The Great Gift Debate

5th June 2015

Wedding gifts can create a dilemma for both you and your guests. So, how do you make it a painless process for everyone?

Claire Moulds offers some solutions…

In the midst of planning your big day it’s all too easy for the subject of wedding presents to slip ever further down the To Do list, especially if you’ve already set up home together and don’t therefore need a ‘starter kit’ to begin married life. However, for your guests, choosing the perfect gift will be uppermost in their mind.

To avoid confusion, decide early on the approach you wish to take and be sure to inform all the key members of the bridal party of your decision. Many of the guests will turn to them, discreetly, for gift advice. If your best man or chief bridesmaid don’t know the answer to the question ‘what would they like?’ control of your plans is already slipping away.

Asking people not to bring a gift is often the most stressful option for guests. Most people will want to mark your special day in some way and will feel uncomfortable if they can’t. Not only will most of them ignore your request but they will go to great lengths to source ‘the perfect present’, potentially leaving you with a pile of gifts that you didn’t want, don’t need and won’t use.

To avoid angst all round why not specify on the invite that, while the greatest gift people can give you is their presence on the day, if they do want to mark the occasion with something tangible they can find a small list at (insert retailer, actual or online) or in the care of the mother of the bride?

A popular option in the current economic climate is to ask guests for a ‘cash’ gift. While it might lack the romance of an actual present, there’s more to setting up home together than a new toaster, china or cutlery, and the money that you’ve been given could help towards a deposit for a house or carrying out home improvements – things that you’ll enjoy and benefit from for years to come.

If you’d find it awkward asking friends and family for cash, then vouchers are an easy way to invite them to contribute to a larger item. You could even ask guests to buy vouchers for ‘experiences’ that you’d like to have on your honeymoon such as a hot air balloon ride, a sunset cruise or a couples massage.
It’s important to recognise, though, that, if you do go down this route, some people might be offended by being asked for cash or vouchers and that tact is required. Urban myths about brides who practically frogmarch guests on arrival at the reception to the large cardboard ‘post box’ in which cash/ cheques are to be deposited do, unfortunately, have their roots in truth, and leave something of a sour taste in the mouth.

I went to a wedding recently at which guests were asked for vouchers to put towards the cost of the couple’s honeymoon, and the chief bridesmaid was loudly heard to say of the bride, ‘I love her dearly but there is no way I’m paying for her to go on holiday’.

As you will know from your own experiences, the wedding gift is just one small part of the overall expense that guests go to in order to be part of both the run up to the big day, and the day itself. In fact, a survey last year by American Express revealed that UK wedding guests will spend on average £470 per wedding they attend. From engagement gifts and parties, to hen and stag dos, to new outfits, travel and accommodation costs, being part of a wedding is an expensive business and, for those on a budget, it can be a particularly tall order.

If you do, therefore, decide on a traditional gift list make sure that it covers all budgets and that the items at the more ‘purse friendly’ end of the scale aren’t solely practical. Just because someone can only afford to spend a small amount doesn’t mean that they want to buy you a new bathroom bin or set of tea towels. Equally, at the other end of the scale, ensure you include a few ‘big ticket’ items for those who want to buy something substantial and who would rather buy one item than spread their budget over several smaller gifts.

It can be tempting, especially when let loose in a store with an empty list to fill, to lose sight of what you actually need. When you’re not the ones paying it’s all too easy to be seduced by bright, shiny items without thinking through the implications. Would you use it? Where would you store it? Kitchen gadgets are often the worst offenders here. Do you really need an espresso maker?

You might also feel compelled to replace items that you already have, even though they work perfectly fine or are still relatively new. To avoid making a costly mistake always do your research beforehand so that you have a shortlist to work from. If something that’s not on your handwritten notes catches your eye, think long and hard before adding it, so you don’t get carried away in the moment.

One of the things many couples struggle with is how traditional they should be. We all know what has historically gone on a wedding list – fine china, crystal, silver etc – but how much of it ever actually gets used? How many of your married friends only ever get their wedding china out for a special occasion? How many gifts are still lying in their boxes unused, and often forgotten about, in the back of a cupboard?

If you’re keen gardeners and want to turn your outdoor space into something special, asking for garden furniture, tools, trees and plants is just as valid as asking for a tea service. A tree planted to celebrate your marriage might last a lifetime; a highly breakable piece of china might not make it to your first wedding anniversary.

While you shouldn’t feel obliged to go down the traditional route it’s worth bearing in mind that some of these gifts were specifically chosen because they would accompany a couple throughout their married life and then be passed on to their children and their children’s children. While longevity shouldn’t be the sole reason for choosing something, do think about selecting a few items that you can imagine still having on display when you celebrate your golden wedding anniversary. You are, theoretically at least, in this for the long haul.

If a parent or sibling is managing your list make sure he/she is keeping track of what has been bought and by whom to avoid duplication. Also, consider where the presents will be stored on the day. A present table is a useful ‘drop off’ point but it’s easy for things like cards and smaller items to get mislaid as the room is reconfigured over the course of the celebrations and then emptied at the end of it. For peace of mind ask your ushers to move the gifts and cards to the bridal suite just before the wedding breakfast so that everything is in a safe place.

If you are using a gift list service, confirm with them in advance how often you will receive updates showing what has been bought and the process for organising delivery of all the gifts when you get back from your honeymoon. If you want some of the items specifically for your trip – for example new suitcases or a camera – ask if these can be delivered as soon as they have been purchased.

Finally, while nobody expects you to be writing thank you cards on your honeymoon, try and get them sent out as soon as possible after your return, not least to reassure those who may have sent a gift by post that you did actually receive it. If ever there was a time to be courteous, this is that time.

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