The Great Wedding Registry Debate

Last night I settled down at the computer to buy a wedding present for a good friend. He and his fiance are registered at Crate and Barrel, Macy’s, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Fifteen minutes into this search, I was simply overwhelmed (it’s a good thing Twitter was there to hear me rant). It had nothing to do with this particular wedding registry; rather, I’ve perused my fair share of registries, and this one provided the tipping point. There are so many items on registries that (a) are ridiculously overpriced and (b) will hardly ever be used.

You're really going to use this goblet? Really?

How do any of these gifts represent the strongest legal union of two people? Does a $170 gravy boat say, “We’re madly in love with each other”? Does a $225 saute pan say, “We’re in this for the long haul”?

The number one justification I’ve heard for all this stuff is: We’re never going to buy this stuff ourselves, so the wedding is the one time to get it.

That logic seems inherently flawed to me. Just because you have an opportunity to get gifts doesn’t mean that you need all those gifts. Does anyone really need good china? How often does it get used? Isn’t it more of a hassle than anything else?

Granted, some of the stuff looks useful. Even some of the more expensive appliances like the blender. Nothing wrong with a good blender.

The problem with those items is that they’re pretty expensive. I could contribute to those items by giving a gift card to one of those stores. The risk, however, is that the gift card will be used to buy Vera Wang china. Again, I want to contribute to a strong, loving union. Smoothies made in a blender could contribute to such a union. China that gathers dust and creates a hassle when moving, I believe, will not.

The other solution doesn’t exist. I wish there were a way on these registries to pay for part of a gift. I think is aiming for something like that, but currently not with registries (and I think there is a surcharge). But on Macy’s website, I’d love to pay for part of the blender, but I currently can’t do that.

I’m curious about your thoughts on my little rant. Also, I’d like to hear what you think about wedding gift-giving standards. My rule is that I have to travel to get to a wedding, I don’t have to give a gift (past girlfriends scorned this policy). Again, I think being witness to a loving union is much more important than giving a gift, and shouldn’t my $300+ airfare and hotel room count as that gift? I don’t consider myself “cheap,” but I just don’t think I should be expected to pay for travel and lodging and a gift on top of that.

I hope you do whatever works best for you. I don’t want to impose my opinions onto you. But in truth, I think the current practice of wedding registries is a little…dare I say…greedy? It’s like the greedy, grabby little kid comes out in people when they have that registry gun.

The best wedding registry I’ve ever seen was focused on the couple’s honeymoon, not material items. The couple was going to vacation in Hawaii for a week following their wedding, and there were a number of activities they wanted to do–ocean kayaking, hiking,ย para-sailing, romantic dinners, etc. On their registry, they listed all these bonding activities and let you give any amount you wanted to help make them happen. Compare that to an $30 goblet and tell me which gift feels more like a blessing to the new married couple.

What do you think? Also, any guys here? Read up on my tips for how to be a great wedding date.

45 thoughts on “The Great Wedding Registry Debate”

  1. I LOVE the idea of the honeymoon gift registry. That’s DEFINITELY something I would do. I might also register for a few material things, mostly because I love getting new kitchen stuff to play with. But I figure anything that will contribute to dinners made with love by the people they’re for is necessary too, right? If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my mom, it’s that china from the dollar store looks just as pretty as the really expensive stuff, and you don’t yell at family members when it breaks.

    • I’m glad you like the honeymoon gift registry! I thought that was pretty brilliant too. And I think you make a good point about kitchen stuff. Anything that contributes to “togetherness” is great in my book.

  2. I totally agree with you. Gift registries are ridiculous. Of all the wedding presents we got, maybe 5% were off of the registry. I find, in general, people will get what they want to get regardless of the registry. One person actually said that they got us the wine glasses they liked rather than the ones we registered for. We have 6 different types of wine glasses now.

    I’ll go along with the travel means gift optional.

    The best thing I heard was from a couple of co-workers. One guy was getting married, we’ll call him Mike. The other guy, we’ll call him Bill, said, “Mike, what is it that _you_ need? Forget the wife, I want to get something for you.” Mike said he needed a good set of Craftsman wrenches. Bill said, “Done!” And I’m sure those wrenches have fixed many things in their marriage.

    • In agreeing with me, you raise a good point that contradicts my point: The buying of wine glasses. People actually do use wine glasses, and it is marginally better for dinner parties if they actually match. I’ll concede that.

      I like the idea of asking the guy what he wants (because most of the items on the registry are not selected by the guy–at least the guys I know). However, doesn’t that just have the opposite effect? Although those wrenches might fix problems that arise during the marriage, they aren’t about togetherness. Maybe that’s just my preference–giving something that contributes to togetherness.

  3. The honeymoon gift is a great idea. You’re buying an experience. What I’d do, even if not asked, is find out where they are going and staying and do research in that area. Get a gift certificate to a nearby restaurant delivered to the hotel. Call up the concierge and get their recommendations. Same thing could be done for some other experience that’s not a restaurant.

  4. Interesting. I wanted to supply my guests with an opportunity to help pay for my honeymoon but those I asked about it frowned upon my idea, thinking it was greedy. Everyone redirected me back to the objects, which in reality, I did need (a colander, mugs, and towels were also included). I received every piece of china, which I use for every holiday. I love my china, but I wish I had gone with my original idea. Great blog! @SistaKelleen

    • Really, people thought the honeymoon idea was greedy? I think it’s great that you ended up asking for things you actually need, and if you actually use the china, that’s awesome!

    • You know, I heard a really good idea on registering for china recently. China actually is stronger and lasts longer than most other stoneware (funny that it’s often put behind glass, because real China is less breakable than your average plates). Also, nice “normal” stoneware has gone up in price. So, my plan for my wedding hehe, is to register for china that has a simple, modern design that costs about the same as regular stoneware. My hope is that we’ll be able to use it for many occasions (even some normal days of the week), and that it will last a good long time!

  5. For the most part, I’m in agreement. I understand the idea of gift giving and how that fits into the wedding. The justification I have most often heard is that the wedding costs $X per head, so the gift should be at least $X. The problem with that rationale is the person giving the gift did not request that the wedding cost that much; and like you said, there may extraneous factors at hand like travel and hotel costs. I have given gifts for weddings I have not even attended (just gave a $75 gift certificate to Crate & Barrell). But I don’t feel like one should feel compelled to give an $X gift just because its a nicer wedding or its standard. Like you alluded to, there are so many factors at play: are you bringing a date?, are you traveling? are you paying for a tux rental to be in the wedding? is it a nice wedding? are you going to the rehearsal dinner?. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer at the end of the day, but I do think that you’re right, buying a $300 blender when you have to travel, pay for a hotel, etc. is ridiculous. I do think, however, that not getting anything, even if you do have to travel, is bad form as well. Even if it’s just a $25 gift card, at least you got something. I have had a couple of friends attend weddings and not get anything in the past couple of months, and I let them know I didn’t agree with that approach (and this is all coming from a guy who has never gotten married keep in mind).

    • First, I agree that the rationale you mention (that the wedding costs $X per head, so the gift should be at least $X) is completely flawed.

      As for the “bad form,” perhaps. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion. And it is true that wedding guests get a lot of free stuff from the experience. It’s essentially a big, free party. That still doesn’t justify the types of gifts I see on some registries, though.

  6. Long-time reader, first time commenter (well, at least the first comment in a LONG time).

    As someone who is getting married pretty soon, I went through the registry hassle and have a different perspective. My personal take was that the traditional registry is more for extended family (especially older generations) who expect to contribute to building a household than it is for my friends who are around my age. My fiance and I did NOT register for formal china, for example, and grandmothers, great aunts, etc., seemed horrified. Those things, although not useful everyday, used to be considered in the past to be heirlooms that could be passed down for generations, but were not something that most twenty-somethings could afford. This is just one of many examples of how registries have changed now that people are getting married later in life. Not only do I already have a set of pots and pans, but I actually have TWO. Mine and my fiances…but both are pretty cheap and weren’t built to last.

    BUT (a) you can’t underestimate family pressure and (b) you can’t please everyone. We really wanted to register for our honeymoon, but our destination of choice did not offer that as an option, and skipping the registry altogether didn’t seem quite right either. So we registered for a nicer, hopefully long lasting set of pots and pans, some dishes we liked, a pet hair vacuum, and a comfy set of sheets, to name a few. We really, really tried to have a broad variety of price ranges, but I have already heard complaints that our registry is just too expensive. But for those that feel it is too expensive, I can only hope they won’t feel obligated to buy from the registry.

    Yes, I felt a little greedy while holding that scan gun, but I also rationalized that most people truly WANT to buy presents for newlyweds, and a little guidance (though no expectations) on what we need, want, and will use, would be helpful.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Christine! You raise a great point about how some of these traditions may be left over from a previous era (and thus may not be as relevant as they were 50 years ago).

      I think a set of nice pots and pans are a great wedding gift. I think I was surprised to see such expensive pots and pans on this registry–$200 for a saute pan? Can that be right?

      I love those items you mentioned, by the way. They seem like things that both you and your future husband will use.

      Also, I should say this (this applies to several comments): I’m not against buying gifts. In fact, I really like buying gifts when I can’t make it to the wedding. I know people are on a budget for their weddings, so I don’t expect to be invited. But I actually like to receive notification of a wedding so I can hop on a registry and buy them a gift (I guess I can do this without notification). It gives me a way to contribute to the “union” in some way.

  7. I totally agree with Christine – you can’t please everyone, but most people WANT to buy presents for newlyweds, and if we wouldn’t have had a registry, we would have spent DAYS AND DAYS trying to return the things we really didn’t need or the duplicates we had received. Also – my husband got one of the “guns” they give you to register with – I can guarantee you he picked out at least half of the items on our registry, so don’t assume it was all the woman’s doing!

    The honeymoon thing is a good idea, but not always pratical. It just wansn’t an option for our destination, plus a lot of the people we asked about it didn’t like that idea – they’d rather buy us that set of wine glasses that we can use while we share a bottle of wine together after the wedding.

    I think it’s REALLY uncool to not give a gift just b/c you had to travel to get to the wedding. They invited you b/c you were a close enough friend/family member that you “made the cut” and they wanted you to be there to share the day with them. You didn’t HAVE to come, and if you can spend $300 on a plane ticket, I honestly think it’s just plain rude to not get them some sort of token gift (a $25 gift card to Target & nice card can do wonders!). I mean, would you NOT have gone if the plane ticket was $325? It just sends a message that their wedding wasn’t important enough to warrant a case of Budweiser.

    • I find it hard to believe that any guy would gun a piece of china :).

      See my above comment to Christine, and as I said, I’m not against registries. It’s a great concept. I just think they can be done better.

      And I can see that justification about the honeymoon gift. Why give something they’ll only share once when you could give them something they could use for a lifetime? Although, that logic doesn’t always work (it really depends on the couple). Like, should you not go on that vacation with your husband to Brazil because you’d rather buy a nice grill that’ll last for year? Sometimes, but not always, I’d think.

      “REALLY” uncool, huh? All caps? ๐Ÿ™‚ So if I spend a weekend and $300 traveling across the country to share in a beautiful moment between two friends, that somehow conveys to them that I don’t think their wedding is important just because I didn’t throw in a gift card? I’m not so set in my opinion about this that I can’t be swayed, but I’m going to need better logic than that.

      • Ha…well, I didn’t gun a piece of china either, so it’s a good thing we were on the same page. ๐Ÿ™‚

        I love how inflection just cannot be heard through the written word. ๐Ÿ™‚ My REALLY uncool statement comes from a point of view where I live 1000+ miles away from every single high school and college friend I have (not to mention from every family member & cousin – and believe me, there are a LOT of them) so I spend a lot of money traveling to weddings. However, I try to make a point of turning it into a vacation for ME as well, so it’s not like every penny I spend on airfare and accommodations was solely for the benefit of the bride & groom, hence I still get a gift for them, even if the trip cost me beaucoup bucks. It might be a $20 gift instead of a $50 gift, but it’s the thought that counts…at least in my opinion.

        Kind of off subject, but even though I am NOT a material person (and if you remember my earlier posts, I actually don’t like to give or receive gifts normally), weddings are a whole different ball game. When we got married, it was honestly insulting if we invited a friend + guest (this happened by the way!), and that friend brought a random guest, just to bring someone, but didn’t bother to even give a card. I mean, c’mon, I just paid for BOTH of your plates plus your open bar tab and you couldn’t even give me a card saying congrats?

        • Okay, that’s a fair point about turning wedding weekends into a vacation for you…I’ve done that too, to some extent.

          See my comment to Red about the love language thing. That might apply.

          That makes sense about the guest. However, I understand the desire to bring a guest, even if they’re a random person just for the sake of having someone by your side (I’ve been that guest MANY times, although not so random…moreso ambivalent). I think that’s just part of a considerate wedding invitation. I don’t think you should hold it against someone from wanting a date. And if they’re a good friend who knows a lot of other people at the wedding, just don’t put “and guest” on the invitation. They’ll be fine without it.

          • Just to clarify, I have no problem with people who brings guests – I have definitely done that myself! However, when those same people don’t see a need to even give us a congratulatory card, it seemed quite rude to me.

              • Um…I’m not sure what you mean by this? There are entire sections dedicated to wedding cards, and yes, just a heartfelt card with a nice message written inside was a totally acceptable gift (to me – a non-gift Love Language person!)…but no acknowledgement was not.

                To each their own though – just giving you my opinion!

              • Wow, I really had no idea about the wedding cards. Really. I usually just RSVP and show up. When is one supposed to send the card? With the RSVP? Around the time of the wedding? Do you bring it to the wedding?

              • LOL…okay, I seriously thought you were sort of kidding. Yeah, I’d say that Mother’s Day Cards are #1…. and Wedding Cards are a close second in the card section. Swing by Target any day of the week and you’ll see what I mean. ๐Ÿ™‚

                If you’re not going to the wedding, you usually send it just before the wedding date. If you are going to the wedding, you drop it in the wedding card box (which I have never not seen at a wedding reception) or tape it to your present if you got them one.

                On a side note – if you get them a present, the best was when people would wrap the card INTO the present so that they wouldn’t accidentally get separated in the moving of presents from the reception to the home. That way you could always properly thank the card/gift giver.

              • You’re supposed to give cards on mother’s day?!


                Ah, the wedding box. I thought that was for business cards and a random drawing.

                Also kidding.

                Good idea about wrapping a card into the present. Although if I get a present, it’s most definitely being bought online.

  8. Living the shetered life I’ve alluded to elsewhere, I’ve only traveled to family weddings. But, Jamey, do you think that your position on the purchase of gifts has to do with your prefered Love Language (i think that’s the term you used)? You have explained that you value gifts of time, over physical or monetary gifts. But understand that when you explain that if you travel to a wedding, you don’t buy a gift, I read, “My presence should be gift enough.” What I take away from the explanation of Love Language is that the gift you give should reflect the receiver’s preference.

    I usually take a look at the registry, and if there’s nothing I see that I like personally, I look for something off the registry, or get cash (to be used anywhere) or a gift card to somewhere they registered. I am proud to say that for a wedding I was in ~2 years ago, I got them the knife set and block that they asked for. And every time I go to their house, I comment on how nice it is.

    • WOW Red – you are so right on with this comment. It hadn’t even occurred to me that it could be related to your Love Language, but that’s a pretty astute statement!

    • John–This is good logic. You know I love me some love languages. Perhaps I just need to ask friends this from now on: What would make you feel more loved? My presence at the wedding, or a really awesome gift? I’m happy to ask that.

  9. Jamey — according to “traditional etiquette” you should always give a gift to a wedding you are invited to. ๐Ÿ™‚ BUT, here’s the rest of the story on “etiquette”: gifts are to be given from the heart of the giver. Couples should never tell guests what to get them – very tacky. Now gift registries … the original point of gift registries (whether today’s couples realize it or not) is to answer the barrage of requests by guests who as for some guidance on what a couple may need when setting up a household. In other words, they are a courtesy to guests and exist to make shopping for the couple easier. They are *not* supposed to be used as “you must get us a gift on the list” type request.

    So your desire to get something from the heart is “right on” and if you don’t feel inspired by anything on the registry, then by all means, don’t buy from it!

    Also, traditionally speaking, a couple asking for money for their honeymoon (or cash of any kind) etc is also considered inappropriate – especially if they ask guests *not* to give them gifts but to donate money “instead.” The problem here is again, a gift is supposed to be a gift from the heart of the giver, not “ordered up” by the recipient. Of course, our culture tends to be pretty flexible about “social rules” so eh, take these insights or leave them lol.

    • So many traditions and rules to uphold! I’ve heard both ways about the registry–some people say that it’s annoying if you get a couple a gift that’s not on the registry, and others say the opposite.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      • Oh meant to post this here:

        Haha, well, the thing is, annoying or not, it’s not for the couple to be “angry” about a gift given to them! It’s a gift! Nobody owes them, lol. I understand that it’s annoying if you get duplicates because a person went off the list, but… return and get the money and buy something else. I do think it is nice if say, you want to get a couple wine glasses because maybe you bonded with that couple over many fun evenings at a wine bar, to get the design they like. But if the design they like is 500 bucks… we-ell.

  10. While your friends should have made sure to register for a variety of things at different price points to fit everyone’s budget, I do think you are being a little judgmental. Who are you to say they will use a blender more than they would china? Either way, there actually is a place you can register for a honeymoon or even let guests contribute to a gift instead of paying for the whole thing– This website not only lets couples add things to their registry from any store, but they can also make a honeymoon fund or any other kind of fund. So they could make a general “china fund” instead of registering for the individual pieces. This way guests can contribute the amount they want. They also let guests give any item as cash, so a group of 5 people could do this and split the cost.

    • Andrea–That’s a fair point that I’m passing judgment on china. In fact, it’s really not my place to decide (or judge) what they will or will not use. I think it’s fair to say that china is not a gift that both members of the marriage are interested in in–I’ve never met any guy who is interested in china. That’s where the judgment comes in. China simply seems like a gift that will benefit one person, not both people (hence, the “union”). sounds brilliant. Thanks for the tip! I’ll check it out.

  11. Oh and the idea that guests “owe” a gift because a wedding cost x amount per head or that couples “should” milk their guests for high end stuff they themselves shouldn’t buy? Yikes!!! Awful. Totally misses the spirit of a wedding (celebrating love, family etc) and the spirit of generosity.

  12. First, some agreement: I, too, wish there was an option to contribute to part of an expensive gift through online registries. Hopefully commercial web technology will catch up at the big box stores one of these days, because budget restraints can pose serious hurdles to picking a wedding gift. A solution in the meantime: if I know other friends or family members attending the wedding, I check in with them to see if they want to go in on a large gift together. Granted, this solution doesn’t work for all wedding registry scenarios, but I have successfully taken this approach with my mom and sister in the past.

    In terms of my disagreement, I protest your thoughts about gift cards and a couple’s gift selection on registries. Both perspectives skew unintentionally selfish in nature. Let me explain, because “selfish” isn’t a word I ever pair with “Jamey” ๐Ÿ™‚

    The nature of good gift-giving is to be thoughtful to the recipient. Sometimes the chosen gift is a fun luxury item or token that the receiver wouldn’t normally splurge on. Other times it’s a useful, practical item that the recipient will use again and again. BOTH choices make great gifts, and determining which route to go should be based on the person you’re giving the gift to, not your personal philosophy about gifts or the event.

    Just because you don’t like china or think it’s impractical doesn’t mean china is a ridiculous gift. One couple’s juicer is another couple’s set of barbeque tools. Different people like different things. And so what if your gift certificate becomes a Vera Wang place setting instead of a blender? It’s a gift! Not a piece of you or even a reflection of your tastes.

    Granted, the best gifts given pair the wants or needs of the receiver with something the giver relates to: then the gift feels more personalized and special. But in the absence of an overlap, I always go with what my friend or family member likes.

    The way I see it, registries help us in being more thoughtful with gift-giving. Anyone who buys off the registry because they personally don’t like the choices is acting in a blatantly selfish manner and missing the point. (“Eww, those wine glasses are ugly! I’ll get them prettier ones…” See how selfish that sounds?!)

  13. The really annoying thing is when an old uni friend whom I haven’t talked to much since graduating invited me to her wedding which took place while I was living in England and she knew I couldn’t come. Bonus! Free gift, and no guest to feed.

    I should also mention that when we lived together, our next door neighbours were twins with whom we were close friends (and I still am). The bride invited one twin and not the other. Faux pas all around.

    • It took me a second to figure out what a “uni friend” is, but I figured it out! ๐Ÿ™‚ Both of those situations are faux pas! Although I wouldn’t have minded the first all that much, as I mentioned in a comment above.

  14. I’ve never been married so I cannot speak from the perspective of someone throwing a wedding, but your argument that your attendance at a wedding should be gift enough is almost akin to going to a dinner party and saying, “well, gas to get here cost me $5, and I’m here, so you’re welcome”. You still take something. A bottle of wine, flowers, a vegetable platter. Even if it’s only a few dollars, it’s the gesture that is appreciated.

    Furthermore, a wedding gift, (even a small one), gives you and the couple one more opportunity to interact after the wedding. I don’t know many couples who send thank you notes for attending their weddings, but they do send thank you notes for gifts. It’s a moment for them to think about you and thank you for both your gift, as well as your attendance, on a day when a LOT of other people were vying for their attention. Even a wedding card with a heartfelt sentiment left at the gift table would warrant an acknowledgement of the wedding, and gives the couple an opportunity to thank you for something.

    That being said, I still think you give a gift even if you travel for a wedding. It’s like tipping. If you don’t like leaving a reasonable tip, don’t go out to eat.

    • Hm…I don’t think the restaurant/wedding comparison is fair. The only union I care about when I go out to eat is between the food and my mouth. If the waiter presides over that union even decently, he’s getting a 20%+ tip.

      You have a good point about post-wedding interaction. Although I’d hope it wouldn’t take a gift to interact with a couple you care about after the wedding.

      Maybe I’ll understand the whole gift thing when I get married. Although perhaps the greater point here should be that I don’t think a single person in this comments section has agreed with me about my travel = no gift policy. Therefore, I’m officially changing that policy to align with social norms.

  15. When my friends got married and told everyone where they were registered, I cringed. The friends change from normal, laid-back people to seemingly greedy, mindless versions of themselves. Friends that have never been camping all of a sudden want the whole line of camping equipment from Target, the camping grills and solar powered whatcha-ma-doodles from Bed Bath and Beyond, and some random lobster steaming crock pot contraption from lord knows where…even though she’s never cooked a day in her life. I know wedding registries are a necessary evil when 2 people are getting married, but where goes people’s practicality when they create them? I can justify asking for plates, kitchen and bathroom items, and even bed sheets, but if the item is something I can’t see them BOTH using then I don’t purchase it. I guess nothing says love like that random camping equipment that will be taking up space in the garage. I should probably be way more into the registry(and the honeymoon, don’t get me started on those) idea since I’m a female and presumably love to shop. My idea of a good registry would be something along the lines of what you suggested about a honeymoon registry, even though I’m not too keen on honeymoons. I could also see myself registering at somewhere like a Home Depot or Lowe’s if I have to pick somewhere. I’d much rather have thoughtful gifts from people than to give them a list, at least in this situation.


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