Is it okay to go off-registry for my friends’ wedding gift?

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One of my friends is getting married in about a month, and I checked out her registry to see what kinds of things she and her fiancé need to start their new life together. And their registry is SO BORING! This couple is creative, and funny, and bizarre, and amazing, and NOTHING on the registry reflects that. It's all towels and cheap home decor — think “Homefill” from Arrested Development.

I feel like it's generally okay to go off-registry if you are getting the couple something meaningful, or if you're getting them a better version of something that's on the registry. But is it okay to assume that the couple has put a lot of thought into the registry and yes, they really do want that weird off-brown throw pillow, or do I assume that they just went scanner-gun happy and that it's okay for me to save them from themselves? -Meg

Let me start by saying that some of my FAVORITE weddings gifts, to this day, are gifts that were chosen off-registry. That awesome one-of-a-kind bowl, the champagne waiting for us in our hotel room, the framed artwork made from our invitations. So my answer is YES. It's totally okay to go off registry, BUT it depends on how well you know the couple and what you purchase.

That being said, they probably really do want that weird off-brown throw pillow. So my suggestion is this: if you're going to go off-registry maybe pair it with something small from their registry. Or give a more personal gift for a shower and then a “boring” registry gift for their wedding.

And also, make sure your more personal gift is something REALLY awesome. Like these things…

Romantik DIY terrarium kit
For the nature-lovers: Romantik DIY terrarium kit. Or check out more gifts for the outdoorsy types over on Offbeat Home.
For the nerds: Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head 60th Anniversary Mashly in Love Set
For the nerds: Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head 60th Anniversary Mashly in Love Set. Or check out any of these gifts ideas for geeks.
For the gamers: Atari Flashback 2.0
For the gamers: Atari Flashback 2.0
For the whiskey-lovers: 22oz. Green Crystal Whiskey Decanter - Bohemia Crystal
For the whiskey-lovers: 22oz. Green Crystal Whiskey Decanter – Bohemia Crystal
For the crafty: Either gift them the Subversive Cross Stitch book, or get to making them yourself.
For the crafty: Either gift them the Subversive Cross Stitch book, or get to making them yourself. (Check out these posts for cross stitch inspiration.)
For the darker souls: Bone Collector Metal Serving Tray
For the darker souls: Bone Collector Metal Serving Tray. Or check out all these gifts for only the most black-hearted bad asses.
For those with state pride: Hand-Embroidered Pillow in California
For those with state pride: Hand-Embroidered Pillow in California
For the food lovers: Staub Heart Shape Cocotte (or check out this registry round-up).
For the food lovers: Staub Heart Shape Cocotte (or check out this registry round-up).

Basically find them things that they'd either have felt pressure to not register for — “But mom, we really DO want that Atari!” Or things that you KNOW they would love but don't even know exist — “Where the hell did you find a skull serving tray!?” Or something hand-made from your heart — “A subversive cross-stich of our very own? Thank you!”

Now what do you guys think? If the gift is awesome, is off-registry the way to go? Or no thanks, I'd rather have my boring throw pillow? Also, newlyweds: What was YOUR favorite off-registry gift? I know you got some!

Comments on Is it okay to go off-registry for my friends’ wedding gift?

  1. Why not just ask them? “Hey, I was looking over your registry and I noticed that you didn’t have X or Y listed. I was really hoping to get you one of those. What do you think?” or “I found this awesome funky towel/dishes/ice cube tray that I think you would loooove, but I can totally get you something off of your registry if you would prefer.”

    Don’t imply that their registry sucks because they probably do want that stuff. But they could also have signed up for things they know their “normal” family and friends will actually get them, and they are planning on returning those gifts so they can get the nifty, fun things they like.

    In general, a gift is a gift. A registry has more to do with making shopping easy for the guests than it has to do with the couple. Either they’ll love your off-registry gift or they’ll pretend to and thank you graciously. Include a gift receipt if you’re worried.

  2. Megan is spot on! It’s my experience that really awesome people already have, through their own purchases or gifts, really awesome stuff. And it isn’t until they combine their awesome stuff that they go, “Welp, we have the ninja knife block, the submarine tea steeper and 17 thrifted coffee mugs…but what we really need is a damn strainer. And how do we have 45 forks but only 2 spoons? Do we have a can-opener? Why don’t we have a can-opener?”
    They may not have anything amazing to start their new life, but maybe they need a little less amazement and a little more boring brown pillows so that her handmade Australian throw blankets made by the mother of three sons as she waited for them to return from their simultaneous walkabouts match his vintage 70’s couch that is hand-embroidered with hundreds of ducks in top hats.
    Or something.

    Anyway, Megan is right, as always. Get a little something from their registry that doesn’t make you wanna die, pair it with something that will make them smile and save the TRULY awesome things for their birthday or a random occasion where they’ll have time to open it and them squeal about how they always wanted it, HOW DID YOU KNOW??

    • Ha. I’m just sitting here staring at “Anyway, Megan is right, as always.” and smiling and smiling… 🙂

    • THIS! The more creative and eclectic their personal style, the more likely they registered for some bland things either because it was the only thing they could agree on, or because that was what was needed to tie together the decor they already have.

  3. Okay, here’s my opinion as someone who both works in a store that does wedding registries, and as someone who’s been married and had two registries that both had almost everything purchased:

    Don’t get different versions of things that are on the registry! They’ve picked that ugly brown pillow for a reason. Maybe they have an awesome patterned couch that would look way too busy with anything else on it. Maybe they want to create a colour-neutral relaxing space in an extra bedroom. I don’t know, but they probably had a reason for picking it.

    Chances are, someone will buy that pillow for them. Then they don’t have enough space for the pillow they picked and one they didn’t, so they have to choose (this happened to us with casserole dishes). If they had a good reason for wanting the brown pillow, yours may not be appreciated as much as you’re hoping.

    My husband and I have a stack of casserole dishes on our kitchen that have never been taken out of the box, and have been there since the wedding in January. Once we get over the guilt of not using something that was a gift, we’ll probably take them to the thrift store.

    Or, for another example, we already had a knife set, so we didn’t put on on our registry. My Oma-in-law bought us a knife set, so now we have two. Which is not a big deal, but we don’t have a lot of counter space for 2 knife blocks.

    If you’re going to go off-registry, don’t buy the same version of something they’ve registered for, and don’t buy them something they already have. Make them something, or pick out something that’s unique that they wouldn’t already have.

    The great thing about registries is that they can tell you exactly what they want/need, and, in theory, they won’t end up with duplicates, or in the case of my husband and I in our tiny apartment, things they don’t have space for.

    Okay, wow, that got really long. Sorry.

    • OR, if you go off registry, give them a gift receipt. Which are awesome. We had to return several things, not because we didn’t love them, but because I’m from a family of bargain hunters and they found the exact same items at other stores for cheaper. Which I do not fault them for at all, but when a item isn’t purchased from your registry and them marked as such, someone else might buy the same thing.

      • Yup! If you find something on a registry at another store (first make sure it IS the same thing, I had someone try to do that but got the uncoated version of a non-stick pan that was on our registry, and it would have been cheaper from the registry!), you can usually call the store and have them mark it as purchased.

        Some stores won’t let you do this, but you can also try talking to the parents of the couple, because they might have admin privileges for the registry and they can call for you.

        • ^Great advise! I just found something ON my friend’s registry cheaper at the physical store instead of buying through their store online, but they couldn’t mark it as purchased on the list (weird I know). So I just texted the bride and told her to mark it purchased herself so no one would get her a duplicate.

      • Yes! (this is why I have three sets of teaspoon measures and two sets of the same cheep farberware cooking utensils… ) receipts would have been useful.

      • I’m totally boggling at this. Is it not standard practice to include gift receipts?! The only times I haven’t gotten them with gifts is when they were thrifted items (common in my family) or the year at christmas my aunt apologized profusely but had mixed them all up and didn’t know whose was whose. So instead she had purchased extra gift cards and the couple of us that had gotten duplicates, she handed us a gift card right at christmas for roughly the equivalent amount of our gift. Obvs that won’t work for wedding gifts that don’t get opened at the wedding, but I have since been known to carry extra gift cards around with me for just such an occasion.

    • Very good point about getting something similar to what they registered for! My sister had a couple of situations where people bought what she wanted (like a coffee maker or something like that), but smaller because they bought it more cheaply somewhere else. The problem was that her and her husband’s whole point of registering for the bigger one was because they both drink a lot of coffee and needed the bigger one. Thus, they had to try to figure out where the smaller one came from so they could return it and it was just a hassle.

    • Only thing I would say about getting different things off the wedding registry is – for us someone did and it is pretty much one of my favourite presents, although it might sound odd when I describe.

      We had on some cat shaped measuring cups and I thought nothing could be cuter, but they were only plastic ones. Someone got us a set of hand painted pottery measuring cups shaped like flowers and a set of matching pottery spoons painted like feathers. It’s utterly beautiful and I could never have imagined it. In fact I am with Megan – the best things we got were all off list: the welsh love spoon, the painting of the two of us, the engraved milkshake glasses…

      I think we got very lucky with our list. The only thing lots of people got us was gardening things (as we listed plant pots). People went off list and crazy with it. But now we just have lots and lots of interesting plant pots! So when we actually leave our flat and get a garden we can use them. 😀

  4. Our average age is 42, and we combined houses we owned into (his) 670 square foot house. Plus, we both have hoarder parents (meaning one of us is slightly more hoardy-tendency than the other), and we’re eco-conscious meaning we save/wash/reuse every plastic container, etc. What this means is: our house teems WAY too much stuff already, so when we got married this summer we only did a honeymoon fund “registry.” Most people complied but a few went off-registry, specifically with items they handmade themselves or were handmade by others. (most were cool, one was big, bulky, not really either of our style, and I have no where to put it…)

    So I guess it also depends on where your friends are at in their life. If they’re living in a barebones apartment after years of moving around or living light, yes, maybe they do want those ugly throw pillows, but you are not obligated to buy it – when I buy from registries I always choose things I myself would like. Surely they have some appliances on their registry like a toaster over or blender that you couldn’t live without? I’m a little more leery of gifts that are solely decoration like the terrarium above….you may think it’s cool but it may not be their style (even if you think it is).

    • You are completely right.

      My husband and I were both recently students, so most of our kitchen stuff we had gotten for free (yay free!) but it was mostly old and/or falling apart and/or not very good quality, and we seized the opportunity to replace most of it.

      All the things on our registry were things we needed/wanted and it was enough to fill our whole kitchen, but we live in a very small apartment and we discovered that there wasn’t enough room for all the stuff we registered for plus a bunch of extra stuff. So, even with starting with not much in our house, we ended up with too much. Space is definitely something you should think about when buying a gift.

  5. I agree with Megan! You can totally go off registry, especially if you know them really well, or even combine registry with non-registry. For example, you could buy those boring brown throw pillows and then buy an interesting and quirky throw pillow that complements the boring ones. Or just even be completely random because you saw something that reminded you of them. When our friends got married close to Halloween, my husband and I bought their laundry basket, sheets, and several things from their registry to wrap and put in it and then, because they enjoy Halloween so much, we bought a couple of elegant Halloween items and a bottle of champagne to display in the basket as well.

    For my wedding, a few of the awesome items we got weren’t on the registry at all. One of our fire friends decorated awesome Zippo lighters with our initials (and bought our joke candy bars from our registry!) and my parent’s friends put together an awesome pasta set with this fantastic bowl I would never have picked out myself, but absolutely love.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest buying something like a giant painting of a zebra fighting a manatee in space that would go perrrrrrectly above their bed, though, because they might not necessarily agree. Try to always keep them in mind when going off registry so neither of you end up with the awkward problem of “Hey, where’s that awesome painting I got you?” and “Um…I’m actually deathly afraid of manatees…”

    Just a side note, though, that the “boring” items like towels and a new toaster can be amazing, too, because we were finally able to replace our toaster that smelled like burnt plastic whenever you used it and the towels were so much more amazing than anything we could afford to buy ourselves and we enjoy them every day. ;P

    • I also have to say, I LOVED getting my fine china, silverware, and crystal glasseware because there is no way we would be able to afford (or justify paying for) it in the next ten years/ever! It’s something that I won’t use too much in the next few years, but something that will be treasured and be used for all sorts of occasions in the future. This compared to the small kitchen things that I can afford to pick up one at a time that weren’t bought off of our registry. Everyone’s different, so just use your best judgement. 🙂

    • We purposely did not have a registry (had a potluck reception instead), and 99% of the time I am very glad we went without (I prefer my vintage finds to anything from Bed, Bath & Beyond)….but one thing that now I sort of kind of wish I HAD asked for was nice linens. Have you seen how expensive sheets are? Like, a set of NICE sheets are $100, and that’s not including a duvet cover like we use. Yikes. You know who always has the coolest, crispest sheets? Old folks. Why? Because they got a whole bunch of good quality percale cotton sheets for their wedding 50 years ago. You know who has pilly, scratchy, cheap ass sheets? Us, because I can’t bring myself to spend more than $40 on a new sheet set.

      So….I forgot what my point was. Oh yeah, registries are nice for things that you’d never afford on your own.

    • A giant painting of a zebra fighting a manatee in space is something I need in my life. Just sayin’.

  6. On my registry, I put a lot of items that Matt (as a bachelor) did not have or that my hope chest (created when I was 8) did not have, or had, but I would like it to match. There was some electic tastes (the wonderwoman apron, the trashcan made of magazines, the purple skull wine stopper etc.) between the corn-on-the-cob sticks, wine racks, and silverwear sets.

    My favorite gifts (besides finding out who bought the apron), were a purple heart plaque for the wall, a hand stitched photo box with Matt and I’s name and wedding date on it, and a extremely tasteful and beautiful set of blue and green plates, serving set and bowls. There was a lot of other beautiful gifts at my shower, but for the most part those are the ones that really stand out.

    The $50 victoria secret gift card is pretty sweet too now that I think about it. 10 pairs of underwear bought for the honeymoon because a bra is just another barrier… If you catch the drift.

  7. Yeah, I’d say going off-registry is fine if it’s something you really put a lot of thought into and know they would love. But I would also say that you should resist the urge to get them “cooler” things just because you think their chosen items are boring. I’m imagining my own reaction if I had selected brown throw pillows to complement my sofa, and then someone bought me rainbow tie-dyed ones with skulls on them instead. I probably would have gritted my teeth, said thank you, and then quietly searched for a gift receipt. If they registered for it, assume that’s actually what they want.

    You could always ask them if there’s something on- or off-registry that they REALLY want. There are usually one or two things that you’re really hoping someone will buy, and then a bunch of things that you don’t feel as strongly about. It might not be what you would expect (a friend of mine got a bunch of fancy china they never use, but was super bummed that no one got her the set of wooden mixing spoons she wanted). Find out which things they really, desperately want or need and then go for that!

    ETA: I actually always make a point of buying the “lame” stuff on the registry, because NOBODY EVER DOES. Everyone wants to buy the fancy, cool stuff while the boring, useful things go unpurchased. So my gifts tend to be assortments of random things like can openers, measuring spoons, etc.

  8. I agree that you should do your gift-giving based on how well you know the couple. Are they your super-closest friends EVER? Then you can totally do something personal and off-registry. Are they friends that you know well enough, but maybe don’t hang out with too often? Maybe stick to the registry.

    A high school friend of my husband’s was married a couple of years ago, and while they were good friends in high school, they didn’t talk as much out of school and after college. So we stuck to their registry. We chose a price point we were comfortable in, and then chose items from there.

    But when his older brother got married, we bought them Couple’s Cooking Lessons, and a gift certificate to the culinary shop it was based out of. We did a theme gift of “Couple’s Night In” for his younger brother that was almost all off-registry (personalized mugs, retro popcorn buckets, a video game they could both play, etc), with one registry item (a set of crystal cocktail glasses).

    The point of registries are things the couple wants/needs. Usually more “needs” than “wants” when it comes to those BORING registries. So if you get something from their registry…get them THAT PARTICULAR ITEM. Don’t get them something similar, because they’ll open it and be all, “Wait…but we needed the brown one…” Remember, if they receive something from they’re registry…they won’t hate it! It’s there for a reason!

    I suggest maybe picking an item off the registry, and then build the gift around that. Did they register for super-boring wine glasses? Buy them the wine glasses, then gift them a super-nice bottle of wine, maybe a cool decanter and an awesome wine-stopper to fit their personalities. Or the wine glasses, and a wine tasting seminar!

  9. I think I would ask them about it first. Maybe they are going to unveil a honeymoon registry, but not until the wedding. I’d personally much rather fund that than buy something off a regular registry.

  10. Not engaged, not married, only a frequent wedding guest. My perspective is of someone who hates receiving gifts: Sometimes wishlists/registries are super boring and practical because that’s what the recipient is comfortable receiving. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but just some food for thought.

    While I love that someone cares enough about me to give me something, I secretly wish they hadn’t*. It’s like buying a vegan a steak dinner as a sign of good will! There’s gratitude, but also inward cringing due to value-clash. How to gracefully decline? Family and friends want to give, so I see wedding registries as a way of making sure the gifts are meaningful. Less items are wasted or donated. Givers can experience the joy of seeing the gifts used in the future. And there’s always the option of giving something more personal in addition to the registry gift.

    *I’m a minimalist and try to keep my consumption and possessions down. So much so, I buy almost everything used and then repurpose. Most people I love don’t agree or get it. There’s other reasons to hate receiving gifts though!

    • One way around this is to set up a fund for people to send you money as their gift. Not everyone will comply, but it make a dent in the amount of junk you receive.

    • I’m very similar – I hate receiving gifts, and have (mostly) managed to train my loved ones either not to give me anything, or to go with the amazon gift card. Our registry is going to look rather weird. We combined households a while ago, so the traditional registry items are probably going to be upgrades or random things that neither of us have but would use if we did (ie. a nice wok or a bud vase). I’d hope that anyone going off registry would feel really, really confident about their gift, like the friend who gave us our only engagement present (well trained!), a framed print of the exploding TARDIS from ‘The Pandorica Opens.” Excellent indeed.

    • I didn’t have a registry for my wedding because I didn’t want the STUFF. We had a very small casual wedding. We rent a tiny house, are looking at a cross country move in 2 years, and are minimalists when it comes to decor and kitchen things.

      My mom still got us sets of 8 glasses in 5 different styles…just what I want to pack up and move across country. They don’t fit in my tiny kitchen, so most of them are in our basement. And they don’t fit easily in the dishwasher like the set I had just bought myself. Beautiful, nice, gift. But not practical or what we needed- there are all sorts of things that you consider when making a purchase for yourself that other people wouldn’t consider. And my future sister-in-law got us these terrible bowls from Anthropologie. They weren’t in themselves terrible, but they clashed with EVERYTHING I own, included the new glassware from my mom. We also received a Keurig coffee thing, which we returned. (I hate the waste, like large cups of coffee, and K-cups are freaking expensive.) My husband’s side of the family gave us cash because they always give cash for presents.

      My point is…people bought us nice gifts even though we didn’t have a registry. Nothing about us is traditional and our wedding wasn’t traditional, but people just can’t help themselves and give traditional gifts. I feel guilty not being more appreciative, but unwanted gifts can be a burden. If you keep them, they cutter your space and cause you stress on a daily basis. If you return or give them away, you feel guilty. It’s a lose lose situation. In hindsight, we should have made a registry for our honeymoon or for a house fund.

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