Wedding gifts aren’t just a pleasant way of wishing a new couple a great life together, historically they’re there as a form of social banking and before you decide what to ask for on the big day – it’s worth understanding the function this ‘ceremonial gift exchange’ performs.
Later this week, the most talked about UK wedding for thirty years will happen. This particular royal couple happily have finances strong enough to be able to ask their guests to give to charity, but most couples don’t. So I thought I’d speedily jot down some wedding gift thoughts.
Far too many think of wedding gifts as an added extra, yet financially it needs to play a core part in your plans. You’re likely to be shelling out a serious sum of cash for your wedding but lots of people are willing to effectively pay you back in return for going to the ceremony. In clinical terms you need to marry your expenditure with your one source of income on the big day.
Of course etiquette rightly suggests no one should ‘ask for gifts’ so what we’re really talking about here is whether you can express a preference for cash over presents for those who want to give.
Gift giving is a form of social banking
Wedding gifts have historically been an effective societal mechanism for directing cash in local or familial economies to where it’s needed. Try to think of it in terms of a flow of money.
Older generations would give gifts or money to younger ones to help them start off in life before they’d had time to build their own finances.
Then, once that couple was older they effectively gave back to others in the same community when they attended the weddings of younger couples (perhaps the children or grandchildren of those who originally gave to them) by giving them gifts.
However, the key here is that unlike Christmas gifts, (and for the reason I don’t like the latter see time to ban Christmas presents) in the short term it isn’t a zero sum game as there is a net flow of money to the younger couple to invest in their future.
Of course over the long term all that money is likely to be returned. Although, the most affluent and successful members of the community are likely to give the most and probably over their lifetimes will have a net outflow. But, the short term cash flow boost to enable a couple to build a home together is a crucial function.
With our current life patterns, asking for cash is fine
In recent years things have changed radically, many couples already live together when they get married and have much of what is needed in their homes, whether it’s toasters, kettles or silverware. That means…
perversely the biggest cost of getting married for many couples isn’t setting up home, but the wedding day itself.
Therefore don’t be afraid to ask for cash on your wedding day, as it’s part of what a marriage is all about. Think about the common wedding ceremony – it asks others to "support the couple" and where needed that includes financially.
In truth many weddings entail paying £50-£100 per head, per guest and the gift giving is a way of people subsidising the cost of their own attendance.
In many ways it’s becoming an accepted logic for attendees to consider the cost of their presence when deciding the scale of their presents.
How to ask for cash
There are many ways this can be done: envelopes on the day, money into a special bank account, even perhaps a targeted ‘honeymoon’ fund, which many people find less clinical plus you don’t need to spend it all on the honeymoon.
As for how much guests should give, well that’s up to the individual as there are a number of factors involved – the closer they are to you the more they should give, the more expensive the wedding ceremony the more they should give, but if they’re struggling then the less you should expect.
Beware of wedding vouchers
Often couples prefer asking for indirect cash in the form of gift vouchers (and you could stretch this to wedding lists too).
Yet do remember, if the company goes bust and your friends have bought vouchers or paid for goods from there, you just become a creditor and are unlikely to get much cash back. Money in the bank is a much safer option. If you are going to ask for vouchers or write a wedding list, at least consider the solvency of the company you’re putting the money in.