The audacity of asking for cash gifts

Updated Oct 12 2015
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.

  1. We're going to have some registries, but we're not only going to ask for things we haven't been able to acquire in the past 5 years. Those things, of course, are more expensive items. I'm not going to add "small gifts" to my registry if I don't need anything on the "cheap" side.
    That being said, we're orphans – spending a lot of our money on the wedding/reception for a small group of people. There is no WAY we could come close enough in cash gifts to even go on a honeymoon. And that's cool. We aren't inviting people for their money OR gifts. We've both been self sufficient for a long time. We chose to spend our money to make memories with our loved ones.
    So gifts are cool, I'll appreciate what I get and return what I don't want. We could use money more than items, sure, but it's not worth the risk of offending anyone when Target makes a return SO easy.

  2. We asked for charity donations and named three charities we support. This approach was not as successful as we'd hoped. We were put under a lot of pressure from our mothers to register for items, even though we live in a small apartment and can afford what we really need. Admittedly, our moms had a legit reason. They were receiving lots of calls from (generally older) guests who saw what we'd asked but wanted to know what gifts we "really" wanted. We ended up with some donations, some cash, and a lot of random items. Maybe we should have registered.

  3. My fiance and I hated the whole registry idea. We're hoping to move overseas after our wedding, so we didn't want a lot of stuff. Of course, our families wouldn't accept the idea of not having a registry (and they brought up the (very valid) point that we would probably just end up with a bunch of stuff we didn't want if we didn't do a registry.) So we caved and set up a google checkout account (lower fees than the 'official' wedding cash sites) and made up a bunch of things – stuff that we're doing on our honeymoon, stuff that we wanted to buy, etc. and put those up on our wedding website. People have been 'buying' them for us, and the money just goes into our account and it's all awesome. So far the only person who has been upset was a grandparent who doesn't trust the internet. We'll probably get an ugly fruit bowl from him. That's fine. 🙂 And really – I don't care if we get a bunch of money or presents – I just want the people I love to come to my wedding and have an awesome time.

  4. Cash gifts are not a negative anymore.

    One would need to consider the community and cultural traditions and then make a judgement accordingly.

    We are living in a sometimes cash strapped society so for the couple to receive cash is sometimes also a welcome relief considering the often high expenses associated with a wedding

  5. I had no idea that cash gifts were considered tacky! My fiance and I have been thinking about skipping the registries and letting our friends and family know that if they really want to give us a gift, we'd appreciate a cash donation towards a honeymoon. We've been living together for several years now so we have everything we need. We're depleting our savings by buying a house and having our wedding in the same year. I'd rather have cash for a plane ticket or hotel on a honeymoon than a second toaster. Is this still tacky?

  6. Since I am young, and my friends that are getting married are also young, I'd rather give cash. We are all broke. So, if all the of $20 I can afford to give helps them pay the rent on time, why not?

    I don't understand why it's such an issue… My grandma has given me cash or gift cards for everything my entire life! She knows that most of the time it's much more useful than a fancy gift I'll put in a closet and forget about. Plus, I don't like asking for nice things. I'd rather buy it myself. If I can't afford it, why should I ask for it? So gift cards or cash is what we will be putting as an "if you simply MUST" gift option. Maybe registering on Amazon for the few things we need…

    Is it wrong to register for books? haha

  7. I've already commented, but just remembered that my friend Jen and her guy had an awesome alternative way to ask for cash when they got hitched some years ago. They had just moved into a little clapboard house in New England that was a ways back from the road. There was only a dirt path leading to the house, and they wished they could pave it with nice flagstones, but they were $40 a stone! So they asked that people sponsor a stone. They didn't actually put people's names on the stones like at a museum or a school, but it was nice. My friends and I pooled our money to sponsor several flagstones.

  8. I've always grown up with the notion that asking/mentioning of gifts of any kind – registry, cash, honeymoon fund, donations, etc – when you're getting married is somewhat arrogant just because you're implying that people will get you something. Therefore, no one I know put this on the invitation or mentioned that they were registered at "so-and-sos" and this is what I'm going to do.

    I'm inviting my friends and family because it's a day of love that I want to celebrate with others that I love. If they give me gifts – that's great! If they don't, that's great, too. They're my friends – not my paycheck.

    However, I do find it weird that people think it's "tacky" to give cash. In my community [Southern US, for those wondering], cash is what you give if you're giving a gift.

  9. This is all very interesting to me – it seems like the options are basically: gift registry, cash, honeymoon registry, gift certificates, cash registry.. What I want isn't on the list… I don't know if this exists, someone please tell me if it does, I haven't been able to find it and have been considering creating a website to do it:

    I'm in an opposite situation to some – I don't have all that many things, and there are a number of things I'd like – some plates and silverware, and glasses, some various sorts of kitchenware and cooking items, and a number of other things. Were I buying for myself, I would buy almost ALL of these items at goodwill, salvation army, or other resale shops, where they are about 1/10 (or less) of the price. Or, I would rely on hand-me-downs from people who have perfectly good items but simply want new ones. Frugal as I am (with my money AND on behalf of people buying me things) I really dislike the thought that if someone gave me $50 in cash for housewares I could buy 10 or 20 things at goodwill, but if they spent the same amount on a registry they'd only get a couple of things because they'd be new.

    I'd love to see a website where I can "register" for the things that I need, and people can check them off when they are purchased so I don't get duplicate items, but there is no particular store associated with them – and I can specify that I would prefer hand-me-downs and clean functioning used items instead of new ones. That way, people who want to give physical gifts instead of contributing to a "house" fund or a "honeymoon" fund can do so, without me feeling so silly about having to include the retailers in the picture. Also, if I were going to have a set of china, I would love to have a beautiful bunch of mismatched pieces (with a general registry, I could even give a basic color theme if I wanted), so I could associate each piece (or few pieces) with the person who gave them!

  10. We have an older lady who's considered the expert on ettiquette and she recently pointed out that it is not rude to ask for money as long as you're polite about it but still provide options for physical gifts as well.

  11. "Dear loved ones,
    As we have been living on our own for many years, we have many of the things typically gifted to newly-weds who are also leaving the nest. We also know that some of our particular lifestyle preferences may be inconvenient for our guests to accommodate. With that in mind, if the spirit moves you to gift us with more than just your presence, please consider contributing to the funding of our new home, in which we hope to throw many parties to which our loved ones may be invited."

  12. I grew up in the Northeast in an Italian family. Geographically, it's always been gift for the shower, money for the wedding (from what I've seen). Culturally, the Italians will throw an envelope of money at you for any occasion. Funeral, birth, wedding, birthday, you name it, they've got an envelope of cash for it. Bringing a gift to a reception isn't necessarily considered tacky, it's just out of the ordinary.

    My fiance is from the Midwest. His sister had two or three registries, two showers, and a gift opening party the day after the wedding. His Mom asked us if we were going to register. I hadn't planned on it originally until I found out about the shower. Thing is, we are in our mid-30's, have lived on our own since late teens-early 20's, and we have at least two of almost everything. We said we were going to make a small registry, but since we want to buy a house and we currently have no room for much, we were hoping for money (or nothing) for the wedding.

    I've taken the F it attitude for the wedding. I think the T word is BS and I'm pretending it doesn't exist. I would never be rude or break (real) etiquette, but anything goes in the realm of "tacky".

  13. My fiance and I are moving across the country 2 weeks after our wedding, and doing so by plane – meaning whatever fits in our luggage is all that comes with us. Unfortunately, there will be no room for toasters and china in there. We've explicitly asked for no gifts, which people aren't listening to, so as an alternative we're asking that it be greenback (meaning cash only), which some people aren't listening to. It's just unfortunate because I'll have to leave whatever gifts we receive behind because we can't bring this stuff with us.

  14. The information in the article that the cash vs. gifts debate has been going on for at least a hundred years makes me wonder if cash gifts are considered tacky not because they are less advantageous to the retailers, but because cash gifts are considered normal in Eastern Europe. The very strong social trends of rejection and fear of whatever traditions the most recent wave of immigrants have brought with them is a consistent trend in history. I can easily see cash gifts being rejected for this reason alone, and then that rejection getting codified into tradition.

  15. I enjoy being audacious, and my academic work often deals with commercial culture. I like buying my own shit at antique and thrift stores, need nothing from a registry with a retailer, amd DON'T CARE if family members or others find my asking for cash as tacky or audacious. I'm a poor graduate student and mama throwing a huge expensive party for all y'all's butts. GIVE ME SOME MONEY IN LIEU OF A GIFT I WILL SELL ON THE INTERWEBS ANYWAY.

  16. We're currently in this dilemma now, where we have to word our invites JUST right in order not to step on any toes. My fiancee and I have been living together for 4 years, we already bought a house, we are pretty much settled so buying household items simply won't work for us. We are having a themed wedding, and we'd much rather have our guests spend money on their outfits than on gifts for us. We do have a little phrase inserted so far in our invites for those who 1. Insist on giving a physical gift and 2. Those who insist on giving cash. We said something along the line of "…No gifts necessary, but if insisted upon, feed our nerdy desires with a copy of you favourite book, or a donation towards our choice…" We figured that it is much cheaper for our guests to bring a book, or money for a book than to spend hundreds on something waaay more expensive. We love books and we love adding to our collection too, so it seems like a win-win for us as well as the guests.

  17. we have and are asking our guests for money, we have little poems to put it in the nicest way cash please. we are planning to go to disneyland paris as a family moon for our wee girl for a few days and the money is going towards that and work on our house. i dont think it as rude but as modern, times change, traditions arent the same, it use to be tradition to not move in before married but all the couple i know either/and have kids, a house and all furniture and accesssories needed.

  18. My husband and I did a destination wedding, so a lot of our guests gave us money to avoid having to cart a gift along with them. The money came in a variety of forms – cash, cheque, gift cards – but the cash gift that touched us the most, was from my cousin. We got married in Banff, AB and when she arrived in the mountains, she found some tree branches on the ground, put them into a pot with some dirt, and then clipped bills to the branches, creating a "Money Tree" for us. She also included a lovely poem she'd written about how with this "Money Tree" she wished us a life full of wealth – emotional, spiritual, physical, mental, and of course financial. I'm sure some of our guests probably thought her gift was tacky, but for my husband and I it was one of our favourites, not because it was cash, but because it was original and came from the heart!

  19. This is soooo funny to me…

    I live in Oregon… Here, every wedding I have been too has the MONEY dance lol. The Bride and Groom go on the dance floor. Typically they start the dance with either the groom attaching a bill to the brides dress OR with the bride with an older male family figure and groom with an older female family figure and the older family figure attaching money to their partners wedding garment. People cut in through the dance to attach money and dance with the bride or groom.

    I've also seen boxes out for people to deposit money in. Gift registries are big. And while Ive never heard of a honey moon registry I love it. As I love the idea of providing guests with paypal information to help out towards a home down payment. When I get married, I'll probably have an array of options.

    Also, here in the NW it is not frowned upon to bring a gift to the wedding, just don't expect it to be opened there. Those are typically opened after the honeymoon and receive and thank you card within a month/6 weeks after the wedding.

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