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Giving — and getting — the perfect wedding gift

Published July 8, 2013 10:57 am

Personal finance • Monitor your budget when gifting in wedding-rich Utah.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By now you may have heard or read about a truly awful exchange between a newlywed couple and a gift-giving guest.

The story making the rounds on the Internet goes that a wedding guest gave a couple a gift basket filled with high-end food items, including tricolor pasta and gourmet croutons. The next day the bride texted the gift-giver to say thanks, but that she's gluten intolerant, and she asked for the receipt. The following day the bride's bride (it's a same-sex couple) texted the guest with this:

"I'm not sure if it's the first wedding you have been to, but for your next wedding... People give envelopes. I lost out on $200 covering you and your dates plate... And got fluffy whip and sour patch kids in return. Just a heads up for the future :) [all sic]"

The conversation continues to spiral from there, with the guest at one point responding:

"The message you sent to me today was by far the most inconsiderate, immature, greedy and asinine thing I have every had the displeasure of seeing."

First reported by TheSpec.com in Canada, the meme is difficult to verify, but in some ways it doesn't matter. Whether real or imagined, the conversation highlights the conundrum many of us face: What is appropriate etiquette when it comes to wedding gift giving?

What to give • According to a 2010 survey by TheKnot.com, the Beehive State is the least expensive place to get married, with couples spending $13,214 on the typical wedding. The cost of getting hitched may be lower here, but the quantity makes up for it; it's common to get three or four wedding invitations a month during the peak late-spring-to-early-fall wedding season, and that can be tough on consumers, says Michelle Leo of Michelle Leo Events.

"We're a state that has a high, high number of weddings," Leo said. "Most Utahns don't have a typical wedding with a sit-down dinner. [Guests] don't want to go all out and buy an expensive gift when it's punch and cookies at an open house and I don't blame them for that."

As a result, Utahns tend to spend less on wedding gifts — $15 to $50 on average — and group gifts are common, says etiquette expert Ellen Reddick of Salt Lake-based Impact Factory. She says deciding how much to spend is a personal decision.

"It's hard to set a value, but you need to be guided by your budget," Reddick said. "Around $25 is quite comfortable for most everyone."

When choosing a gift, think about the ages of the bride and groom and how established they are in life. Younger brides may need household basics such as dishware and sheets; couples in their early 30s may prefer gift cards or cash.

You'll also want to consider your relationship with the couple.

Kelsey Gillespie, a 24-year-old graduate student at BYU, got married in the LDS Bountiful Temple and had a wedding luncheon and evening reception in May. She said because she and her husband are still in school and anticipate moving around a lot in the next few years, they really appreciated cash and gift cards.

"But I also really loved gifts that were more personal, such as a handmade quilt" from a family member, she said.

While homemade items are really popular, especially in Utah County, Heather Openshaw of Be My Guest Wedding & Event Planning says you should be selective when giving DIY gifts.

"I would shy away from those unless you really know the couple," she said.

Above all, though, the presence of presents is always welcome.

"I'm surprised by the number of people who come to a wedding and don't bring a gift," Leo said. "I don't think you should go to a wedding or reception empty-handed."

How to ask • In the months leading up to their Aug. 10 wedding, Gizelle Gopez, 29, and her fiancé registered at Bed Bath & Beyond and inserted some mini-cards in the invitations that stated as much. Then she started reading the bride blogs.

"People are writing that including inserts in invitations is so tacky and I started thinking that our guests will think all we care about is the gift," Gopez said. "But at the end of the day, if your guests really know who you are, they won't take offense that you put a registry card in the invitation. We don't expect people to get us anything."

Gift registries are becoming more common and many couples now choose to let their guests know where they are registered, either through card inserts, personal wedding websites or even on the invitations themselves. That's all OK, Openshaw says.

"That way you don't have a lot of people searching [for your preferences]," she said. "It's a more tactful way to say, 'If you choose to gift, here are some of the items we're interested in'."

In addition to cash, more couples are creating wedding pages and putting links to bank accounts set up for a down payment or honeymoon.

"It was kind of taboo a couple of years ago, but now 60 to 70 percent of my clients do this," Leo says. "I think guests appreciate it because they realize it's just as easy to give online as to go buy a gift."

But engaged couples should never equate the value of one's gift with the cost of having them attend the wedding ceremony or reception, Openshaw says.

"When you're inviting people, you should invite them from the heart," she said. "I just think that's in poor taste."

When to respond • The majority of the 200 people who attended Kelsey Gillespie's wedding events brought gifts and two months after the wedding, she's sent thank you notes to most of them. She says she chose to send cards via "snail mail."

"I didn't feel online notes were as personal," she said.

Etiquette expert Reddick would approve, saying thank you cards should be handwritten on paper and mailed within three months of the wedding.

"That's still the gold standard," she said. "No email, no group thank you or anything like that."

Bride-to-be Gopez plans to go the extra mile, giving all 150 guests at her August wedding fresh water pearls as a token of gratitude.

"We figured with so many people flying in, we definitely wanted to show our appreciation," Gopez said.

That's a far cry from the online tale that started with a half-hearted thank you text and request for a gift receipt.

jnpearce@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jnpearce —

Utah wedding gift etiquette

Confused on what to buy the bride and groom? It's a personal decision, but advice from Utah wedding experts may help:

Look at your budget • If this is your fourth wedding this month, the gifts may have to be more modest, but by all means, bring something or contribute to a group gift.

Think about your relationship with the couple • Is the bride your goddaughter and a regular at Sunday dinners or is she a neighbor's niece who baby-sat for you once? Reserve homemade items only for those closest to you.

Consider the couple's circumstances • Brides and grooms just starting out need basics while couples in their 30s may appreciate contributions to a down payment on a home.

Let the couple decide • You can't go wrong with cash or gift cards. See if the couple has a wedding website, where many post links to gift registries and wedding funds.

Sources • Michelle Leo, Heather Openshaw, Ellen Reddick