Editor’s note: Anna Post is the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and a spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute. She is the co-author of “ Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette, 6th edition” and “ Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th edition,” as well as the author of “ Do I Have To Wear White? Emily Post Answers America’s Top Wedding Questions” and “ Emily Post’s Wedding Parties.” She is on Twitter.
As I write this, my wedding is six days away. I’m sitting at the picnic table in my little backyard, and my tiny house is right behind me. It’s the tiny house that my fiancé (then boyfriend) and I moved into together four years ago, merging two complete households. In fact, at the time we both inherited additional furniture and dishes from various parents and grandparents. It took us two years to winnow things down to a reasonable amount for two people living in a storage-challenged house.
While we did decide to register for gifts for our wedding, it wasn’t without careful consideration of what we really wanted to add to our household.
Long ago, wedding gifts helped couples to fill their new home together. Most had lived at home until marrying and thus literally didn’t have a plate or fork to their names. With so many people living fully-stocked and independent lives before marriage today, meaningful alternatives to physical gifts are often welcome -- and practical.
So what to give instead? Cash? People can get quite jammed up about the etiquette of giving money at weddings. Is it tacky? How do you do it? And, most puzzling of all, how much do you give? No one wants to look cheap compared to other guests, nor do they want to empty the bank account just to keep up with the Joneses.
To set the record, it is -- and always has been -- OK to give money as a wedding gift, and in a number of traditions it is the preferred and expected gift. The choice of wedding gift is always up to the giver, and that includes money (along with off-registry gifts and even those that are handmade).
Checks have always been popular as opposed to a wad of cash, though today the options have expanded thanks to a number money transfer services. Online transfers can be easy, but be aware that they usually carry fees or service charges before signing up. Checks are usually mailed before or right after the wedding (read: within three months, not the mythical year) to avoid being misplaced at the wedding. Remember to include a handwritten note with any monetary gift.
As a guest, deciding how much to give -- be it via check or gift -- comes down to three things only: Your relationship to the couple, what you think they’d like to have and how much you feel comfortable spending. That’s it. No charts or sliding scales, as every relationship and budget is different.
Trickier than what or how much the guest chooses to give is how the couple goes about guiding them when money would be most welcome. It’s perfectly OK for the couple to offer suggestions, but how you do it is really important. Answering, “Where are you registered?” with a blunt, “We only want cash,” falls squarely into Tackytown.
Diplomacy is called for: “We’d love whatever you might like to give us [acknowledges that the choice of gift belongs to the giver], but we could really use help with our first down payment/a contribution to our honeymoon/a new dining room table. [It’s okay to say “money,” but it’s best if you can paint the guest a picture of where that money will go.] We have an account at… [if you have one set up; if not, skip this last bit and expect checks].” Let your close family and wedding party know your preference, too, as they will likely be asked where you are registered. Coach them in how to answer, as they will be your ambassadors.
Also OK are honeymoon registry sites like honeyfund.com, all-Web registries like merciregistry.com and charity websites, such as idofoundation.org. Keep in mind that even if you ask for money or alternative registry items, a small registry of physical gifts is still a good idea for those guests who feel more comfortable giving something that comes wrapped in paper and bows.
I do hear from some people that they feel any request for money is unacceptable. My take is that so long as you ask politely, practicality should play a role here. Who should have to ask for unneeded boxes of towels and china?
Emily Post, my great-great-grandmother, was a very practical woman, and also one who believed more in being considerate and respectful and honest than in rules for their own sake. As long as you acknowledge that any gift would be welcome, asking for what you really need is a considerate, respectful and honest use of your guests’ generosity.