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Sticky Situation: If I Donate to a Wedding, Do I Need to Give a Gift?

Posted: 10/09/2013 1:42 pm

Sticky situation:

Our daughter just told us that she is getting married this holiday season. The reception will be in a chic downtown Toronto hotel. It will be a very intimate civil wedding with about 30 guests. She and her future husband have been living together for two years now. They have an adorable one-year-old son, my grandson.

They have informed me that they will be requesting a $150 donation per adult. I am told that this is the new modern way of getting married...

I am wondering if a gift needs to accompany our payment. Some of my friends say no and some say yes.

Please Julie, what is the correct behaviour?

Thank you for enlightening me.


Thank you for the trust that you have confided in me. I admit that this is a Sticky Situation, especially as it involves your daughter.

In general, when you invite guests, you take care of them and all of the fees associated with the activity. In other words: when you invite, you pay.

In your daughter's case, it appears to me, that she more accurately is asking guests to "join them" to celebrate their wedding. Note that the choice of words conveys different guest expectations, especially on a wedding invitation.

While in some cultures the gift of money is the norm, when inviting, it is never appropriate to directly ask for a monetary contribution from guests. It is also never appropriate to mention gifts in an invitation. It's just plain rude.

Even the cute and clever phrase "Your presence is present enough," should be avoided. This mention shifts the focus from the request of presence to the request of a present.

On the other hand, note that it is perfectly acceptable to mention gift registry information on a wedding shower invitation. A shower is all about the gifts.

In 2013, the best way to spread the word about wedding gift wishes, including donations of money, is still through good old-fashioned word-of -mouth. The future bride and groom inform their closest relatives and attendants of their wish list. These people become the ambassadors of the couple's hopes and dreams. When the guests ask them what would make the couple happy, they can say something like: "Since they have been living together for a couple of years, the reality is that they pretty much have everything that they need. I do know that they are dreaming of travelling through Europe's vineyards and castles. A monetary donation could help to fulfil that dream."

As for your question about the addition of a gift, since it is your daughter, I strongly recommend that you add a gift. After all it is a celebration of love and family.

What if the bride was not your daughter? Technically, if you had been asked to "join them" there would be no big gift to give, as you are already spending to attend. Depending on your relationship with the couple, you could top up your cheque with a token gift; something of sentimental value.

In all cases, the value of a gift is always at the discretion of the guest. Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic formula for the amount that must be spent. The amount that a guest spends on a gift is always based on his relationship with the couple, while respecting one's budget. When in doubt about what to offer, as stated above; a guest can always ask close relatives and wedding attendants. More on wedding gift etiquette in this Sticky situation blog.

Whether offering cash, a cheque, a gift or a combination of these, a card must always accompany it.

In your case, to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings, check in with your daughter by saying something like: "What would you like as a gift? What would make you happy?" This way there will be no disappointment, no uncertainty or unfulfilled expectations. You will also then be able to inform friends and family that will ask you about wedding gifts.

Have a Sticky Situation? Write to Julie and she will reply promptly. Want more Solutions to Sticky Situations? Like her fan page on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter or read Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility, now available for pre-order. Planning a conference? Customized business etiquette activities are available.

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  • The Bride's Family Should Foot The Bill

    With more couples marrying later in life when they're financially established, the rules concerning who pays for their weddings have changed. "Now, couples paying for most or all of their weddings is more the norm than brides' families paying," says Peggy Post. Even when parents are writing the checks, they no longer have to follow strict guidelines about which family handles what (i.e., the bride's pays for the reception and the groom's pays for the alcohol). Instead, couples who accept their parents' financial help should decide "what items are their highest priority, as in the things they want to pay for and have more control over, and the items that are less important, that they would be okay with parents paying for and controlling," says <a href="http://www.sharonnaylor.net/" target="_hplink">Sharon Naylor</a>, best-selling author of "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Essential-Wedding-Etiquette-Sharon-Naylor/dp/1402205120" target="_hplink">The Essential Guide to Wedding Etiquette</a>."

  • Brides Must Wear White

    White is no longer just for virginal, first-time brides, nor do brides have to wear it at all. "Really, a bride may wear any color she desires on her wedding day," says Washington, D.C.-based wedding planner and etiquette expert <a href="http://www.claudialutmanevents.com/" target="_hplink">Claudia Lutman</a>. "Before Queen Victoria, who is solely credited as establishing the tradition of the white bridal gown, brides wore their best dresses, despite the color." (Dresses pictured, from left to right: <a href="http://www.bhldn.com/shop-the-bride-wedding-dresses/crashing-waves-gown" target="_hplink">Crashing Waves Gown</a>, <a href="http://www.bhldn.com/shop-the-bride-wedding-dresses/trumpeted-pavot-gown" target="_hplink">Trumpeted Pavot Gown</a>, <a href="http://www.bhldn.com/shop-the-bride-wedding-dresses/sweet-tea-gown" target="_hplink">Sweet Tea Gown</a>, <a href="http://www.bhldn.com/shop-the-bride-wedding-dresses/frondescence-gown" target="_hplink">Frondescence Gown</a>)

  • Guests Can't Wear White

    While white is typically "reserved for the bride," according to nationally recognized etiquette expert <a href="http://www.dianegottsman.com/" target="_hplink">Diane Gottsman</a>, other experts see the tides changing on this rule. "As long as guests do not upstage the bride or appear to be in competition with her, a winter white or summer cream dress is now considered okay," says Lutman. As Post <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/fashion/weddings/wedding-qa.html?_r=4" target="_hplink">advised <em>New York Times</em> readers in March</a>, what matters most is making sure you're not "unintentionally calling attention" or "causing offense to the bride." She said that guests should avoid wearing <em>any</em> outfit -- regardless of color -- if they doubt its appropriateness for the occasion. (Dresses pictured, from left to right: <a href="http://www.bhldn.com/shop-bridesmaids-partygoers-dresses/creme-fraiche-dress" target="_hplink">Crème Fraiche Dress</a>, <a href="http://www.bhldn.com/shop-bridesmaids-partygoers-dresses/persephone-shift" target="_hplink">Persephone Shift</a>)

  • The Mother Of The Bride Can't Host The Shower

    Etiquette rules used to dictate that a bride's immediate family, particularly her mother, couldn't throw her bridal shower. "It was taboo because it was thought as being self-serving or raking in the gifts, but that's changed immensely," Post says. In fact, as more couples plan their own weddings, brides' mothers tend to feel left out as far as orchestrating the festivities goes, Naylor explains. Because of this, she says it is more than acceptable for a mother to "join in with the bridesmaids to <em>co-host </em>the shower, which skirts the etiquette 'don't.'" She adds that having mom's help can also ease the strain on bridesmaids who might be overwhelmed by the money they're spending on dresses, travel and other pre-wedding costs.

  • Single Women Are Obligated To Participate In The Bouquet Toss

    Unattached women who dread -- or feel downright offended by -- this tradition don't have to put on a happy face and make their way to middle of the dance floor when the DJ beckons. "As a single woman, if you don't want to chase down a bouquet, it is in your right to abstain," says Gottsman. "You shouldn't be chastised into doing it." But she warns that standing off to the side with your arms crossed or shaking your head at those clamoring for the coveted bouquet will come off as rude. Just quietly slip off to the ladies' room when the time comes if you'd rather not participate.

  • Your Registry Information Should Be Shared Only By Word Of Mouth

    "It used to be considered bad etiquette to spread the news of the registry any way other than by word of mouth," says Naylor. "But that rule was created when everyone going to the wedding lived a couple blocks from each other." Now, she says, guests appreciate having these details on the wedding website so they don't have go searching for where a couple is registered -- it's actually bad etiquette <em>not</em> to post this information. While this rule has changed over time, Gottsman says it is still in poor taste to put any gift-giving guidelines on your wedding invitations.

  • You Can't Ask For Cash

    While it's common in certain cultures (like <a href="http://weddings.weddingchannel.com/wedding-planning-ideas/wedding-etiquette/articles/giving-money.aspx?MsdVisit=1" target="_hplink">Chinese and Italian</a>) to give cash as a wedding gift, this wasn't always the case for Americans -- in fact, it used to be considered rude to ask for it. But Post says that giving money is becoming more popular as couples get creative with their registries. "It used to be that you only had traditional household goods and linens on your registry," she says. "Now, they are just so much more practical -- they can be for a home-improvement store, a wine store or even a down payment for a house." That said, couples should still provide a traditional registry for more old-fashioned guests, who might want to purchase a more conventional gift or feel uncomfortable giving cash, says Naylor.

  • Out-Of-Town Guests Must Be Invited To The Rehearsal Dinner

    While the rehearsal-dinner tradition began as a pre-wedding meal for those just in the wedding party, it's evolved into more of a welcome dinner for the out-of-town guests. Naylor says this shift can put a huge financial burden on couples, as the rehearsal dinner becomes "almost like a second wedding." To cut costs and avoid offending anyone, she suggests giving out-of-towners a list of restaurants in the area where they can go to dinner on their own or planning an evening cocktail party in lieu of a dinner. "It will cost less, and it will still give guests something to eat and something to do," she says.

  • Unattached Guests Over 18 Should Get A "Plus One"

    As another way to trim their wedding budgets, "many couples are not including 'plus ones' for their single guests," says Lutman. This goes against the once-standard rule that unattached guests of a certain age should be allowed to bring a date. The tricky part about breaking this rule is deciding what constitutes "single" -- for example, a couple may have guests who are unmarried but live with their significant others. Naylor advises making a rule of inviting only "the non-married couples with whom you socialize." Though some guests might be offended, "it's one of those sticky things that is necessary in today's financial era," she says.

  • You Have A Year to Send Thank-You Notes

    According to Naylor, this rule dates back to the days when it was customary to include a wedding photo with your thank-you notes -- and when getting those pictures from the photographer took at least six months. Now that photos are digital and take about half that time to receive, couples should put pen to paper two to three months after they say their "I do's." In fact, Naylor adds that couples are now expected to write a personal message to guests rather than just the standard "thank you for coming," so it's best to get a jump on those notes while the details of the night are still fresh.


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