When Wedding Gifts Give Your Wallet a Workout

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Dear Rivkie,

 It’s wedding season, and once again I am worried I’m going to gift myself into the poor house. What is the etiquette for determining how much to spend on a wedding present? Does it make a difference if it’s a coworker versus an outside-of-work friend versus a family member? What about if you’re standing up in the wedding?


Additionally, how many pre-wedding events should I feel compelled to attend when it comes to local couples — is there a hierarchy of some kind between engagement party, bridal shower, and bachelorette/bachelor party, for instance?


Gift-Giving Gila


Dear Gila,

 There are two distinct phases in life when wedding season can be tough: when your friends are getting married, and when your friends’ kids are getting married. It sounds like you are in the former phase while I am entering the latter (which appears to be a 15-year prospect), but both can get super pricey.

But let’s get back to basics for a moment, shall we? Jewish marriage has an inherent holiness. The seven blessings recited under the chuppah (wedding canopy), and then at the post-wedding celebratory meals the week following the wedding (Sheva Brachos), “speak of paradise regained, the miracle of G-d's creation, and the creation of man and woman, so that mankind might endure,” according to Chabad.org. In Judaism, marriage has historically been seen an integral piece of building a larger, stronger community. The ketubah, a legally binding contract given to a wife that outlines the responsibilities and obligations of the husband, gives a Jewish wedding a serious air that reflects the significance of the union to both the couple and the Jewish people.

What I’m getting at here, Gila, is that even with all of this mystical commentary and legalistic pomp and circumstance, nowhere in the Sheva Brachos, ketubah, or anywhere else surrounding a Jewish wedding is there a legal framework for how much to spend, how many gifts to buy, or how many events to attend surrounding the wedding. This is good news and bad news: good news because you can use your own judgment, and bad news because you have to use your own judgment.

If that conclusion still leaves you in a panic, wedding-planning website theknot.com offers the following spending guidelines on gift-giving:

Coworker and/or a distant family friend or relative: $50-$75 

Relative or friend: $75-$100 

Close relative or close friend: $100-$150

The site also mentions that you can go in with a group to buy one of the big-ticket items on the couple’s registry. This way, you can probably spend a little less. Also, remember that the registry has stuff that your friends want, so even if you can’t spend $75, buying a few things on the registry and wrapping them in a unique way is just fine, in my opinion.

If you’re a bridesmaid and you are already spending extra on a dress, shoes, and shower gift, get creative. If you took a lot of great snaps at the shower, make a Shutterfly album for the bride. It’s less expensive than a Cuisinart.

As to how many events you should attend, I recommend attending as many as possible. After all, it’s a mitzvah to be mesameach chasson v’kallah (make the bride and groom happy). Fine china, standing mixers, and towels are nice, but showing up as part of a community of people who care for them is the biggest gift of all.