of gifts at the wedding? Most people just get them delivered way after the ceremony don't they?After people pick them off a list on the internet or at the store? So you're not going to be shamed in front of a crowd if you don't have some high priced gift. The bride and groom might notice down the line. What would their reaction be? What impact would actually getting a gift have on it? Would they be bothered if you don't get them something? I'd suggest that it is at the crux of your concerns.

No need to mention what you paid to get there.
posted by biffa at 4:36 AM on July 19, 2006

Just wanting to join the group saying that a gift is not mandatory. A card (as someone else mentioned) would be nice. *Not* mentioning that you didn't get a gift b/c of the travel costs would also be nice. I'm betting they'll figure that out for themselves. The best gift (sounding corny already - sorry!) will be for you to be there with them and truly enjoy the event.
posted by chrisubus at 7:01 AM on July 19, 2006

Gifts are always optional, however, etiquette and conventional wisdom both indicate that you ought to get them a gift.
As lovely as it is to be surrounded by friends and family, people generally do not feel as though their guests are doing them a favor by showing up at their wedding; it's generally considered a mutually-agreeable situation. (Happy to have you = happy to be here)
A $15-$20 item off their registry is perfectly fine.

One other thing to consider: Since attendees are generally expected to give gifts, brides (or sometimes grooms) tend to try their best to keep good records of who-gave-what, in order to make sure the thank-you cards are sent to acknowledge every gift. This means that not giving anything can result in a phone call a year after the wedding when your friend is apologetic that they accidently forgot to record or thank you for your gift.
"Oh, ha, ha! No need to apologize, I am not giving you a gift at all!"
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:37 AM on July 19, 2006

Defn. Gift: Something that is bestowed voluntarily and without compensation.

A gift never HAS to be given. Period. Stop saying it HAS to be because that's not true. Tradition, whatever, let it go people.

The cost of going makes it so you could only afford a gift that you would be embarrased about. That is reason one not to give aren't things you give in an embarrased, reluctant, or compulsary way.

I've given 3 gifts out of 20 weddings. The rest I've done something for the couple as part of the wedding activities, or something for them afterwards. (Transportation, singing, decorating, cakes, childcare, cleanup, etc.) The best, most heartfelt thank you's I've gotten have been for those other actions done for them, not the gifts. Maybe I've just been blessed with better friends than those here that say you HAVE to give a gift for a wedding. They appreciated me using my abilities for them more than what my money could buy them.

Nothing else needs be said since you say they know what your situation is in coming to the wedding. If they will be living near you, give them a card with an invitation for a weekend day out for some activity and dinner you know they will enjoy for some date long after the hustle and bustle has died down, your bank account has recovered, and you can all relax and enjoy it. They will appreciate it more and so will you.
posted by mattfn at 8:44 AM on July 19, 2006

As interesting as all this is (and it is) I think the real answer is this:

You're the only one here who knows these people, so you tell us. DO you have to get them a gift?

As others said, gift giving etiquette theories vary. In a perfectly structured world you're obligated to get them one and they're obligated to never mention if it you don't. But you're the one who knows the couple and knows if they'll notice, knows if they'll mention it and knows if they will hold a grudge.

If it was my wedding you were coming to and you were a valued friend I'd much rather have a photo of us from some past occasion, or perhaps tickets for us to do something together a few months after the wedding. If you sent me a card with REDEEMABLE FOR ONE DINNER AT [insert local place here] FOR THE NEW COUPLE WITH ME AND MY PARTNER TO LOOK AT YOUR WEDDING PHOTOS AND CATCH UP AFTER THE HONEYMOON printed in it I would be happier with that than any blender.

But that's me. These are your friends - don't you know what they're gonna care about?
posted by phearlez at 11:46 AM on July 19, 2006

Defer the gift until you can afford to do something nice for them and won't resent doing it.
posted by JamesMessick at 1:39 PM on July 20, 2006

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