Weddings are supposed to be happy events. So why is figuring out how much to give at a wedding such a source of anxiety? It could be because there's not one universally agreed-upon standard gift amount.
Even if there were, you wouldn't necessarily have the funds to hit that mark for every pair that invites you to celebrate their big day. And yet, you want to show the couple you're thrilled for them—and don't want to be seen as a love-loathing cheapskate.
How much should you give for a wedding gift?
One old-school guideline that some guests still find helpful in deciding how much to give at a wedding: the "cover-your-plate" rule. The idea is that your gift's value should be at least as much as what the couple spent on your wedding meal.
But what if the lovebirds blow their savings on an over-the-top feast at an expensive city venue? Do you have to go broke in kind? And on the flipside, what if the couple keeps things simple? Should you give them a tiny wedding gift just because a party isn't their top financial priority?
Besides, it's not as if couples advertise how much they're spending per person on their guests—and you may not want to even attempt to sleuth your way to that number.
Luckily, the choice on how much to give at a wedding is really up to you. A good starting point: $100 per guest, the average gift amount according to Brides.com.* Then, let these other factors help you decide whether to nudge that amount up or down.
Time and place
The celebration's location may be the biggest factor in how much to give at a wedding. That's because a $100-per-person gift might be extremely generous for a party in one part of the country and feel pretty cheap in another. If you're not familiar with wedding gift amounts in the area where the wedding is, ask the locals (or just lurk on local online forums) to give a gift on par with other guests.
It's not just the party city that counts—it's the venue too. An upscale hotel ballroom might call for a bigger wedding gift than a relative's backyard. While the "cover-your-plate" rule isn't a hard-and-fast one, it's still kind to consider how much the couple is putting in to show you a good time when you decide how much you should spend on a wedding gift.
When the wedding takes place can matter almost as much as where. For instance, a swanky Saturday-night soiree might warrant a heftier wedding gift than a casual Sunday brunch.
How close you are to the couple
Giving the average cost of a wedding gift might not feel right for your best friend of 15 years. Likewise, if your partner's coworker invites you at the last minute because they need to hit a minimum guest number, the typical amount might be more than you're comfortable forking over.
Even though the location affects how much the couple is spending on you, your relationship with them might matter more in deciding how much you give at a wedding. The closer you are, the more you may want to give.
How much you're already spending to celebrate
Are you hosting the bridal shower? Flying across the country (or the world) to get to their party? Renting a designer tux because the soon-to-be-newlyweds care a lot about fashion? Paying an exorbitant nightly fee to stay at a remote mountain hotel?
These types of expenses can absolutely factor into how much you give at a wedding because they might eat into a per-event budget, leaving less for a gift. Generally, the more you're already throwing down to attend, the less you can spend on the wedding present.
Whether you give cash or a physical gift
Even if the couple knows the exact value of everything they've registered for, they'll never know if you use a coupon code to defray the cost of that registry gift, so you may be able to get away with spending less if you give a concrete present.
Similarly, when guests are figuring out how much money to give for a wedding, they could be inclined to give more if it's straight cash. Maybe seeing the amount spelled out in a check or printed right on the bills motivates that generosity.
How much they gave you
If this happy couple was in attendance when you exchanged vows, a good cheat for figuring out how much to give them for their wedding is recalling what they spent on you. Factor in inflation if a lot of time has passed between the celebrations and whether they were in a different financial situation than you're in now, and voila: You've got a good idea for a wedding gift amount.
Whether or not you go to the wedding
If you decline the invitation, you don't have to give as much. In fact, etiquette pros say if you can't afford to send a gift and you skip the party, you could just send a card—as long as you replied by the deadline, so they didn't already pay for you to attend.
Still, celebrating the couple with more than just a card is thoughtful. Consider giving a small wedding registry present or donation toward their honeymoon or house fund.
How much you can afford
Last, but certainly not least, is the room you have in your budget for a wedding gift. If you can't (or don't want to) spend money, think about giving time instead. Can you play travel agent for them and plan their honeymoon? Run a photo or video booth during the reception? Bake treats for other guests to take home as favors?
If both time and money are in short supply, and you're not that close with the couple, consider skipping attending and acknowledging their milestone with a heartfelt card. If you're tight with the duo, and sitting out their event would feel wrong, consider coming clean about your situation. If they're good friends, they'll understand and still want you to be there on their special day—no matter how much you can give them for their wedding.