Ask the grumpies: How much to spend on a wedding present?

Grad Advisor asks:

A colleague and I co-advised a student who graduated a couple of years ago. The student is now getting married and the colleague and I are both invited to the wedding. The colleague wants to buy a present together and split the cost, which is a great idea. The problem is that the colleague wants to buy three little-ish things that together cost $90 and split that in two. I think that’s too cheap. If we were grad students, sure, that would be a good amount, but we are both grownups with salaries and I think we should be able to buy something bigger. (I haven’t talked with the colleague about this yet as I am not sure what to say.)

How much would be customary to spend in this type of occasion? Someone told me it depends on whether they feed you or not etc. but I find it hard to believe it’s just tit for tat (i.e. I should spend no more than the price of my and my husband’s meal and drink or whatever). So what’s the etiquette?

Miss Manners definitely frowns on the idea of tit for tat.  And there really is no specific etiquette– you don’t have to buy a gift at all if you don’t want to.  I tend to give $50 in cash for friends and acquaintances and $100 in cash to family and close friends (sometimes more depending on the circumstances).  When it’s a friend who has a lot of money already, I just buy something between $45 and $80 off the registry depending on what catches my eye.  But most folks just starting out could use the money more than they can use household items, to pay off the wedding if nothing else.  (About.com has guidelines, as do many other websites.)

Honestly, you can give whatever you want.  At our wedding, we got many large checks from DH’s side for our wedding, and only trinkets from my side.  The difference being the need for social insurance in the two cultures.  If you feel like giving more than $45, then just tell your colleague that you’re planning on cutting a check, and cut the check.  Or if there’s something else you have in mind, tell the colleague you have something else in mind.

The real etiquette answer here is that you can give whatever you want, but you cannot dictate what your colleague should give.

Grumpy Nation, how much do you spend on wedding gifts?  What advice would you have for grad advisor?

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68 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How much to spend on a wedding present?”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    For me, $100 is the minimum, but I think $150 is the norm for higher COL places like NYC. Also, I will give more if the couple spends a lot even if etiquette says its not required. I recently went to a destination wedding where there were events for 3 days, buses to take you to and from the event and round the clock childcare for the guest’s children with crazy fun activities for the little ones. If I am getting fed for 3 days and all the lot, $100 seems kind of cheap, especially since we are a family of 4. Now, we also have a pretty high household income and are older, so there is no way I would expect someone to spend like that if they were in a low paying profession. So I guess I would expect for guests to give with what’s in line with an affordable gift for them.

    Weddings can be a budget strainer for the guests too. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone complain about the cost of being “honored” with being chosen as a bridesmaid, especially if you have to include travel costs. Yeah, you may really love that friend from college but often at the age people are getting married, you don’t always have an extra $500-$1500 lying around.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Pretty much all of the weddings we’ve been to have included substantial travel costs– it can add up! Two of our friends conveniently got married right around conferences, which was nice because one airfare was covered.

      What’s really crazy are some of the weddings my sister’s been in. They take weddings super-seriously around here and have like 10 or more bridesmaids and they go to Vegas or similar destinations for a bachelorette party… it’s kind of insane, IMO. Fortunately our friends are more low-key.

  2. Miser Mom Says:

    My standard wedding gift is a combination of some stuff I buy and stuff I make to hold it. I buy a few good hand tools (hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, scissors, etc) and then sew together a hanging rack for them. The idea is that this wall-mounted tool rack hangs in the kitchen pantry, right where you might need the occasional tool.

    I also write a note describing how what my mom asked her parents for when she got married was a took kit, and how my sisters and I were all raised learning to use these tools (and also of the threats we got if we didn’t put them back). Now we’ve all made ourselves these tool racks for our own homes.

    I’m not sure if this qualifies as a huge expense, but to me it’s very meaningful because of the story that comes with it. I also think it’s a combination of practical and unusual. So I like this giving this gift.

    • Debbie M Says:

      I’ve only been to one wedding since I started being a grown-up with money, but my favorite generic things to give are pizza cutters (because I know that the wheel needs to be big to be a good one) and something fun like play dough or Legos. I also like when they have kitchen towels but not potholders on their list because I can get them some towels that they like and make them matching potholders. Once I even embroidered their names over and over along the binding with hearts in between.

      But to answer your question, lots of people have strong but differing opinions, so no matter what you do, someone will think you did it wrong. Yet because you don’t have to give anything at all, actually you can’t go wrong. I’d just tell your colleague what you told us–you think it’s a great idea but you were expecting to pay more. Do you like the three gifts ze has chosen? Is there one you’d like to add (for which you could pay the full cost if ze doesn’t feel comfortable spending more)? Is there a specific bigger thing you’d like to get? Just start the negotiations. And if y’all can’t happily agree on something, then I’m sure y’all can still find a way to happily give separately. Make it clear that you don’t think ze’s a cheapskate and don’t want to have pressure about giving, but you also don’t want to just agree and wish you had done something differently.

    • Steph Says:

      My grandmother does something similar: she sews them a potholder and gives them a baking pan and metal spatula, and maybe a recipe or two to go with it. Useful and unique. And heartfelt.

  3. plantingourpennies Says:

    We don’t have a set amount, but it’s tended to be around the $200 range for close friends, and $100 range for those that we’re not close to. Some combination of personal items, registry, or cash depending on the situation of the couple.

  4. Leslie Beslie (@lintacious) Says:

    This might be tri-state area (ny/nj/ct) specific but I wouldn’t give less than $100/person (you and your date) or $150 for close friends/family. Anything less than $100 and I’d feel rude.

    • Cloud Says:

      I’ve noticed a strong regional variation in wedding gift standards. $100 would be considered reasonably generous where I grew up (Arizona). Of course, socioeconomic class comes into it, too, but a gift worth $50 would seem fine to me. We got gifts with a huge range of values when I got married, and didn’t really think much of it.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My set also tends not to have the exotic destination bachelorette parties, though my sister’s does and some of my graduate school friends who went to East Coast colleges did as well. No “bridezillas” in my set either (though again, my sister lives a very different life, as do some of my students). Several of the weddings I’ve been to in the past 5 or 10 years instead had a joint party just prior to the wedding, usually in the afternoon sometime before the rehearsal dinner (with wine and cheese or beer and pizza, depending on if it is West Coast or Midwest).

      • Ally Says:

        Yes, as someone from the south who grew up in a lower middle class area, the idea of anyone but family spending $100 on a wedding gift blows my mind…

    • oilandgarlic Says:

      Really?$100 is rude?! giving a gift within your own budget is never rude. I give $50 to $125 range depending on how close I am and budget. there are times every friend is getting married and you are spending on flights or hotel too. you don’t know someone else’s budget constraints and its ruder to judge your guest by the amount of their gift.

    • Leah Says:

      I think that’s a regional thing. We live in “outstate” Minnesota (as in, not the Twin Cities). We got married 1.5 years ago, and our presents varied wildly. Had nothing to do with the age of attendees but seemed to be correlated to closeness and to where they’re from. I’m sure some of my relatives spent $500+ on presents (relatives from cities), and some of his relatives from rural MN/IA/MO maybe spent $10-25 on presents while some of his from cities spent more in the $100 range. We decided to appreciate what we got and be happy with that. We actually didn’t even return any presents, and we’ve used most of them.

      Wedding “etiquette” is such a crazy thing. Going in, we decided to spend just what we could afford and had a nice but not too fancy wedding. I looked at the gifts as nice extra and not any sort of reimbursement. We hosted a wedding because we wanted to share with loved ones and decided to take on that cost.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        While nobody we know spent anywhere near $500 on us (other than my parents who paid for the wedding and reception), we had the opposite rural/urban split. Yes, some folks from DH’s tiny rural hometown spent $10-$25 (which was totally appropriate!), but we also got the most generous presents from folks in his hometown. I was blown away by their generosity (though apparently many of them were being “rude”… who knew? Thankfully I didn’t and was able to just be appreciative.)

      • Rosa Says:

        I’m from NW Iowa, live in Minneapolis now, and most of the people I know who got married did it so young, When my best friend got married at 20, I think i spent $20? $50 would have been what I did instead of groceries that month. The big stuff on their registries was for their aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other established real grownups.

        Now I’m an established real grownup, I’d spend a couple hundred dollars on a young couple if we were close, but friends our age who’ve gotten married recently have either deliberately not done the present thing, or asked for charitable donations.

        It’s tremendously class & region based. A cousin of mine married an international business lawyer, and they got astonishingly expensive gifts from some of his colleagues and business contacts.

      • hush Says:

        @Rosa – Amen, yes, you totally get it. The appropriate level of giving increases as one’s own income and SES levels increase. No successful professional who relies on client and colleague relationships should ever neglect to send a decent wedding gift, especially when it’s a work-related first wedding they’re attending (why? the answer here should be obvious), but there are a great many situations where people who don’t have the means could give no gift at all without causing offense.

        Tangentially – I’m bothered by the inconsistency when the “We don’t know their circumstances” line is used to excuse someone else’s relative cheapness. Yet the same folks here are also insisting the exact opposite, “No, actually we DO know their circumstances” (i.e. “When it’s a friend who has a lot of money already” they give less) also as a justification to scrimp – lol! One always knows one’s own circumstances – that’s the proper yardstick for giving. That’s why it’s fair game to insist a hedge fund manager ought to send a gift appropriate to her station, even if the recipient is poor and would never know the difference. It’s a personal honor thing, perhaps.

        Otherwise it starts to feel like we’re all a bunch of “Tightwads and cheapskates” who “neglect their personal and social capital. They go against social norms in ways that can hurt other people. They may practice petty theft (see: ketchup packets), under-tipping, and so on” per this brilliant post from our hosts here:

        http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/ask-the-grumpies-tightwad-vs-frugal/

      • Rosa Says:

        But giving for reasons of sustaining personal status isn’t exactly about the web of relationships, anymore than advertising or having an office in a nice neighborhood is. It’s an investment, that you make for yourself.

        Weddings are for a lot of different things, depending on who is having them and who’s invited. If a wedding is a business networking opportunity, that’s fine, but it’s hardly on the level of petty theft to decide not to participate.

      • hush Says:

        @Rosa – You’re not wrong. “It’s an investment, that you make for yourself.” Then again, so is the act of giving more generously to one’s own family members than to one’s friends and business associates. Both “investments” are gifts that “sustain personal status.” We give to get, or so says pretty much everyone who has ever studied the subject of giving. The difference being the one smacks of capitalism, the other of tribalism. The Caring Auntie who writes a generous wedding check to her young relative should not suddenly be cast as a less sympathetic character when she makes the exact same gift to a colleague within the bounds of her work role as a Successful Businesswoman. Of course, that’s not what you’re suggesting.

        “.. it’s hardly on the level of petty theft to decide not to participate.”

        It looks a lot like petty theft if you are a hedge fund manager who makes $9 million a year and you, your spouse, and your 3 kids decide to attend the self-financed wedding of your 22-year-old cousin; and you eat her food, and drink her wine all weekend long, but do not give her a gift because you decide it is not the custom of folks in your cousin’s socioeconomic station to give wedding gifts. (Did I make this outrageous scenario up? No. True story.)

  5. Kellen Says:

    I haven’t had that many friends get married yet, and I gave about $200 to the last friend, mostly because I’ve been working for 2 years with a decent salary, while she and her husband just graduated from grad school programs, and are moving to a new city, etc. so I figured money would be the most helpful.
    I get annoyed going through people’s registries too… My boyfriend and I already live together, already have all the stuff we need for our kitchen – I don’t think we’d need a super-expensive matching plate set to make our lives complete if we decided to get married. Most young people these days already have the “stuff” they need for their household, since it’s not like we all live with our parents right up until we get married and move out anymore…

    • Leah Says:

      Going through the registries of friends definitely influenced us when making ours. We stuck to basics and tried to to ask for anything we wouldn’t feel comfortable buying for ourselves. So, for example, we did Crate & Barrel dishes . . . but we did their everyday line. We did justify getting dishes with the fact that we only owned 4 mismatched plates, and we would buy our own dishes if no one chose to buy those for us.

  6. eemusings Says:

    I’ve been doing $50-100, though some couples friends were generous enough to give us $200-300 at our wedding.

  7. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    Possibly the most useful present we received were some $100 bills — not because we necessarily needed the cash, but because we had a charming postal mishap that resulted in our electric bill being misdirected and in the fun of combining households, somehow no one noticed that it was missing. We then had to pay in cash at the utility to make sure our power didn’t get turned off. And, how convenient, we had a big pile of cash!

  8. Bardiac Says:

    I love Miser Mom’s idea! Who doesn’t need a set of household tools and a nice place to keep them?
    I’m probably on the cheap end, but I try to give the couple something that speaks to our relationship. My favorite wedding gift of late was a bike pump and some bike bottles. Everytime they fill their tires to go out and play, they remember me :)

    • Bardiac Says:

      ps. It was on their registry list! (not the bottles, though. I just wanted them to have good bottles.)

  9. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Weddings are patriarchal shakedown schemes. You should tell your friends getting “married” to go f*cke themselves with a rusty garden hoe.

  10. Flavia Says:

    I got married less than two years ago (in my mid-30s, to someone in his early 40s), and though we specified that we didn’t need gifts, we noticed that of those who gave money, the “standard” amount from friends of roughly our age seemed to be $100 (though a few friends with lots of money in NYC and Boston gave $150-200). That was really helpful to know, since we had a few weddings to attend ourselves over the next year!

    When I was younger and poorer, I tried to make sure I was spending about $50–anything less felt insulting–but at this point in my life and career that seems too low.

    I sometimes prefer to get giftcards (at the place they couple is registered, or at a restaurant I know they like, or someplace like Lowes if they’re home-improvement types), since that’s dedicated money they can spend on something that feels more like a gift. Speaking for myself, $100 cash is awesome, but it tends just to go toward bills. $100 at Crate & Barrel means useful stuff I might nevertheless not have bought.

  11. Leigh Says:

    I always give cash. They can buy the things they really want off the registry with cash or do whatever. If they’re young and I know they are short on money, I’ll give $75. If they’re okay, I’ll give $50. If I know both of the people, I’ll give $100. I haven’t been to too many weddings, but that’s what I’ve been doing so far.

    No one actually told me that you were supposed to give a present at a wedding or even a card until the night before the first wedding I went to! That would have been nice to know earlier.

    I think that household gifts in the case of young people who are still moving around quite a bit aren’t the best idea. A friend got married last year and they moved within a few months of the wedding and they’ll probably move again this year. My friend told me how excited ze was to get so much cash to restock their savings account post-wedding. That made me feel like giving cash was the right decision.

    What about first babies though? When are you supposed to give a present for that occasion?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You do not actually have to give a present at a wedding (and as for when– they tend to prefer you ship directly to their home, because things often get lost at the ceremony/reception, but it’s not a big deal either way). And yes, cash is great for young folks who are moving around. We didn’t have a registry because we were moving to a tiny apartment right away and it would be cheaper to buy cheap stuff than to ship anything.

      Re: first babies: Again, it is totally up to you. You don’t have to give anything, you can just give something cute and cheap or useful and cheap (I think the most useful gift we received was a package of cloth diapers for use as burp rags… DC1 was super-spitty), or you can give quite a bit (there’s some substantial baby registry items like car seats and so on, or we’ll often send a gift card to Target or Walmart).

  12. chacha1 Says:

    We are so old that few of our friends are getting married anymore.

    The most recent wedding was actually a family wedding, a middle-aged union between a cousin and his longtime partner. DH looked at the Etsy registry and bought one of the most expensive items. We are very well-off compared to most in the family and this was a favorite cousin. :-)

    I think our “average” over the years has been $125. Whether we attended the wedding or not.

  13. hush Says:

    First weddings, and funerals, and college graduations are times to act more generously than you usually would. Your own income ought to dictate the level of giving, not what you imagine the recipient’s income to be. If you make $120k+ a year, a $50 gift is far too ungenerous. As others have said, $100 cash is probably the bare minimum. If you make $45k a year, then a $50 gift would be more appropriate.

    “I think that’s too cheap. If we were grad students, sure, that would be a good amount, but we are both grownups with salaries and I think we should be able to buy something bigger.”

    Yes, damn right it’s too cheap. As you say, there are gifts from “grownups” – those are the people who earn six-figure+ salaries. The colleague who wants to go half-sies is acting like a child. How podunk.

    I appreciate the gift of green, and I cannot abide cheap rich people. Frugality is great, but when it penalizes others, not so much. The richer you are, the more generous your cash gift to someone getting married for the first time should be. (There is no social duty to give a gift to someone getting married for the 2nd+ time). Also, what goes around comes around. If you’re cheap with others, trust me, they’ll return the favor to you and yours.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If you’re making 120K+, chances are the folks whose weddings you’re going to are also making that amount. They don’t need the stuff on their registry, and they certainly don’t need a check either. If they’re worried about the monetary cost of their gifts, or you’re worried about what other people are giving them, then there’s something wrong. (And at our wedding, a lot of people didn’t give gifts, and we were fine with that… we did the etiquette correct thing of making sure people very close to us knew to answer when asked we didn’t need anything because we were moving to Boston and couldn’t afford movers, and that their presence was what we wanted most– my parents also opened up the house to everyone who didn’t want to or couldn’t afford to make hotel reservations.)

      And no, the colleague who wants to spend $45 on a wedding gift for a former student is not acting like a child and is not podunk. What a horrible thing to say about someone. You do not know her circumstances, and even if you did, she has no obligation to give anything at all.

      Last former student’s wedding I was invited to, I a. did not go and b. did not give anything. If that makes me cheap, then well, that’s tough for anybody who thinks that. At the same time (literally– they had the same wedding date), we were very generous to my cousin whose parents disowned him. Different circumstances.

      Truly good etiquette will not judge said colleague’s choice in gifts, especially if the three gifts she has chosen are picked out thoughtfully. Thoughtfulness is worth a lot in terms of monetary value. Far more than just cutting a check for $200.

      And some people would rather spend their money on charity and people actually in need than on a $200 fancy sheet set for a couple who has been living together 10 years and makes well over 200K themselves. At some income point the idea of wedding gifts becomes a farce.

      • hush Says:

        “And some people would rather spend their money on charity and people actually in need than on a $200 fancy sheet set for a couple who has been living together 10 years and makes well over 200K themselves.” A total false dichotomy, that. As if the only two spending choices in the world are a wedding gift or a charitable gift. Lol!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Bottom-line: Miss Manners says you give what you want to give, others give what they want to give, the recipient is gracious about whatever ze gets or doesn’t get (and can do whatever ze wants with the gift after ze has gotten it, so long as ze is discreet about it). Worrying about what others are giving or getting is mercenary and gauche, especially if all you’re concerned with is monetary value and not thought.

    • Ally Says:

      This makes me feel better – I make less than 40,000 a year (and am single so no other income) – so I’ve never once wondered whether “only” spending $40-$50 was ok until now (luckily I go to few weddings – the next to last one I sang in, so I guess you could consider that part of my gift as well – the value of what it would have cost to pay someone)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The other half of our blog transported several out of town guests from the two hour away airport to our house as her gift to us (she also did a reading). Another friend made mix-CDs for the reception which we still have. Monetary value really isn’t all that. We were just so happy people were willing to fly out to the middle of nowhere to be with us when we got married.

      • Ally Says:

        Exactly – and honestly all the weddings I get invited to are people in agreement on that really – I only have a handful of close friends, not someone with a ton of acquaintances anyway – but it still worries me at times when I see posts like this. I have a good friend getting married this fall, but luckily I will be going out of the country right before so I’m hoping to find something nice and unusual (in a good way) to bring back for them, because again the meaning and thought really is the most important thing…

    • Rented life Says:

      Grown ups earn six figures? Shit, I’ll never be a grown up. Nor will husband. We can’t assume what some one’s salary is just because they aren’t grad students, nor can it be assumed that grad advisor’s coworker isn’t swimming in his/her own debt. I’d love to be more generous but with our monthly bills that’s not possible. What if the coworker is in the same boat?

    • YouHush! Says:

      Just because you know someone’s salary doesn’t mean you know their finances. All of my friends make over $120k, but some are heavily indebted ($200-450k in educational loans at 8%) to get that salary; others’ parents paid for school. Some of my friends spend thousands of dollars on Vegas trips all the time and have swanky cars; some of us drive cheap used cars and live frugal lifestyle. Smart finances is about choices, and one should generally set budgets for discretionary spending; it’s presumptuous to assume that my salary means I have X to spend on wedding gifts or whether the amount given is a reflection upon my feelings about the couple. If they think that, then they aren’t really the kind of substantive people I’d like to be friends with anyway.

  14. hush Says:

    “Worrying about what others are giving or getting is mercenary and gauche…”

    No, nobody here is “mercenary and gauche” for worrying about how much to spend on a wedding present, especially if one works in a field where such a misstep within one’s professional circle can have career-limiting consequences.

    And you’re right, I said horrible things and made a few assumptions about someone I don’t know. When that someone is all done putting their colleague @Grad Advisor in the awkward position that necessitated her writing in to you, maybe they can chime in and set me straight.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Career limiting consequences? For giving a gift worth $45 to a former graduate student rather than $100? Seriously? What might be career limiting would be telling one’s colleague that her thoughtful 3 gift idea means she is podunk and childish.

      Regardless of how much this colleague makes, there is no “right” amount for giving. Even if this person makes 500K/year or multi-millions, there’s no amount that they do or do not have to give for a wedding.

      And yes, it is mercenary and gauche to judge other people on how much they spend, rather than the quality of their thoughts or feelings. It’s gauche to judge people on how much they spend on others (at least in these optional gift-giving contexts, especially when they expect nothing in return), and it is mercenary to judge people on how much they spend on you. If the former graduate student thinks “OMG, they only spent $90 when I should have been getting $200,” then I’d question even spending $90.

      The link CPP provided relates pretty well.

  15. hush Says:

    @Grad Advisor wrote: “The problem is that the colleague wants to buy three little-ish things that together cost $90 and split that in two. I think that’s too cheap.” Now you call that a “thoughtful 3 gift idea.” Not me. Whatever these “three little-ish things” may be, they feel wrong enough and problematic enough to @Grad Advisor that she wrote to you about them. I’m inclined to believe @Grad Advisor knows from whence she speaks on the issue of what she finds thoughtful.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Even if Grad Advisor doesn’t think something is thoughtful, doesn’t mean that it isn’t thoughtful or that the recipient won’t think it’s thoughtful. Just the act buying something rather than picking the first thing with the right price off the registry (or cutting a check– though often with young folks a check is the best present) means more thought than most wedding presents.

      And in any case, it is still IRRELEVANT how much the other person is spending. If Grad Advisor doesn’t think the gift is “enough” then she is free to buy her own. The colleague may be right, the grad advisor may be right about whether or not it’s a good gift, but etiquette says that colleague is free to give what she wants, grad advisor is free to give what she wants, and it’s nobody’s business (and no fault on either) if those two things are different.

      • hush Says:

        @Grad Advisor was (and is) free to give what she wants to, and her colleague impinged upon her freedom when s/he made the request that @Grad Advisor subsidize half of her “too cheap” gift of “three little-ish things.” Now @Grad Advisor finds herself an awkward workplace position because the colleague would like to save money. I fail to see how the colleague’s behavior qualifies as good etiquette in say, Miss Manners’ eyes.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        There is nothing wrong with the colleague asking if she’s interested in splitting. At this point, the colleague is free, as we said, and as Debbie M said, to say no thank you, I will be giving separately. (Or to give the $45 as half the gift and then add something extra just from her.) Sometimes group gifts work out, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people add on to a group gift.

        And, there is NOTHING WRONG with giving a gift worth $45. That doesn’t mean the colleague wants to “save money.” It does not mean that the colleague is cheap. Grad adviser wants to give more, and more power to her for wanting to do so.

        No, the bad behavior is in impugning someone for giving a gift that isn’t “good enough” in that person’s eyes. That’s the kind of bad etiquette that Miss Manners makes the most of. She’s very firm on gift-giving, and I, for one, agree with her. Gifts are given, they are not owed.

  16. hush Says:

    “Gifts are given, they are not owed.” Yes. The colleague should GIVE a gift (or not) without asking @Grad Advisor to chip in and subsidize his preferences.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Why are you reading in a joint present from graduate school advisers as chipping in and subsidizing preferences? Why give this the most negative spin possible? It’s perfectly reasonable for someone who is invited in a joint role to suggest a joint gift. And it’s perfectly reasonable for the other person to say that’s a great idea or I’ll be doing something separately.

      Usually in these situations the person asking the question is saying they can’t afford to pay half the joint gift because it’s way over budget. Wanting to spend more is much easier to solve. You just… spend more. No muss, no fuss. No harm, no foul.

      It’s even completely possible that this person is keeping the price down on the joint part for the benefit of Grad Advisor and is giving something additional separately. We don’t know. (And $45 is still not unreasonable all by itself.)

      The etiquette problem, again, is when you attribute negativity to the person’s choice of gifts. Like that person wants me to subsidize the way too expensive gift. Or that person is a cheapskate. Or that person has terrible taste. There’s no winning. That’s one reason people are free to give what they want, if they want to give anything at all.

      • hush Says:

        Negative Nancy here. I did not read @Grad Advisor’s words “the colleague and I are both invited to the wedding” to mean these coworkers have been “invited in a joint role to suggest a joint gift” as you say, though that could very well be the case. If each coworker were mailed their own invitations addressed to them, then there is certainly no “joint role” to be inferred there. We don’t know.

        @Grad Advisor’s original question is “what’s customary?” (Which SES class are we talking about?) $100 at a minimum if one is attending a first wedding is the current custom for members of the professional classes, regardless of the socioeconomic circumstances under which said members were raised, they all tend to fall in line with this custom. So your well meaning advice that “$45 is still not unreasonable all by itself” would be just plain wrong in the context of many (but not all) members of the professional classes. We don’t know if @Grad Advisor and/or colleague feel they are members of the professional classes or not, however @Grad Advisor’s statement “I think that’s too cheap” would suggest that.

        In the professional classes, a workplace offer to pay $45 for a joint gift risks breaking some unspoken social rules. This is the reality I’ve seen for years, and I will spare you the anecdotes. When coworker members of the professional classes go in on joint gifts, they typically put in at least $100 each (usually more) to create a more synergistically awesome gift than the several smaller gifts they could have done individually, and also they tend to come up with and approve the idea for the gift(s) together. This is not at all the case for @Grad Advisor: “the colleague wants to buy three little-ish things that together cost $90 and split that in two. I think that’s too cheap.”

      • Grad Advisor Says:

        Hi, this is Grad Advisor. Thanks Grumpies for posting the question and for everyone’s thoughtful answers! The colleague (also a woman) and I were invited independently, each with families — the student was advised by both of us. My view of going halfsies on a present would be to either buy something big, something that would be too much for a single person, or something that would symbolize the student’s time with the two of us. Otherwise I don’t really see why we would go together really, we are not close or anything.

        Hush brings an interesting point — I definitely consider us “professionals”, we earn six-fig salaries. They are lowish six-figs (we are profs at a big public school), but I consider us comfortably middle class and I personally think that spending $100+ would be appropriate for the present from my family alone.

        Btw, here’s the epilogue of this exciting story: in the meantime I talked (emailed, actually) with the colleague and I said I would be more comfortable splitting the cost of something larger from the registry, but the colleague said she wanted a present that is not too personal, but also something that would obviously benefit the student (e.g. not be something that seems to benefit the fiancee’s hobby). So I think the colleague is being thoughtful, but at this point perhaps a little too thoughtful for my taste, as she seems to have a very clear idea of what would and would not work and it does not really mesh with mine [I personally think that, since I am not a close personal friend, the best way I can contribute is by putting money towards something they want or need (i.e. registry FTW) and is a little more expensive than their grad school or freshly graduated friends can afford]. After three or four emails exchanged with the colleague, I decided I didn’t really want this to escalate into a big thing where we have to negotiate over what to buy, it seems stupid, a waste of time and energy. So I told the colleague that I didn’t want this to become a big deal, encouraged her to buy 1 or 2 of the 3 things (all very lovely btw) she initially suggested for the joint present, and said that I would just buy something on my own later when I get a chance.

      • hush Says:

        @Grad Advisor, You made the exact choice I would make in your shoes.

        How very odd that a coworker you’re not even close with at all has tried to make her gift budget your business in the first place. I strongly suggest you never mention this incident to anyone else in your professional circle, because it might cast your coworker in a bad light, and you’re right – she probably fully intends to be “too thoughtful” here, very well said.

      • hush Says:

        “The etiquette problem, again, is when you attribute negativity to the person’s choice of gifts. Like that person wants me to subsidize the way too expensive gift. Or that person is a cheapskate. Or that person has terrible taste. There’s no winning.”

        Wrong. The etiquette problem for @Grad Advisor’s colleague is she chose to solicit feedback and buy-in on a very narrow, specific, non-registry, too-cheap-for-members-of-the-professional-classes gifts idea from a coworker who she hardly knows.

        She could have easily “won,” to borrow from your winners and losers parlance, by not bringing any of this up at work. She could have easily “won” by keeping her own gift budget to herself. But when someone openly advertises her gift budget and opens a joint gift negotiation with a coworker she is not even close with, she’s potentially crossing a boundary. She necessarily invites feedback that might be negative (and horrible and mercenary and gauche… and classist – or not) because she has chosen to put a coworker in a position where they now are forced to either evaluate her gift choices then respond to her request for subsidy, or do what – try to avoid her at work? No way.

  17. darchole Says:

    $45 is cheap??? Coming from a blue-collar background in the Midwest, when I got married $25 to $50 was the range, with only close relatives and friends coming close to the $50. Most of the gifts were in the cash and check variety too, but that may have been due to the fact spouse-to-be and I already had a house together. However I had some family members also help with things like planning decorating the reception place, and cleaning which is also expected in the type of background. I’ve also seen weddings and receptions where just about everything was done by family or friends, from food and decorations to holding receptions in someone’s garage.

  18. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    A: I have considered throwing myself an “I’m still single” shower so all my married friends would have to pay up, but the truth is I’m not quite that passive-aggressive.
    B: no
    that’s um, what’s the word
    gauche
    A: heh
    it’s an idea whose time has definitely come. That doesn’t mean it’s a GOOD idea.
    B: besides, if you do that, we should throw a “we got married when you all were broke and now you’re all well off” party
    A: let’s just be real. We can throw a joint “We’re only friends with you for the money” party.
    B: that would be awesome
    A: Do you like my hat? It’s made of MONEY. http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2000/10/23
    B: hahaha
    oh man
    you are not allowed to have a money dance at your wedding
    those are also… what’s the word… gauche
    well, you can have one at the “we only invited you for the money” party
    I will be unable to attend that one
    A: enh
    B: but I’ll send a card
    A: meh meh meh prostitution meh meh

  19. Rented life Says:

    Husband and I only wished that people would have either selected off our registry or did cash (or gift card–also great) or did nothing While some of the gifts mentioned here are nice, we were young, broke, starting out. Instead of getting household items we needed we got loads of things we didn’t register for. Frames, plastic fake flower decor, mini towels (no real towels though). I needed basics-dishes, pots and pans, etc. So now I either give cash/gift card or something from registry because I remember how frustrated I was building that registry no one using it. Never buy home decor, folks. Or a cd if “sexy” songs ( thanks grandpa but no.). I’d rather people just come and enjoy the day than feel obligated to get me something and it be beyond useless.

    For first baby, I buy lingere bags (and a gift). A new mom told me how her BFF gave her one for laundering baby socks. They don’t get lost as easily.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have to admit, while I was gracious about (and grateful for) most of the gifts we received… I really would rather that the people who brought decorative candles because they couldn’t afford anything else would have brought nothing instead. But hey, it’s a just a candle, and I suppose a lot of people must like them. (And in theory my parents have done something with them in the decade plus since we got married.) I’m still mystified as to why we received so many of them.

      • rented life Says:

        We got lots of sparkly fake fruit. Lots of it. and Jesus stuff. Donations were made to goodwill.

    • hush Says:

      Amen, folks wish you would buy things from their registry or give cash/cash equivalents. And yes, one can be gracious and grateful while quietly wishing to oneself privately that sparkly fake fruit items and the like were not given, yet still writing a kind thank you note for said items anyway.

    • Astra Says:

      I, on the other hand, received items off the registry that I still love, 15 years on. I often buy off the registry for that reason. If they recipients love it, great, but they can pass it on if they don’t. Complaining that someone didn’t buy off your pre-approved list seems churlish to me.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We still have a lovely small clock (probably not worth much, but who knows) that we still use not on our list (but we didn’t have a registry, so nothing was on our list)– the friend who got it made sure it was something small and easily transportable (since she knew we were moving and had no money) and useful too.

  20. How I Stay Away From Internet / Online Drama | Oilandgarlic's Blog Says:

    […] witnessed many of these fights/dramas over the years but so far, I’ve been able to stay neutral and not get involved.   The only […]


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