The audacity of asking for cash gifts

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By: ShardayyyCC BY 2.0

If you ever want to get into a quick argument, try talking to someone about doing a cash wedding registry. People love to debate the issue, and sometimes it feels like the discussion just goes on, and on, and on. In fact, the New York Times recently published an article by Princeton sociology professor Viviana Zelizer that makes it clear that the debate has been raging for over a 100 years:

[Giving cash] horrifies traditionalists, who see giving cash as the ultimate commodification of a sacred ritual. Money is acceptable for charitable donations or bonuses, but certainly not for friends or family.

In the December 1909 Ladies' Home Journal, for instance, the writer Lou Eleanor Colby said she had found a way to “disguise the money so that it would not seem just like a commercial transaction.”

(Read the full article here, and Sociological Images' perspective here.)

The historically-respected solution is disguising the cash. These disguises have shifted from hiding cash in art or integrating it into crafts, to gift certificates (like cash, but the giver still controls where it's spent), all the way to the current solution of honeymoon and cash registries. (It's not actually cash because it all happens on the internet, right?)

Despite the methods for “hiding” the gift of money, there are still folks who simply canNOT abide. And if the shrieks of “TACKY!” have been raging for over a century, I certainly don't think Offbeat Bride is going to be able to magically change anything. (Of course this is very much a regional and cultural thing — in some areas and some cultures, cash gifts are totally the standard!)

That said, I feel like part of what goes unexamined in this debate is who generally benefits from non-cash gifts: RETAILERS. I mean yes: the thoughtfulness involved in picking the perfect gift is awesome. I get a little buzz when I manage to catch a loved one mentioning something in conversation (“You know that old wool sweater from college? It finally unraveled passed the point of no return…”) and then surprise them months later with the perfect gift (“Oh my god, how did you know I needed a new Merino sweater!?”) That's an awesome feeling.

But I have to wonder how much of the etiquette around cash gifts being supposedly awful is generated by the retailers and industries that benefit from it. Like the manufactured tradition of diamond engagement rings, how much of the tradition of purchased gifts trumping cash is generated by retailers?

I don't have an answer to the question, but whenever you're considering advice or etiquette or traditions that simply MUST be followed, I find it's helpful to consider who's got the biggest investment in that tradition.

Comments on The audacity of asking for cash gifts

  1. In the Northeast it’s traditional to give cash as a gift at the wedding. Physical gifts are reserved for engagement parties and showers.

    That said, I think asking for or expecting cash (or any gift for that matter) is supremely tacky. I didn’t invite anyone to my wedding because of what they might give me – honestly if I wanted to get rich I wouldn’t have asked any of those bums to come! 🙂

    • I think there’s a difference between *expecting* gifts from guests and acknowledging the reality that many people will want to give gifts of some kind, and helping them out by telling them which kind of gift you need the most.

      • It seems like the safest bet is to have a small registry full of essentials that you’d love to have, AND a link to a charity where donations can be made in your name, AND a link to your PayPal account with a blurb that says something like “If you don’t see anything here that strikes your fancy, please consider donating to [charity name] or contributing to our “House/honeymoon/new lawnmower” fund!”

      • I agree – as a wedding guest, I appreciate a registry because it allows me to find a gift I know that the couple needs/loves/will use/experience (i.e. honeymoon), etc. I mean, even Santa clause gets a list. 🙂

    • Yes, that’s the way it’s always been at the weddings I’ve been to: gifts for showers, cash for weddings. In fact, I’ve heard people comment on those who bring physical gifts to weddings, calling THEM tacky!

    • In Canada almost every wedding I have been to has been “presentation” – code for $ only.

    • I’m from the Northeast and this has not been the way it went at weddings I have been to. People usually buy gifts and have them shipped to the couple.

      That said, I have no problem with giving cash, or with people asking for cash.

    • We are asking everyone donate to the Bob and Kelly Honeymoon fund (we spend all our cash on the wedding and we already have lived together for years so I’d rather have a honeymoon than new towels -and I don’t think it’s tacky to ask for something you need/want isn’t it the same as a registry?)

    • My fiance and I are taking monetary donations to put towards our future home together. This seemed like a better use of gift funds than things we wouldn’t need. I’ve been living on my own for 5 years, I’ve pretty much got all we need. This is NOT tacky…this is practical…that being said, we wouldn’t turn down a hand made gift or a gift with meaning behind it. We are just trying to avoid the 3 toaster, unneeded towel set, blender fiasco.

    • You know, people always say “you don’t invite people just so they’ll give you a gift” as if that means gifts are distasteful. Giving a gift is a social tradition that has been associated with weddings for ages. People expect and *want* to give them and *it’s okay* to admit that you’ll probably get some. It makes your guests feel comfortable to have a guide to what you want. I wasn’t going to have any kind of registry or gift guide because my mum thinks such things are “tacky,” but people HOUNDED US for gift requests so we set up a honeymoon registry (the only thing we wanted or needed). If people wanted to give gifts they chose themselves (and some did), they wouldn’t have asked. Acknowledging gifts are a thing isn’t tacky, it’s honest.

  2. The timing of this post couldn’t be more perfect for me. I just registered for a honeymoon, and the site we used has the option to itemize particular things or activities (dinner for two, horseback riding, etc), which we opted to do precisely for the reason that we didn’t want people to think we were just asking for a handout.

    I heard from a friend that her own fiance had asked, upon receiving our invitation, “who registers for a honeymoon?!” At which point his mother said that if we have the basics already (we’ve cohabitated for 5 years) then we’re supposed to register for the expensive crystal, silver, etc at Tiffany. But my question is, if I can’t afford that stuff, what makes her think that my friends can? And furthermore, what the hell do I need with crystal champagne flutes when I don’t get to go on a honeymoon? I’m baffled by the resistance. Weddings are not cheap – why balk at helping the new couple stay out of debt?

    • Did you by any chance use Traveler’s Joy? I only ask because that’s the site we used, and surprisingly, we didn’t get any flak for doing such a registry. We registered for nice dinners, drinks, and things that we would normally have to save a very long time for if we wanted to do all of it in the week we had off work. In short, I love honeymoon registries. Selfishly, it makes it easier on me to shop for the couple! 🙂

      • Actually, we used Honeyfund. I’m hoping we don’t get more than that initial comment! I was sort of annoyed at my friend for passing along the judgment – I really didn’t need to hear it. Thanks for the tip!

        • We’re using honeyfund, too, which is awesome because people can even print out a little certificate and gift with actual cash if they want, and nobody pays a fee unless they pay thru PayPal, which means *I* absord the fee, not them.

          I havn’t had any issues, and I think people love knowing that they’re giving us something real and itemized and quantifiable, instead of just a random cash gift. My aunt literally called my mother jumping up and down because she bought Groom and my admissions to the art museum.

    • My mom balked a little at the idea of our honeymoon registry, until I told her my plan… My husband and I are both professional photographers, and our honeymoon was a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia to shoot in the Outback, meet the opal miner and jewelry design who made my engagement ring, and do few traditional honeymoon things like snorkel and relax on the Great Barrier Reef for a few days.

      We made sure to give everyone who contributed to the honeymoon fund a one-of-a-kind signed print that one of us had shot, plus a few photos of us enjoying the activity they “sponsored” and shared this YouTube video:

      People said they loved it, and we got a lot of positive feedback along the lines of “This was so much better than writing you a check or giving you a muffin tin.” Or maybe the TACKY naysayers just didn’t say anything, but my mom was mollified.

    • We set up a honeymoon registry too! We got to customize categories with anything we wanted or could need. We have categories for helping us with travel expenses, massages, outdoor activities, romantic dinners, and household goods for our return. We have been together for 3 years, and my fiance is in the military. We don’t need expensive china or such that has to be moved every 3-4 years. We want to be pampered on our honeymoon!

  3. This is a great article. The nice thing about a thoughtful gift is that it doesn’t have to cost much. Keep the thoughtful gift under 30$(a book, a placesetting, a sweater!) then make give a second gift of cash for the B&G’s decision-like you said, it may be fueled by retailers-I agree! So if the B&G would prefer to just start a savings account with it, they can!

  4. i’m from romania and here the only gift you get from guests is money.even parents give money. at the end of the wedding, people put money in envelopes, write their name on it, then place the envelope inside a house/heart/whatever-shaped box. it may be tacky, but here it’s considered as helping the couple buy a house.

    • I’m from Europe too… people in my country even put a picture of a little envelope on the invitation as a reminder for guests that they prefer money as a gift! I never knew until OBB that giving money was considered in some places as ‘not done’.

      • I don’t know if we’re looking at this the right way- I’ve never heard it considered “tacky” to GIVE someone money, but I think its usually considered rude to ask for it directly. My family always gives money, and that is seen as the normal thing to do- but they’d be shocked if I asked them to put money into my PayPal account. The polite way to “ask” for money is to simply NOT REGISTER. There. Done. People won’t know what to get you, so they’ll give you cash.

        • Well said. I agree. If you’re hoping to receive mostly cash, don’t register. Its really that simple.

  5. Great post! Being Asian, cash gifts during weddings are actually more common to me, and I’m still a little baffled by the idea that this is “tacky.” My fiance is Hispanic and he says, at least in the community he grew up in, that cash gifts are common as well, so neither his family nor mine have problems with it. However we felt a little obligated to create a small registry for our friends who are resistant to the idea of giving cash. We aren’t inviting people so that we can get gifts OR cash, so we won’t really mind if no one brings anything at all, but if they did, we secretly wish it would be cash instead of anything else.

    • My understanding is that cash gifts are common for weddings in a lot of traditions. I think it makes a lot more sense. I coordinated a friend’s wedding in 2006, and her family, who are mostly Latino, gave cash. She was able to pay me out the envelopes she had received. That’s often how couples are able to throw huge wedding for 300, 500 people, etc. The guests help you out!

    • I agree. My fiancé, who is Filipino, has already told me to be prepared for the money dance, in which our guests will dance with us and pin cash to our clothes.

      I think we will have a registry for the fancier kitchen stuff we can never afford, but frankly, I want to buy a house (more, really, than I want a wedding). I’d love it if those who were able just gave us money towards that goal.

  6. I’m surprised. I didn’t know a cash gift wasn’t the norm! LOL. I thought gifts and registries were for showers and stuff and then at the actual wedding you brought a card with cash/check. No? Is the WIC/The Knot/etc. only all gifts all the time?

  7. We put “a monetary gift is preferred” simply because we have lived together for a couple years now, we have a child, china or anything household for us is not needed. We have all of those things. People have asked us if they could get us a gift other than cash and we said that is fine. Most of the people we invited already know that we do not need those things to get us started. We most certainly do not expect anything from our guest but a good time together at our wedding. If people want to think that we asked for cash a a gift is “tacky” then so be it.

    • I’ve always wondered if anyone does this! Traditionally, a wedding guest is supposed to give at least enough money to cover the cost of their seat at the reception, so why not have them pay for it directly? It’s a great option for those who can’t afford to shell out all that money upfront. If you end up going this route, please share your experience with OBB!

    • Ok I have to ask, was that meant sarcastically?

      Because every time I’ve seen a comment about selling tickets come up in regards to cash gifts it’s been intended negatively – implying that if you ask for cash that’s pretty much what you’re doing and of course no one would dream of doing something so terrible.

      But this being OBB (where people are much nicer and more open to, well, everything) I can’t tell. Especially since in some situations I could see it working.

  8. You guys are bringing up another reason I loathe most wedding etiquette: what’s supposedly unacceptable in one region/culture is completely fine in another. Blanket decrees of what’s acceptable completely ignore the fact that it totally depends on the region and community.

    • This is one of the things that had me most stressed when I first started wedding planning.

      I didn’t have much experience with weddings and was getting all my advice from the internet. Which quickly overwhelmed me with tons of customs and traditions and etiquette which I “had” to follow in spite of a lot of it seeming very contradictory. (Eg. cash gives are never, ever, ever ok vs. wrapped gifts are only for engagement/showers and everyone brings cash to the wedding vs. no gifts at the engagement and WTF is a “wedding shower” anyway?)

      I was afraid to even begin planning for fear of offending someone until I started talking to people around me, and found some UK-only info and realised a lot of these ‘rules’ were so alien precisely because they were exclusive to other cultures or places and would never be anything to do with me and my wedding anyway.

      • For all that supposed “etiquette” stuff, I refer to Ask Elise on indybride. She debunks so much supposed etiquette as people simply being mired in the sticky sticky mud of tradition for tradition’s sake. Most of her advice is common sense rather than wedding sense, which i have found super-helpful. 🙂

    • I was just thinking how this is such a cultural aspect. In Portugal everyone knows that as a guest you’re expected to give the couple some money in an envelope they provide you with when you get a piece of cake. You know this money is going towards your seat at the reception. And it’s ok. No big deal. It’s not awkward at all. The thing is everyone is on the same page. I think the issue arises when (like me) you have your wedding with people from different cultures and have to explain where you stand on this. But no guest should be offended at how the couple prefers to be gifted (or not at all).

  9. i’ve neverrrr understood why someone would consider cash gifts “tacky” but a registry is okay, in fact it’s “what you do!”

    is it not the same thing? think about it. you’re either a) picking out the exact presents people can buy for you with their money or b) picking out exactly what you want and spending the cash they gave you on it.

    hmmm… yep! it sounds like the exact same thing to me.

    • Exactly! Here (Ireland) you can give gifts, or give cash, whatever but the idea of REGISTERING for gifts and effectively telling people what to get you? Oh lordy no! It’s seen as awfully unmannerly (to get away from the dreaded tacky word…).

    • I used to work at Service Merchandise 15 years ago. we allowed people to return anything they received on their registry for cash. I took returns for dozens of couples that brought in 3-4 buggies full of boxed gifts. We’d scan and take back what we sold, gave cash for what was on the registry and a gift card for anything not on the registry. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier just to ask for cash, rather than register for things you don’t want just to return them for the cash?

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