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How Much Do I Have to Spend on Wedding Gifts?

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It doesn’t matter if you’re going — if you receive a wedding invitation, you should send a gift of some sort to the couple. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money — and even if you’re on a tight budget, you may be able to come up with a little something to congratulate the couple.

Pick Something That Makes Sense

The first thing to consider when deciding what to spend on wedding gifts is how the purchase fits into your budget. It’s absurd to spend beyond your means or jeopardize your financial plans or your credit just because you think someone expects a more expensive gift than you can afford. (Even charging $200 more a month for wedding gifts could impact your credit score, depending on your credit utilization ratio. You can see if you’re charging too much on your credit cards by checking your utilization and your credit scores for free on Credit.com. )

There is no dollar amount guideline for gift giving, because each situation and budget is different, says etiquette expert Jodi R.R. Smith. The relationship you have to the couple will probably have the largest impact on what you decide to do.

For a distant relative or a school friend you haven’t talked to in years, something small makes sense. If your best friend or a close relative is getting married, it’s appropriate to purchase something on the higher end of the gift registry. If a high-value present isn’t within your means, get creative. (If you’ve seen “Bridesmaids,” think along the lines of the wedding shower scene where Annie gives Lillian a box of her favorite things from growing up — ignore the tantrum that follows shortly after this moment.)

Another option for a cash-challenged guest wanting to purchase something meaningful: Team up with other guests. If this is someone close to you, ask the bride/groom if there are other mutual friends attending the wedding, and reach out to them to see if anyone is interested in going in on a gift together.

Smith stressed the point that people should never go into debt in order to attend a wedding or send a gift. That may mean you can’t go to a celebration you really want to attend. If you don’t have the money to spend, be honest with yourself and realize you can’t send a gift, as much as you may want to.

You don’t need to apologize for your financial situation, either.

“The No. 1 thing is the people who are getting married to remember is invitations are not invoices,” Smith said. “This is not a fundraiser.”

If your finances simply don’t allow for gift spending, send a thoughtful card with a handwritten message to wish the couple well and thank them for including you in their special day.

Consider Everything

Think about the wedding as a whole when deciding how much to budget for a present. Travel costs limit how much you can spend on a gift, and if you attended any showers or other gift-giving events associated with the wedding, that also impacts your gift allowance.

Another thing: Gift giving as a couple is different than giving as an individual, Smith says. Makes sense, right? Two people, (likely) two incomes, twice as much to spend on wedding gifts. There’s one catch: If you’re bringing a “plus one,” they shouldn’t have to contribute to the gift, Smith said, (you invited that person, after all) but you’re still in the couple-giving situation.

Try to think of wedding season like the holidays: You know it’s coming, so perhaps you should save up in advance of the big day. That whole “you have a year to give a gift” thing? Not exactly, Smith said. People get this idea that they should save up until they’re ready to give the gift they’d like to send, even if that means waiting well past the wedding day.

“If they haven’t managed to be fiscally responsible prior to the wedding, they’re not going to be fiscally responsible after the wedding,” Smith said. “They end up not giving a gift at all. Give within your means, at the time of the wedding.”

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