You cheerfully accepted the wedding invitation, but now it's time to face reality. What do you get as a wedding present?

Get on Top of Your Gift-Giving Game

You cheerfully accepted the wedding invitation, but now it’s time to face reality. What do you get as a wedding present? It can be hard enough choosing meaningful wedding gifts for old friends, but if you don’t know the couple particularly well, shopping for them can become a stress-fest. Below are some ideas for gifts that are universally well-received… as well as gift-giving mistakes to avoid!

Take the Hint

If you’re lucky, the couple will have already created a wedding registry. A list of desired items, conveniently presented in standardized form, is every guest’s dream. In this case, pounce on the opportunity and check the registry early. You want to get in as soon as possible so the best gifts haven’t already been claimed by other guests.

Even if you want to give a more personalized gift, the wedding registry is a good place to start your brainstorming. By looking at the list of items the couple has presented, you can get an idea of what types of gifts will be the most well-received. If the registry has a set of red-and-white china dishes on it, for example, consider a gift of a matching red tablecloth or linen napkins. You may also want to give them a gift certificate to one of the stores on their registry in case they see something perfect they didn’t have a chance to include. 

Don’t forget the honeymoon fund! Many couples set up donation funds so guests can help them afford their dream vacation. Even if there isn’t a formal honeymoon fund, call and let them know that you’d like to contribute to a perfect start to their marriage.

Be Direct

You may be uncomfortable giving the couple a straight-up envelope of cash, but there are more personal ways to give a gift that will be universally appreciated. Look for gift certificates to stores that have items for everyone. Large department stores, or online mega-stores, have a large-enough selection of items that the couple can decide for themselves what type of gift they would like to receive. You can also give gift certificates to more specialized stores, such as the couple’s favorite grocery store, as a way of ensuring that they think of you the next time they’re stocking their pantry.

If you’re looking for an unusual twist on the cash-gift concept, consider buying an investment for the couple’s future. Give them a gift of stocks or bonds that you’re relatively confident will increase in value. A volatile stock certificate is like a gift of lottery tickets; it may be either the best or the worst gift the couple ever gets. If you’re giving a gift that may go belly-up, however, be sure to back it up with a tangible gift as well.

Still looking for ways to give the couple a monetary gift? Offer to pay for a specific part of their wedding, such as their photo album. This should be arranged ahead of time, while the couple is still choosing their wedding vendors. Be careful not to argue about the couple’s choice of photographers or album packages, though; this offer should only be made if you’re absolutely certain you can afford whatever the couple chooses.

Avoid: Anything Too Specific

Unless you’ve known the couple for decades and you’re positive that they want a top-of-the-line, four-tray seed sprouter for their kitchen counter, it’s best to skip it. Sure, you may not be able to imagine your kitchen without a fresh crop of alfalfa sprouts just waiting to become salad, but unless the couple shares your passion for fiber, the appliance will just sit in their closet until their next garage sale.

Tempting though it may be, don’t fall victim to buying any items outside of your range of expertise. The couple may tell funny stories about the fish they saw on their scuba diving adventures, but unless you know the difference between an XS Scuba AirWave Inline Octopus and a Genesis SideKick Octopus, you shouldn’t drop a fortune on undersea equipment that may or may not be what the couple actually needs.

Avoid: Fuel for Arguments

Do you know what the couple argues about behind closed doors? It’s hard to tell from looking at a couple what sensitive secrets lie in their past, so stay on the safe side and avoid giving controversial gifts. This includes presents like alcohol, gym memberships, firearms, self-improvement tapes, political donations, and anything involving babies. Unless you know for certain that the couple shares your views (and each other’s) completely, it’s better to not stir up a fight.

This common sense goes double for presents that only one half of the couple is likely to enjoy. Maybe you used to have weekend-long video game marathons with the groom in high school. Unless the happy couple enjoys kicking back on the couch together and playing a bit of Borderlands now and then, it’s best to leave the expensive gaming system for a birthday present.

Avoid: “Eye of the Beholder” Gifts

Look for gifts that are truly, unmistakably useful. On one side of the spectrum is the gift of cash. Sure, it’s not very personal, but you’re 100% sure the couple will use it. On the other side of the spectrum is art. Even if you’ve been friends for years, are you really certain that both halves of the couple will appreciate this yellow ceramic monkey as much as you do?

You have to be absolutely sure that the art will be well-received, because if it isn’t, you’ve just put the couple in a terribly awkward position. This goes double for art you created yourself. They’ll have to put it on their wall in case you visit, or risk insulting you if they hide it. If the gift suffers a “tragic accident” within the first month of marriage, you’ll know you made the wrong choice. Avoid the mess entirely and don’t give an artistic gift unless you’ve seen the couple fawn over it in a gallery firsthand.

When in Doubt, Ask Them

It may seem a little awkward to check in with the couple about their wedding gift ahead of time, but if you’re departing from the registry and you’re not sure whether your gift will be appreciated, there’s only one way to be certain. You don’t have to make a formal inquiry, but if you can find a way to slip a reference into your conversation, you’ll be able to get an idea of the couple’s feelings on the topic. Try something like, “Have you guys ever tasted fresh-squeezed carrot juice? You have? Oh, good. You ever try making your own?” It may not be incredibly subtle, but if the bride waxes poetic about her lifelong love of juicing root vegetables, you’ll know you’ve found a winner.