Top 10 Wedding Gift Rules You Should Know

 By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor

This summer, all over the country, people will be visiting an online John Lewis wedding gift list to buy one of a pair of cappuccino towels (because it’s the only thing left for under £50).  Selecting a gift for the bride and groom is as traditional as cutting the cake or watching the first dance, but it’s also one aspect of weddings that’s a political minefield. It isn’t just the wedding guests who vex about gifts; the happy couple also worry about whether or not it’s polite to specify what they want or what should and shouldn’t be expected of their guests.

The etiquette surrounding wedding-gift giving and receiving has somewhat shifted in recent years, but at the root, there are some unbreakable dos and don’ts that underpin good manners and politeness. With the help wedding buying and selling website we’ve compiled a list of 10 essential wedding-gift rules for the benefit of brides and guests alike.  

1. If you’re invited to the actual wedding ceremony, give the bride and groom a gift.  No ifs, no buts!

If you’re invited to the evening reception, or a party after the actual ceremony has occurred, you may or may not wish to give a gift, but many people do anyway.  If you attend the ceremony, it’s the pit of bad manners not to give a gift.  Even if the bride and groom insist that they don’t want a gift, give one anyway.

Clair Hart from said “One of my married friends warned me ‘not everyone will buy you a gift, and you’ll be acutely aware of who didn’t for the rest of time’.  I thought it sounded extreme, but post wedding, when writing down names next to gifts, ready to start penning 150 thank you cards, the absent names of some close friends were as disappointing as that engagement ring sized box containing a fridge magnet I was once given.” In a pole conducted by the website, 98% of users said that you should provide a gift if you’re invited to the wedding ceremony.

2. What if the bride and groom specify ‘no gifts’?

It is not the done thing for the bride and groom to be to specify gifts on an invite, but you should still buy a gift.  If the invite specifically states that you should not buy a gift, this is not your get-out clause.  Clair says “You’ve been invited to the wedding because you are important to the people getting hitched, so you should want to buy them a token or gift to help send them on their way into married life.”

3. Should a bride and groom specify what they would like on the invite?

Traditionally it is not polite to specify what gift you would like on an invite (including a gift list or asking for cash into a honeymoon fund).  However, times are shifting and the average age of newlyweds is getting older, so people look to avoid ending up with sixteen toasters. Many couples are taking the lead of other cultures and are asking for cash or donations to that holiday of a lifetime.

Clair says “Although it is never acceptable to openly request gifts or money, sometimes a polite poem or hint is enough to inform people that you’d welcome a donation rather than a gift… if you feel that is absolutely necessary.” If an invite suggests that guests should not feel obliged to bring a gift, don’t take it literally. Interestingly, 61% of the poll said that you should clarify what you would like as a gift, whilst 39% said that it’s bad manners.

4. Making a journey to a wedding does not count as a gift!

Destination weddings can end up being pricey for guests.  Even non-destination weddings can involve a reasonable amount of travelling.  Accommodation, transport, time off work, and other expenses can all add up, often stretching guests to the limits of what they can afford.  However, this does not mean you get off scot-free. Clair adds “You can spend a lot less on a gift, which is fine, but it is still customary to provide some sort of token.

Obviously if you have financial worries, the bride and groom will understand if you don’t buy a gift, but you should discuss this with them when accepting the invite.” 64% of the poll said that a gift should be provided even if a guest has travelled a reasonable distance to get to the Wedding.

5. How much should you spend on a wedding gift?

Yes it’s a crass question, but it’s one that many guests toil over.  Too little and you seem stingy, too much and you end up looking like a show-off, or you spend money that you can little afford.  Clair recommends “I always advise that you should spend what you’d reasonably expect to spend on a night out.   You’ll be fed and watered at most weddings, so if you feel that a meal and drinks would typically cost you £60, that would be an appropriate amount to spend on a gift.”

Ultimately you should give what you can afford, but the majority of the poll suggests the average spend on a wedding gift should be between £40 and £59. When asking how much to spend on a wedding gift the survey said:

Less than £20: 9%

£20 to £39: 20%

£40 to £59: 41%

£60 to £99: 18%

£100 or over: 12%

6. Give the gift on the day (or a few days before).

Tradition suggests that you should send a gift within a year of the wedding, but these days, many couples rely on cash gifts to book their honeymoon. Clair advises “Giving a gift on the day will allow the bride and groom to send you a ‘Thank You’ card straight away, avoiding any awkwardness.” 76% of the poll said that the gift should be given on the day of the wedding.

7. Bride and grooms should send ‘Thank You’ notes within three months.

The bride and groom should always acknowledge the gift by sending a ‘Thank You’ note or letter.  Clair recommends “This should be done within three months of getting married, and certainly within six.  It’s not only polite to acknowledge a gift, but many guests will be wondering if theirs ever arrived, especially if they bought it through a gift list provider.”

A resounding 96% of the survey said that a bride and groom should always send ‘Thank You’ notes to acknowledge a gift.

8. Even if someone didn’t send you a gift, you should still give one in return when they get married?

Even though only 54% of the survey agreed, it’s time to be the bigger person. Clair adds “You should do the right thing and provide a gift, even if that person didn’t give you anything on your wedding day. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but you’ll feel more comfortable within yourself.”  

9. Should you provide a gift for a ‘renewing of wedding vows’ or for second marriages?

If you are attending a second wedding, or a vows renewal, and you were at the original ceremony, you are not obliged to buy another gift. Clair says “You’ll have to weigh up the circumstances, but most second weddings are slightly more ‘low key’ and renewals are usually for the benefit of the couple, rather than a celebration of their lawful marriage.”  70% of the poll agreed that you should not be obliged to buy a gift for a second wedding or renewing of vows.  

10. If the bride jilts the groom at the alter, or vice-versa, should the gift be returned?

Should the wedding not happen for any reason, or the marriage only lasts a matter of days or weeks, the gifts should be returned without exception.  If the wedding is delayed for something like a medical emergency, it may be acceptable to hold onto the gift until the postponed date, but you should inform the sender of your intentions. Oliver suggests “To avoid any unnecessary discomfort, don’t open gifts after the wedding has taken place.  It’s easier and less embarrassing to return gifts unopened!”

A resounding 100% of users said that gifts should always be returned if the wedding lasts less than six months.

You can read more about how to avoid wedding faux pas at

1 Response

  1. Great advice Joe on gift giving and happy to see that you included destination weddings. It is important for guest and brides to know how a destination wedding will affect their gifts. And its not surprising to see that most person’s in your poll got it right.

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