A guide to wedding gifts and why some couples don't want anything

A guide to wedding gifts and why some couples don't want anything

It's wedding season in Canada and if you plan on witnessing any upcoming nuptials, chances are you've been wondering what to give the happy couple.

Many couples now have extensive registries—sometimes more than one.

But questions still linger. For instance, are wedding gifts really necessary? How much should they cost? And is giving money as a gift tacky?

Sarah Knudson, associate professor of sociology at St. Thomas Moore College, has studied marriage and weddings extensively.

While many guests aim to cover the costs the host is spending on them, there is more to consider.

According to Knudson, if you're invited to a wedding, you should always give a gift of some sort, even if you don't attend.

When it comes to what you should give, Knudson said it should depend on how close you are to the bride and groom and should be symbolic of your relationship.

"Usually, if you are really close family or friends, you should spend a little bit more. If you're not as connected, haven't seen the couple in a long time or don't know them as well, it's not expected for you to spend as much," Knudson said.

Another factor to consider is your own income and life circumstances. Students and retirees are generally only expected to give a small gift, she said.

While the registry can be a very helpful guide, you don't have always have to follow it. Knudson advises you can go off registry and get something personal if you are close to the couple and feel like you know them enough to pick something that's perfect.

If you don't know them that well, giving money is a good option. Knudson said it's not considered tacky and can be more flexible if you aren't sure. Gift cards can also be considered if you have something in mind but don't want to make any specific choices.

No gifts please

If the couple stipulates that guests skip gifts altogether, it's important to respect their wishes.

Knudson said the increasing shift away from wedding gifts has a lot to do with the demographics of today's bride and groom.

On average, both men and women are now over 30 when they tie the knot for the first time in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. By comparison, in the early 1970s, women were about 22 when they were married for the first time and men were about 24, on average.

This means brides and grooms today have had many more years to establish themselves financially and set up their households.

Many couples also live together before getting married. In fact, more than half of Canadians in their 20s can now expect to cohabit before marriage. This is very different from the Victorian era when a bride's family helped her assemble everything she would need to start life in her new household.

"Certainly, more [people] are shifting away from giving a couple things that will help them start out a household," Knudson said.

Donations to charity over gifts

Since many couples already have homes, different types of registries are being introduced. Some couples ask for money for their honeymoon or donations to charity in lieu of a gift.

It's a royal thing to do. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle asked for contributions to charity instead of presents for their wedding on May 19. 

Alyx Millham, a self-described minimalist, is set to get married in Regina on Sept. 15. Millham and her fiance Carlos are not asking for any gifts.

Instead, they've invited volunteers from The Paw Project, a non-profit organization centred on animal welfare, to tend the bar at their wedding. Guests will be encouraged to give tips and donate to the charity instead of giving money to the couple.

Millham said that since they've already been living together for five years, opting out of wedding gifts was a no-brainer.

"We have everything that we need. So, why would we ask for more? It just seems like a waste," she said.

When giving or getting gifts, Millham said she prefers those centered around an experience, like a concert or another bonding moment for family or friends.

She said her husband, who is from Chile, did ask his family to bring some nationally-grown wine.

Destination weddings

Saskatoon's Ian McDougall is engaged to Victoria Dinh, a morning show producer at CBC. They plan to have a destination wedding in Puerto Vallarta in March.

Their wedding invitation tells guests not to bring gifts.

The pair have been living together since 2012. McDougall said that's been enough time to accumulate everything they need for around the house.

"We don't need anyone to buy us a blender," he said. "We're fairly well set up in terms of what gifts we might expect to receive."

Knudson said people attending a destination wedding generally aren't expected to buy a wedding gift due to the cost of travel.

It's something McDougall said they considered when making their decision not to have a gift registry.

"If people can make it out to the wedding, that would be enough. It's pricey to get there so we're not asking for gifts," he said. "We just say, your presence is gift enough."