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What To Give At Wedding Events As A Guest: Gifts, Money And More Ideas

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Most wedding invitations come with a host of other pre-wedding functions to attend — from showers to sangeets. As a guest, navigating the gift-giving etiquette can be quite challenging.

Louise Fox, of Etiquette Ladies, says the amount of events and what kind of gifts to bring to them has made people think twice about attending.

"You could be invited to many weddings and it can be difficult to afford it," she said. She still shudders when she remembers the great gift-basket fiasco from a couple of years ago when a bride berated a guest for not covering the cost of his plate with his gift.

So do you pay for your plate?

"It's a way to commemorate a special moment in someone's life."

We spoke to a bunch of experts and the general rule is that guests should stick within their own budgets when considering gifts for the newlyweds. The idea that you should pay for your plate at the reception is a myth.

"The expectation is that the couple is happy to have the guest help them celebrate. To expect tit-for-tat is not generous, gracious or appreciative," Lizzie Post, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette Podcast, told HuffPost Canada. "Gifts are a way the guest can help honour the couple's special day. It's a way to commemorate a special moment in someone's life."

Steven Petrow, civilities columnist with the Washington Post, told the Huffington Post Canada that guests do the following two things:

1) It never hurts to ask the host, wedding party or parents of the couple to gauge what the couple's expectations are.
2) Whatever you decide to give, a card expressing your joy, love and hopes for the couple is always appreciated.

Above all, a gift should reflect what you feel comfortable giving.

We've divided the gamut of pre-wedding functions into five categories — functions where your presence is a present or when a small token is sufficient; when to go on and off the registry and when a monetary gift is appreciated. Check it out in the slideshow below.

  • Presence Is Present
    Brand New Images via Getty Images
    Jack & Jills, Stag & Does And Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties

    According to Lizzie Post, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette Podcast, the parties themselves are the gift.

    Raana Chaudhry of Sapna Weddings in Toronto, says that generally bridesmaids and friends split the cost of the party and pay for the bride which often amounts to about $50-$150 each.

    Stag & Doe/Jack & Jills can function as both a joint party for the couple or double as a way for them to raise a little money for the wedding. If guests are being charged for admission then there should be no expectation for a gift.
  • Small Tokens
    allgord via Getty Images
    Engagement Parties, Destination Weddings And Going As A Plus One

    As a general rule of thumb, it's best to never go empty-handed but Leanne Pepper, general manager at The Faculty Club at the University of Toronto and certified etiquette coach, suggests that a small token should suffice.

    "The purpose of an engagement party is to bring family and friends together and not with the expectations of gifts," she says. A bottle of wine or something like a picture frame are appropriate.

    It's the same for destination weddings as the guest is incurring a large expense to be present. After all, according to Pepper, the best gifts are all the special moments and memories.

    When going as a plus one, depending on how well you know the couple, even a nice card would suffice.
  • Consult The Registry
    Barry Austin Photography via Getty Images
    Showers And Receptions

    The purpose of a shower is to shower the couple with gifts. Check with the host to see if the couple is registered anywhere.

    Many times the registry contains things for the marital home but if you'd like to get something specific for a member of the couple, now would be the time. However, Chaudhry suggests staying away from racy lingerie as parents might be present and could be in for a shock.

    The couple may have a registry for the reception as well. Asking members of the wedding party or parents would be the best way to find out. With a registry you have the option of spending what you feel comfortable with but be sure to check early!
  • Monetary Gifts Are Appreciated
    Vivek Sharma via Getty Images
    It's customary in many Asian and some European cultures to give a monetary gift at the reception.

    According to Chaudhry, with South Asian weddings, the difference in giving depends on generation and closeness to the couple.

    Younger guests give around $100-$150 per person whereas older generations give about $50-$75. Close family and friends tend to give much more than that, a tradition shared by Chinese weddings according to Michelle Yuan of Asia Wedding Network.

    "It's traditional in Chinese weddings to give money in a little red packet in amounts that end in six or eight as this shows your wish for the couple to be happy and wealthy in their marriage. Red packet money should also consist of even amounts of money because they represent pairs," Yuan says.

    In contrast, it's customary to give denominations ending in one in South Asian cultures.

    The best way to avoid a mistake is to ask friends and family prior to the wedding to get a sense of what the cultural expectations are.
  • Going Off The Typical Registry
    Dynamic Graphics via Getty Images

    Cultural Functions And When There's No Registry

    Sagans, a function typical in North Indian weddings, do not come with registries for guests. They are intimate parties where close family and friends are invited to wish the bride and groom well, Chaudhry says.

    Guests bring gold to gift the bride and groom to prepare them for their future. It's the only gift-giving function in North Indian weddings, other than the wedding reception.

    On the other hand, more and more couples are opting not to register for home furnishings. Pepper puts this down to couples having the pieces they need to furnish their homes prior to getting married. So instead, couples might ask guests to donate to their favourite charity, have a honeymoon registry or ask for no gifts at all.

    If you still want to give a gift or you want to get more personal with it, Pepper suggests something like theatre tickets or a dinner for two.
  • LGBTQ Weddings
    Rob Melnychuk via Getty Images
    According to Bernadette Smith, President of Gay Wedding Institute, couples who identify as LGBTQ are much less likely to have registries and bachelor/bachelorette parties than opposite-sex couples.

    She puts LGBTQ couples opting out down to the fact that a lot of the traditions are based on strict gender roles. However, she says that the data from June 2015 to June 2016 shows an upward shift in LGBTQ couples adopting opposite-sex couple pre-wedding functions.

    But remember, it's called a shower, not a bridal shower; a wedding party, not a bridal party.

    Steven Petrow, civilities columnist with the Washington Post, urges guests to be mindful. "It's important to show respect by gift-giving," he says. So the same rules apply when invited.