You know your great-aunt Mildred means well when she offers to pass on her prized fish tank collection, but you really wish you could ask for cash instead. Ever wonder if there’s a socially-acceptable way to ask? The answer is mixed. There’s no way to compel guests to give you the gifts you want (they’re gifts, after all) but if you want to suggest a preference to guests who might otherwise flounder, there are a few polite ways to point them in the right direction.
Don’t Write It on the Invitations
Even though it’s tempting to state your gift preference on the one place you know all your guests will see, it’s considered bad etiquette to state anything about gifts on the invitations. Wedding presents exist in a gray area of wedding etiquette. On the one hand, most guests feel obligated to bring a gift. On the other hand, the couple that actually asks for gifts out loud is considered greedy and rude. Your best bet is to spread the news by word of mouth.
Start chatting to trusted friends and loved ones early, before they have a chance to go gift shopping. Many guests will be happy for the chance to write a check rather than brave a shopping mall and try to decipher your taste in hand towels. Pass the news to the people who are closest to you, whom your other guests are most likely to ask for gift advice.
Let Guests Know What They’re Buying
It’s more fun to give a cash gift when you know what you’re buying. Don’t ask your guests to throw money into a black hole. Instead, register for a “honeymoon fund” or “house down payment fund” so your loved ones can take pride in giving you the vacation or home of your dreams. These types of collaborative funds are growing more common as couples wait until later in life to marry, meaning they don’t need the usual kitchen appliances and linen sets anymore. They’re easier on guests’ pocketbooks, too, because they allow each person to contribute a comfortable amount without feeling like they’re giving a small, unimportant gift.
Again, never direct people to your honeymoon fund from the wedding invitations. Pushing people to any type of registry (even the more old-fashioned, department store ones) is considered rude. Instead, spread the news by word of mouth. If a number of your guests ask you how to reach the fund, place a small, discreet link on your wedding website.
Be Aware of Cultural Differences
Around the world, wedding gifts of cash are considered traditional. In Chinese weddings, guests stuff money into red envelopes to give the newlywed couple good luck. Wedding guests in Poland and Puerto Rico pin money onto the bride’s dress in exchange for a whirl around the dance floor. Italian brides carry delicate handbags for guests to deposit their monetary gifts, as do Nigerian brides. In Jewish weddings, cash gifts are given in denominations of the lucky number 18. Hindu wedding guests give luck in the form of monetary amounts that end with the number one. The list of cultures that embrace cash gifts goes on and on.
However, in American weddings, cash gifts are often seen as impersonal. If you or your soon-to-be spouse come from a culture where cash gifts are the norm, be prepared to face some hesitation from guests who aren’t in the know. The best way to prepare guests ahead of time is by word of mouth. You may also want to include a small blurb in the wedding programs to explain why some people are throwing money at the lucky couple. If you do, be sure to highlight a few other cultural customs too, so the purpose looks educational rather than greedy.
Accept All Gifts Graciously
No matter how carefully you phrase your request, some guests aren’t going to play along. You’ll still receive toasters, blenders, monogrammed pillow sets, and other items your household doesn’t necessarily need. Remember, a gift is still a gift. It was given with love and should be accepted in the same spirit. If you can’t find a use for a second toaster in your small kitchen, write an effusive thank-you note and quietly return the appliance for a store refund (or pass it on to the next marrying couple you know).
No one is obligated to give a gift, after all, so every item you receive–regardless of how useful it is–is a lovely affirmation that you have friends and family who support your life choices. And that, in spite of Aunt Mildred’s dubious taste in fish tanks, is a gift of true value.
Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.