The myth of the "gift grab"

Mwhahaha… we threw this pain-in-the-ass wedding just to grab your gifts!
Mwhahaha… we threw this pain-in-the-ass wedding just to grab your gifts! (original photo by michelliebellie)

In my many years of publishing a wedding website, one of the things that came up time and time again the concept of a "gift grab." For those of you who do not have the great fortune of moderating comments where strangers on the internet tell you what is/isn't acceptable behavior, here's how the conversation goes:

Maybe this logic used to make a little more sense during a time when most couples A) weren't paying for their own weddings or B) weren't living together before getting married. Like, maybe there was a pair of 18-year-olds in 1952 who got married on Daddy's dime just so they could finally get their hands on that nice set of china the bride had been eyeing ever since Daddy got back from fighting in Germany? But back here in 2014, 'round these parts? 43% of us are paying for our own weddings.

…Why in the world would we spend money on a wedding (or even just a reception) just to get gifts?!

There seems to be this very strange economically unsound logic around weddings and gifts, to the point where some guests seem to assume that the only reason some couples have a wedding at all is to "grab" gifts. As though there's this weird alternate universe where couples say to themselves, "Hmm, how can we turn this $5000 into $10,000-worth of merchandise!? I KNOW: LET'S PLAN A WEDDING."

In what world do couples paying for their weddings come out ahead with gifts?! If had $5000 and I wanted a bunch of candlesticks, bed linens, and vases… I think I would just go spend that money on buying the world's most fucking amazing candlesticks, bed linens, and vases!

Furthermore, in an era and culture where many couples are living together before marriage, most of us don't even need or want those gifts. The thing I see most frequently from members of the Offbeat Bride Tribe is "How can we keep people from giving us stuff we don't have room for in our house?" We're living in a world where people SO don't want more stuff, that they do honeymoon registries or charitable registries. I'm not saying couples are ungrateful about the gifts they receive… just that most of us don't need the stuff traditionally given at weddings.

Sure, sure: some guests like to give cash, and some parents pay for the entire wedding, which means theoretically a couple might only go through the pain of wedding planning for the gifts. I'm absolutely sure someone has done it, but is it really so common that it's the first thing that's assumed when people hear they're invited to a reception instead of a ceremony AND reception? "Oh, that Ariel. I always knew she was just dating that Andreas for six years as part of an elaborate scheme to get $100 out of me! WELL SHE CAN'T HAVE IT."

As I said before though, when it comes to contemporary weddings, a lot of us are paying for these things ourselves, which is probably why we're cutting corners and finding creative ways to have the wedding we want! (I know we did an "anyone can come" post-wedding dance party reception because we had about 200 people who wanted to celebrate with us, but we could only afford to feed about 100 of them. If we all had unlimited money, I think we'd probably all have 500-person weekend-long weddings where every meal was catered and the booze flowed freely from ice sculptures being ridden by beautiful naked people… wait, just me?)

Anyway, this concept of people sneakily throwing half-weddings, or fake weddings, or community-organized weddings, just to get gifts? I can't make sense of it. Weddings are expensive and a pain in the ass to organize. Let's say I had a courthouse wedding last year, and this year I'm going to spend six months and $5000 to throw a reception to celebrate with my friends and family. Am I really going to invest six months and $5000… FOR GIFTS?! No, I'm going to fucking spend that $5000 on a vacation or a deposit on my home.

People working with lower budgets and compromised situations do find ways to work around their budgets because they want to include their community. If they didn't, they'd just go on the freaking vacation. So it's weird then that in some communities, some of the response is, "Oh, you only invited me to the reception? CLEARLY YOU JUST WANT THE CANDLESTICKS YOU DIDN'T GET LAST YEAR WHEN YOU ELOPED LIKE A HARLOT!"

So, here's my encouragement:

  • To my fellow wedding guests: How about we release the resentment around gifts? Give a gift out of love and respect, never out of obligation or resentment. No one wants your guilt-trip-filled casserole dish! Seriously, if all you see when you get a wedding invitation is a request for a gift, then you need to establish some boundaries. Just send a card and decline. IT'S OK NOT TO GO, if the trade-off avoids the sense of being extorted out of a gift.
  • To my sweet Offbeat Brides: If you want to play it safe, plaster No gifts please on every single communication related to the event. (It'll help you avoid guilt-filled casserole dishes!) If you invite people to receptions-only, or getting-weddinged ceremonies, or vow renewals or any other alternative type wedding event-y things, be understanding about the fact that some people may not come, nor send a gift.

Moral of the story: couples make their decision about the kind of event to invite guests to, and guests make their decision about whether they want to attend or send a gift. We're all accountable for communicating clearly, and our decisions.

Mostly, I want to see if we can all move away from this weird world where alternative weddings are seen as the least efficient, least financially-sound way to get stuff. I think most of us who are married can agree that if our wedding budgets had been applied to stuff, we'd all have a lot more stuff than we saw on our gift tables.

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  1. I don't know how to follow the previous comment – I also wish to make out with your thinking parts.. Should we form an orderly queue?

    I completely agree that it should never be about the gift but I feel some people can be bad at receiving gifts or read too much into the "meaning" behind it.

    Myself and partner got engaged and people gave us gifts (seemingly this is a thing?! )

    Friends of my parents who I hadn't seen in years gave us a patterned serving dish. It was extremely kind and it made us feel very happy that they had thought of us after all this time.

    However someone commented to me that "they're gifting you so you invite them to the wedding" WTF??!! This is not a healthy reaction and I think it feeds into the "ulterior motive" way of thinking.

    28 agree
  2. what's so awful about this is that it's one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situations. if you don't want gifts and say so, people say you're being rude and it's not for you to tell others how to spend their money. if you register, CLEARLY you're gift-grubbing because look at all this stuff you want! and if it's a honeymoon registry or a charity registry, there you go again telling people how to spend their money. but then if you don't register and leave it completely open-ended without any verbage to provide guidance, you're inconsiderate and thoughtless because how do your guests know what to get you????

    it's just like "tacky". there's no way to do it without offending SOMEONE (unless you have the awesomest family ever), so just explain your position on your wedsite or whatever, and do your thing. and maybe put a link to this post on your wedsite too. lol

    49 agree
    • I absolutely agree with you. When my now-husband and I were planning our wedding (and indeed, as soon as we told our families that we were doing so), my mother's side of the family went bananas and insisted on an engagement party, a bridal shower, gifts, gifts, gifts…

      We were so overwhelmed. Recognizing this was coming from a place of love (and the fact that I was the first on my side of the family to get married… -_-), we were very firm about not having any kinds of parties besides the wedding itself – but if folks were insistent upon gifts… basically we tried to appease everyone by saying we did NOT want or need gifts – but if folks were so inclined, we were happy with handmade things, volunteering at the wedding, etc. If even THAT was not enough, we registered for a few items we would have liked to have in our kitchen, set up a Heifer International page, and also asked people to donate to The Foundation for the Preservation of Honeybees.

      It was a lot of work, but I think we covered every base in terms of letting people spend money if they really wanted to, letting folks just come and enjoy themselves if that was their cup of tea, and not accumulating too much STUFF in our apartment. Win-win-win.

      6 agree
  3. I think we're going to say "Gifts are fun, but we desire your presence more than your presents."

    61 agree
  4. omg! THIS! I'm so glad to read this.. I'm having a smallish wedding and there are a lot of people who I would like to be able to invite but simply can't afford to feed. My parents are throwing us a cookout/wedding party a few weeks before the wedding and we're inviting anyone who'd like to come (covered dish, gift if you want). I hate reading on wedding etiquette blogs about how that's tacky or how that's an absolute no-no. If it was really just about the gifts- we could've eloped, kept all the money we've spent on the wedding, and bought our own things!

    8 agree
  5. Thank you for the So Kind Registry link, was wondering how to go about doing something like this 😀

    3 agree
  6. Is it weird that I forgot people got/gave gifts at weddings? I've been to so few that it never crossed my mind.

    3 agree
    • Yeah, I'm totally in the same oblivious boat. The second to last wedding I went to was my first wedding in more than 5 years, and I didn't realize until about a week later that gifts were a thing. The last one I went to, I was MOH and decided that the two dresses I bought and the heavy-lifting – literally – that I did in preparation were gift enough.

      2 agree
  7. I love logic. Oh, how I wish more people used logic on a daily basis.

    I have an acquaintance (with whom I have an admittedly weird relationship, sort of love-hate drama llama type thing) who on SEVERAL occasions has wondered, out loud to me, if we were budgetting the cost per person at the reception at less than the amount we figured we would receive in gifts per person, so that we would make a profit. I mean, I thoroughly explained the first time that, no, that was not the case, and seriously, who does that?! And yet she has repeated the comment multiple times…

    I just… don't get it!

    9 agree
    • I was in a wedding for someone who did exactly that. That's exactly how the couple decided to plan their wedding. That's why they had a big engagement party and that's why she wanted 75 people, most of whom she'd never met before, at her bridal shower. To get stuff. And money. A former boss made similar comments to me in terms of "guests should always give enough in their gift to cover the cost of their food". It's very strange. I'm not inviting people to a wedding because I want their money and stuff, I'm inviting them because they're important to me and I want them to share that moment with me. So, so strange

      8 agree
      • While I don't agree with the boss's statement, it's not that strange of a thought, at least in some areas of the country. It could be a regional thing, though.

        2 agree
        • Agreed. My parents were invited to a few weddings recently and made this exact comment to me. They had to buy a gift that would cover the cost of their meal. That never occurred to me. What if I find something that is amazing and awesome and happens to be inexpensive? Is that not enough or something? WTF? I think it's bullshit – complete and utter bullshit

          5 agree
  8. After I got married I mentioned to my mother about the extremely generous gift my grandmother has given us. I viewed it as a very sweet gesture of her love. My mom fist-bumped me, as if it was some sort of victory. Suuuuuppppeeerrr awkward.

    1 agrees
  9. Ahhh this. We're having a 60 person ceremony (because it's our dream room and it's only licenced for 60…) and what seems to be heading towards a 200 person reception, because we couldn't not invite all our Explorer Scouts. We see them every week, and they were way more excited by our engagement than most our family. All of this is on a VERY tight budget. We're living with my parents while we save a deposit for our own home so we really, REALLY don't want 5 toasters, 7 kettles and another blender. There just isn't space for it all! So we put a note in with our invites, explaining that if people would like to give us a gift, which we by no means expected, please could they give us cash towards the honeymoon or vouchers that will take up far less space than gifts until we have a house of our own to furnish! It felt kind of tricky trying to word it in a way that said, "We don't expect anything, but if you choose to give us a gift, please can it be of this variety?" without being interpreted as "Give us your moneyyyyyyyy!!!!".

    6 agree
  10. Then there's always the logic of Emily Post, Miss Manners, et al.. who say that gifts are NEVER required for a wedding. An invitation is just that. The inclusion of a gift (and it's value/cost) is entirely up to the giver.

    Also, "ice sculptures being ridden by beautiful naked people… wait, just me?" Not just you, Ariel ; )

    14 agree
  11. Can we also talk about how "but you should invite them, because they won't come, but they'll give you gifts (probably cash)" is not an appropriate answer, Mom and Step-mom, when we talk about who they really, really would like us to invite to our 65-person wedding that we're paying 100% of?

    Because, really, there's nothing like "we're trying to throw a celebration for the people we love and who have supported us" being turned into a gift grab by your parents.

    It does seem to be a pervasive cultural narrative. Thank you for writing out all the reasons why it's always bothered me.

    19 agree
    • Omg so it's not just my mother?! I can only afford the fees at the reception for 120 people and she's insisting we invite everyone I've ever known in my life so they send us gifts instead of going to the wedding. I keep trying to tell her if the rsvp the people I really want there can't go.

      • I think a lot of us get that from parents.

        If it helps you say no: all those people that I *had* to invite so that they would send me presents? No RSVPs, no presents, no acknowledgement whatsoever of our marriage between then and now (4 months). And, those were all aunts and uncles, not random neighbor-from-age-10 and whatnot (but that's another story).

        So, presents aren't a given regardless. Invite the people you want to have there, not the attempts at gift grabbing.

        2 agree
  12. Our goal was to have the wedding we want, only inviting as many people as we knew we could afford to feed. A lot of family was pissed off they didn't get invited. They wouldn't have come anyway (they're several hundred miles away), but why take the chance of inviting more people than I knew I could afford to throw a party for?

    3 agree
  13. I think I have been waiting for this article for years.

    I think plastering "no gifts please" EVERYWHERE is totally cool (and sound advice for playing it safe). But I also thing it is fine to enjoy gifts! I LOVE getting other people gifts for their weddings, birthdays, children… and I loved getting wedding gifts too. We phrased the introduction to our wish list style registry and request for cash (so that we could buy the artist-made and antique things we are more comfortable with but are so impractical to register for) with, "If you would like to get us a gift…"

    Also: I LOVE the "just don't go" advice. I hear people complain about how expensive attending weddings is all the time, and I don't get why anyone would think it's better to go to an event you resent than to just send a card and a polite decline.

    8 agree
  14. I think the moral of the story is, insofar as possible, only invite people to your wedding and/or attend the wedding of people you are capable of assuming the best of. If feelings of awkward, guilt-trippy financial quid pro quo start to enter the scene, maybe we're all better off not getting involved. If I feel weird about an invitation, I send my regrets–and I tried to invite to our wedding ONLY people who would feel comfortable getting us anything or nothing, because they know us well enough to know we don't care. Really hope it worked!

    4 agree
  15. "If we all had unlimited money, I think we'd probably all have 500-person weekend-long weddings where every meal was catered and the booze flowed freely from ice sculptures being ridden by beautiful naked people… wait, just me?)"

    Definitely not just you.

    12 agree
  16. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I feel sooo much better about our registry. Personally, I didn't want a registry, but my hubby was pretty gung-ho about it. It is a very small registry. We registered on amazon, I think there's a total of 10 things on there and on travelers joy, again, about 10 things. I felt guilt making a registry, but it's true- Guests DO NOT have to give a gift, nor do they have to attend if this is how they feel about it. Ultimately we wanted a day to enjoy with our friends and family and the gifts are a bonus, but not necessary.

  17. It only works if they are the sort of people who believe that gifting is obligatory. They are angry with the bride and groom because of their own feelings, not anything anybody else did.

    What this means is that when they throw a party they're probably very quick to start bitching that "so-and-so didn't even bring a bottle, the nerve!"

  18. This article and all of the comments are super relevant and helpful. Thank you for posting this so much. When the time comes I plan on sharing this with my in-laws, it will be a great way to get the conversation about gifts started, since I already know where my partner and I are coming from is a bit alien to them.

  19. I love this article. It's like, oh you're not conforming to social norms? GIFT GRAB!
    Shove your gifts.

    1 agrees
  20. I'm kinda old fashioned in that sense, in that weddings seem to be the one place where gifts are expected. By that I aren't trying to say everyone should bring me gifts for my wedding, but more so if I'm invited to a wedding I'll always give a gift as I feel that it's what I should do (granted if it's someone I'm closer to I'll put more thought into it rather than just giving money).

    What I do see as gift grabs are engagement parties. Unless someone puts the 'no gifts please' on their invites (of course there's always going to be that one person that brings some thing anyway), I just keep thinking of these things as an excuse to get more gifts. The same with house-warmings and bridal showers. These kinds of things really should be extra celebrations to your wedding/life together … a time to spend with family and friends and not an excuse to get extra stuff. I was truly shocked when a friend of my brothers sent an invite to an engagement party that came accompanied with a gift registry! Then the same person went on to have a wedding where all guests had to buy their own meals.

    1 agrees
  21. I about died when I read, "WHEN YOU ELOPED LIKE A HARLOT!"

    Seriously. The whole gift thing is weird. My parents are encouraging me to invite people (mostly their friends and cousins who I don't know) for the gifts! I wasn't even THINKING about gifts until they brought it up. Now I'm trying to navigate the minefield of registry stuff (too many places? not enough places? too cheap? too expensive?) without losing my mind. YA JUST CAN'T WIN.

    3 agree
  22. Mr. Wonderful and I are going to be doing a honeymoon registry as prior to meeting him I had everything that I needed for a two-person household. There is nothing that we NEED and only a few things that we WANT (and don't have space for). His mother seems to think that we are being strange. And my mother wanted to buy me crystal. Seriously!?!!? Not the type honey, neither need nor want. We're also the only ones on either side of the family who are perfectly holding our own and not relying on family contributions to exist.

    But it's so tough when people look at you like you have three heads. We're getting married for love, not loot. And if you feel you must shell out money, put it on the honeymoon please.

    2 agree
  23. I don't get it! My parents always told me to never go anywhere empty handed. Whenever they have some kind of event, most people show up with flowers, and some kind of food, and a bottle of wine, and maybe even an actual physical gift. Whether it's a wedding or a birthday party, why don't we (as guests) just… bring something for the host/ess anyway and appreciate the awesome social event that we get to go to in lieu of sitting on the couch browsing Netflix? These people are feeding us, sometimes clothing us, and who knows what else. Whenever I go to the store to buy something before going to some kind of party, I never think twice or dwell on how these jerks threw a stupid party to take my money.

    I think to some extent we also assume that the bride and groom will somehow be upset if the gift isn't "good enough". One of my best friends got us bacon jerky, and it was fantastic! Just because it's a marriage related event doesn't mean it's not a party.

    We're getting "weddinged" about 3 weeks from now (AHH) and thankfully no one feels this way. We asked for no gifts during our elopement and this time. When we married, everyone ignored us and brought cash. It was an amazing surprise and we surely didn't turn it away. Now though, when people ask if we just want money and I say "oh, we're not expecting anything, thank you!" they look at me like I just threw a rock at their face.

    3 agree
  24. In Israel we have this myth too but for cash, we don't' give gifts. Venue managers here have been telling couples for years that if you invite enough people then not only will they cover the cost of your wedding through their cash-gifts but you may even make money. A lot of young couples get seduced or at least want to try and break even so the standard size for an Israeli wedding is 200-300 people. Half the people at your wedding you won't know because you invited your dad's work mates and great-aunt's second husbands step sister. They become these massive affairs and the budget gets spread too thin so at best you can say the food is digestible and you will be lucky if you get a photo and 20 seconds with the bride and groom.

    Most of my friends didn't like having so many people and not one of them made money off their wedding or even broke even. One friend figured she invited 75 people to help pad the guest list, they cost and additional $3400 overall and she was expecting to get $7500 in gifts from them so a profit of $4100 but only got $1900 in gifts so those extra 75 people they didn't even want cost them $1500. The only person that won was the wedding venue.

  25. While I love getting gifts, I certainly don't scheme to get all that money back and more. Heck, I'd like a handmade gift more than a toaster.

    2 agree
  26. Who on earth schemes to get money back? Like… Okay, I can see how you would but there's a chance it would all backfire. No one is guaranteed to bring a gift anyway! Ugh. Our wedding is a destination wedding, so we've said no gifts – like, everonye coming can afford to go, obviously, but still. They've already done so much for us by being there. We've set up a Just Giving page so if people want to *do* something for us, they can donate in our name.

  27. We are trying to avoid backlash from our elopement by sending holiday cards "from the newlyweds" rather than a wedding announcement (which is CLEARLY a gift grab, right?). We will see what kind of reaction we get. I decided not to write "no gifts" after my grandmother was offended by the idea. The most important thing is to stick to your convictions and not worry about the thousands of opinions you'll receive during this time. At the end of the day, it's about you and your partner starting your lives together off in a way that feels right to you both.

  28. My FH and I had been talking pretty much theoughout our courtship and engagement about the huge wedding we were going to have. However, when I got laid off from my full time job and started relying on my part time one for my Iincome, we realized that we would never be able to afford the wedding that we had talked about so openly with pretty much everyone that we knew. Out the window went the awesome Elegant Gothic Asian with a Smattering of Nerd-Gamer-Geek thrown in wedding and in came the uber tight budget.

    When we decised on the date and the venue, I took to Facebook and explained to my father's out of state family (mostly cousins ), friends, and coworkers, that, while we would love to be able to invite everyone, sadly our budget and venue just would not allow us to. Everyone was fine and okay with that.

    However, those that did get an invite, got a little poem with it that I wrote titled "Our Request". In it I explained that we dont want things, but a contribution of their discretion to our honeymoon fund so we could go to Disney World would be so beyond amazing. I also said that if they want to give us a more traditional gift, though, we will gladly receive it with love.

    Oh, and for those that dont want to or cant give us a gift? I stated that all we really wanted was everyones presence anyway, so they shouldnt feel bad or guilty.

    I tried to cover all of my bases with the poem, and so far, I have received no negative comments on it, so I guess it was well received.

    2 agree
  29. I hate the other term that shows up right along in same category, PRETTY PRINCESS DAY!! (or PPD)

    Now for some of you that may not sound like a negative thing. And your wedding may even be themed to the hilt along those very words. I have nothing against that! More power to you!!

    What I have an issue with is that what most people mean by that term is it's just a gift grab and/or doesn't have any meaning. It is mostly used when describing a wedding where the couple are already legally married or cannot get legally married.

    I'm 26 and have been married twice. The first one was done shotgun style when I was 20 because my parents freaked when I lost my first place with my fiance living with me. We ended up homeless in south Portland donating plasma to feed and pay for bus fare. Thank god it was summer!! My parents wanted to pick me up and strand my man in a state he knew nothing about and refused to believe that his family really wouldn't bail him out. I flat refused. Finally after more than 2 weeks, they conceded and brought both of us back home to NW Washington… with one condition…. we get married. This wedding wasn't how I wanted it but I gave in for 2 reasons: 1) we were already working out the details of simply eloping while we were homeless. 2) I was a major people pleaser and didn't find the confidence to stand up for myself. This marriage ended pretty badly, but the whole process taught me alot of things and MOST importantly to stand up for yourself!

    This is my second marriage to a wonderful guy and we are coming up on our second legal aniversary this March. However, because of employment and financial issues, we got legal way sooner then we would have normally. We had no money to pull off a wedding of any kind, (the $64 for the marriage certificate was hard to come by). We didn't even use the date we actually wanted. So we told a few friends and family, asked them to keep it quiet (that didn't happen) and asked my childhood bishop to marry us in his office. My parents, 2 siblings, daughter and 2 of our friends were there to witness it. We did this with full intentions of having an actual wedding with everyone we wanted as soon as we could afford it.

    Its almost 2 years later and we finally have the ability to have a wedding the way WE want it and with EVERYONE we want. And almost everywhere I look, I'm first accused of gift grabbing. Then I explain that we do not want nor do we need gifts and then I'm accused of wasting money, peoples' time (guests included) for a selfish and stupid Pretty Princess Day!!!

    This was SO hurtful to me that for 2 weeks I told my hubby we couldn't do it and that no one would come! It made me cry myself to sleep for 2 nights in a row and pretty much refuse to talk about it for the rest of the time. I'm not that girly, very practical, manage ALL the finances of my little household and am an introverted social butterfly (read: friendly and outgoing but don't let the walls down much if at all to keep from getting hurt (DV survivor trait)). Finally a friend of ours said they understood why we didn't wait, were a little miffed at first we didn't invite ppl, would've flooded the bishop's small office for that 10 min, and WILL BE AT OUR WEDDING TO SUPPORT US AND HAVE A BLAST this winter!

    The point is, ALL weddings are celebrations and have MEANING!! Don't let anyone tell you different! Not vendors (take your business elsewhere), not other brides, not ugly comments, not Facebook, not family (they probably won't come and you probably don't want them there anyway), not friends (these type aren't really your friends!), NO ONE!!

    Those who really love and care about you will come and be there for you and party their hearts out! They love you. Want to celebrate with you. And don't care about blah, blah, blah! And FUCK THE REST!

    Sorry this is so long. But I felt it needed said. No bride (or groom!) should have to feel miserable about what life as handed them and have to give up a dream because of it. "Gift Grab" and "Pretty Princess Days" are just means ways for mean or un-understanding people to describe, hurt or push people to all conform to the same mold. Ignore them. Love yourself and enjoy your independence and offbeatness!

    3 agree

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