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. My wedding is in two weeks.We have asked for money as we would like to go on a honeymoon.Plus we already have a home and a daughter added into the mix.We have had a post box made (sis in law ), so people can post cards wiv cash.It is the norm in many traditions to give cash as wedding gifts, it is seen to give good luck and a prosperous marriage.Also for have said to guests that they don’t have to give any gift.I think if you have a registry for cash it could put people in an awkward position.They may feel they have to give more than they can afford.

  2. When my hubby and I got married in November, we’d already combined households and bought a house, so we really didn’t need a whole lot that would be in a normal wedding registry. Instead, we used a service to register for things on our honeymoon, and it was great! Our guests could go on there, and send us money towards a night in our hotel, dinner for two, spa time, or whatever! I only had one person balk at it, and that was because he’d already bought presents (and didn’t end up coming to the wedding anyway). I don’t know if there are more sites out there like this, but I think it was amazing.

  3. Would it be tacky to put on the insert with the information about the reception something like, “If you would like to bring a gift we are registered at “X”, but if you want to avoid the hassle of shopping, money to help us on our honeymoon is appreciated as well.” We’re not going to set up a wedding website like many couples do nowadays. (Though, if we did, since we’re not sending out Save the Dates, would we put it on the invitations? How would people know about it?)

    • Yes, on the invitations you list somewhere “Please RSVP at mywedding.com/example.” Or, if you aren’t using the online RSVP option you simply state “For more information check out ___” Then you list your registries on the website. It’s a great way to avoid mentioning presents on the invite (another thing many people find tacky because it creates the expectation of gifts), but still give people the information they want about what to get you.

    • It depends on your area (again). Where I live, EVERYONE puts a little tidbit of info where they’re registered at. So I’m putting a small snipit on an info insert with the invitation. Plus, I actually LIKE seeing that. It’s just 10x easier.

      But in lots of places it’s considered rude to do that, and it should be communicated verbally or via website.

  4. A little bit of Devil’s Advocate:

    I think a lot of people like the idea of you putting your plates on the table and thinking “These are the plates Aunt Megann bought us.” Even if they’re just buying you the stuff you asked them to buy you, there’s still the idea that you will think of them when you use it. I know I could go through the vast majority of the items in my house and tell you who bought me what. Thing is, I can do it for people who got me gift certificates, too. “The placemats Michael and Jess bought us” are actually the placemats I bought with the gift card they got me, but I still know they were from them.

    However, cash gifts tend to get spent on practical things, like our carpayment, or the power bill, or just put into savings until we need it. While we still need money for all those things, it doesn’t create the tangible memory that a material gift does, so I can understand some people being adverse to it.

    That’s why I think people who register for all the individual things of their honeymoon (like a massage, or snorkeling, or a night at the hotel) might meet with less resistance. People are reassured that there will still be that moment when the couple thinks “Man, I’m so glad Grandma Silvia got us this.”

    • I’ve seen this point made before. It explains a lot of the phenomenon, but it kind of bugs me. Why does it bug me?

      Because it underlines the idea that the gift is about the giver, not the giftee. And that’s simply not the case.

      It’s true in every walk of life where gifts are given, it’s just magnified x100 when it comes to a wedding. But, the best example I can come up with is how my uncle pitched a fit to my mother that all of the “good stuff” was bought off of the registry. She called me to tell me this (she hadn’t looked at our registry yet; she was waiting til later to buy stuff we wanted that no one got us yet), and I informed her of a number of key items I knew were still there that we really wanted.

      She called him back to tell him this. “Oh, well, I don’t want to get her THAT. I want to get her something SPECIAL. Where is her CHINA? Didn’t she register for CHINA?”

      Bingo.

      My mom, bless her soul, said, “[Brother], they don’t have any room to store china. They live in an apartment. They don’t have dinner parties where they could use it. They didn’t register for things they don’t need.”

      “BUT I WANT TO GET HER SOMETHING SPECIAL!”

      As if the fact that we wanted a real bed set wasn’t special. Or that we wanted nice bed linens because our favorite sheets had holes in them. That was special to us!

      Everyday plates get replaced. Kitchen electrics get replaced. Bed linens, even the nicest ones, eventually get holey and need to be replaced.

      But fine china? That’s heirloom material. You’ll have that FOREVER. And the guest seems to think that they need to get you something that will last FOREVER, regardless of your current situation. Maybe you don’t cook. Maybe you don’t have a house and have no intention of buying one. Maybe you bought all of this stuff for yourself years ago and because it LASTS FOREVER, you have no desire to replace it just so someone can fulfill their need to GET YOU SOMETHING SPESHUL!!!!

      I realize that the intent isn’t mean-spirited, but it is awfully selfish. Of course, if a bride complains about it, she’s ungrateful and greedy – which, actually, is the attitude I resent even more. I didn’t care if people brought gifts to our wedding, but I DID get annoyed when people complained that there was “nothing good left” on the registry.

      • Sadly I’ve heard this issue come up a lot. The worst example being the aunt who bought the couple a dining table and chairs because it’s what she ALWAYS bought the nieces and nephews and it wasn’t her problem if they lived on a house boat…

        • It’s a terrible story, but I sort of love having a terrible story to tell. This is hilarious!

      • Ugh, I agree! I was ruminating on this earlier in regards to the whole not wanting to give cash thing. My FMIL gave me some money for my birthday, stipulating that I use it “for something nice for myself.” I thought it was sweet, and told her it was going toward some lumber for a house project, and turns out later that what I had said upset her because she had wanted me to use it on a new outfit or a manicure or something. It frustrated me somewhat that in that case, the giving of the gift was more about what she had imagined, rather than what I had wanted. And if that’s the case, why bother giving a gift? Who was it really for?

      • We had a friend get married awhile back where ‘all the good stuff was gone’ from the registry. There were lots of tiny things, but I think a lot of people feel weird buying them (the whole speshul thing :p). So, along with some other friends attending the wedding, we bought out the entire registry as one big group gift. It was fun imagining them opening the box like a stocking at Christmas, filled with cool little things that they wanted. Another friend didn’t register anywhere except a wishlist at anthropolgie. I bought her a strainer and a kitchen timer off her wish list and she said they were some of her favorite presents. Sometimes its the little things that ARE speshul. I really want new measuring spoons. I won’t buy them for myself because I have some that are perfectly good at measuring, but I’d really love some shiny, heavy duty ones. And if someone gets me some, I’ll think of them every time I measure

    • I was brought up on cash gifts (birthdays, new year, my wedding), but I was also brought up with the idea that when you get a cash gift, you don’t spend it on groceries. You buy something you want, something you need (but normally can’t afford), something you enjoy, because it was a gift and not your pay check. So, from the cash we got for our wedding, some was spend on things we need for our life together(house hold items, two new bikes) and some was spend on the honeymoon. It is important to me that we acknowledged it as a gift and therefore did something “special” with it.

  5. My fiancee and I are in the same situation. We are getting married in September of this year but we really don’t feel like going the whole registry route. There is a small collection of things we will likely register for but otherwise we are fairly sure that we are going to ask for cash gifts instead.

    The wedding is coming shortly after our lease at our current place is up and we don’t want to have a large amount of clutter as well and we would rather buy things that we need instead of having too many things we don’t need. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate any type of gifts but I don’t want to be overwhelmed with everything and have a whole apartment or house full of items!

  6. We used Traveler’s Joy, but are giving folks the option of the honeymoon registry or donating to a cause near and dear to our hearts. I tried to make the “gifts” on the honeymoon registry really personal by including details in the descriptions. Everyone who has seen it says they feel like they’re giving us a “real” gift. Someone on this site had the idea of sending thank-you postcards from the part of your honeymoon that they helped give to you, which I think is so awesome and thoughtful!

  7. I have always found the wedding gift thing a bit odd – it seems like an exchange – you get a nice dinner, we get a nice present! My partner and I have lived together for years, and in sending out email invitations were able to really spell out how we feel about gifts, and how people can best support us. I asked a friend who simply said ‘no gifts please’, and they ended up with a crazy amount of platters that sit in her cupboard unused. Also, we have already had our first offer of homemade sugar-free tomato chutney in lieu of a gift!! Here is what Tommy came up with:

    Gifts

    In lieu of presents we are asking that everybody bring a dish to share (see food section above).
    For those of you who feel compelled to give a little extra (and please know that your attendance truly is gift enough in itself!) we have a unique conundrum: As we have been living together for some time we have already acquired most of the things required to start a household and therefore are in little need of traditional wedding presents. We have only a few larger items that we are saving towards buying (over the next few years!) and we would appreciate any contribution towards those items in the form of a bank deposit, cash or cheque at the wedding.

    These items include; a king size bed to fit us and our two future kids, a TSM dehydrator for our increasingly raw food diet, a big TV to mount on our wall like a movie theatre (because we love movies but need to save and so seldom go out to them) and the holy grail of all blenders, a Vitamix.

    We don’t wish to be uncouth by asking for cash but in true Greek-pin-cash-to-the-bride-fashion we find ourselves needing nothing more practical, specific, or affordable by any one party.

    After all this talk of gifts we would like to reiterate that we are sincerely in need of, and desire nothing more than your blessing and fine company and we only include this footnote for those of you with a burning desire to contribute something more.

    • I LOVE this. It’s heartfelt and beautiful, and anyone who is offended by it has issues. 🙂 (No one who matters will be.)

    • Nicola, I LOVE that!

      My fiance and I have been living together for the entire duration of our relationship (literally!) and most every one of our family and friends knows this. They, also, know that we are paying for the wedding ourselves.

      We have all of the “new house” stuff we will ever need…with the exception of the house. We have mentioned to a few relatives the idea of coming up with some kind of wording (like yours) that will state that we are saving up to purchase a home of our own to start our new life together. While our families know this is the “practical” approach, there still are a few eyebrows raised. Not because it’s necessarily in bad taste to them, but they don’t understand it since it’s not the traditional way to go about things.

      I may have to borrow your wording and tweak it for my own Registry notes for the invites. 😉

  8. Honestly, as I see it, it is in no way rude to *give* cash. Giving a gift is at the discretion of the giver – including what that gift is. I simply reject a ‘tradition’ (heh) that says that gifts have to be a certain thing. They should be whatever you want!

    The bigger debate, honestly (and the debate that I think Offbeat Bride should cover…as it’s more of an issue) is whether *asking* for cash is acceptable.

    I’m on the side of “no, it’s not”, but apply that rule to only one person: me (and possibly anyone who actively seeks out my advice on the topic). Giving cash is fine, but going out of your way to say “cash please” (in ANY form, including a “cute” poem) gives me the heebie-jeebies. For me. As in I’d never do it. I wouldn’t judge someone else who did it and probably would give them cash as requested.

    But then, I’ve mentioned that one side of my family is Armenian. Another side is Old Straight-Laced New Englander. For us, even announcing a registry (including registry cards in invitations) is a big fat no-no. (But, again, I’m not going to judge someone else who does it).

    Asking for gifts and expecting gifts of any kind for a wedding is bad form, though. Guests are not obligated to give any gift and you are not entitled to expect one. That is one line I do draw that if someone I knew crossed it and acted ‘entitled’ to wedding gifts, I’d re-evaluate my opinion of that person.

    But as for GIVING cash gifts? Fine. Whatevs.

  9. Himself and I agreed that we would feel kind of strange straight up asking for money, so we set up a couple small registries (REI and Amazon) for some things that we need and some things that we would love to have (camping equipment!). But we also let our mothers know (because we’re comfortable enough to give them the skinny) that what we’d prefer is cold hard cash toward a down payment on a house. That way, when they get the typical “Where are the kids registered?” question, the moms can say, “They have registries at Amazon and REI, but they’re also trying to save up money for a down payment so if its easier, cash is fine”.

    Our friends Tess and Nathan had a very down-to-earth approach. They didn’t register anywhere. When people asked, they said “Thanks, but we’ve lived together for five years and we already own a house. We don’t need anything.” Many of their guests included cash and checks in the wedding cards anyway and everybody won: Tess and Nathan got some extra nest egg, and their guests got to revel in the feeling that they had gone above and beyond the couple’s expectations. They key to making this approach classy: When they said they didn’t need anything and gifts weren’t required, they MEANT it.

    • We did that too (we live abroad, so we had a built-in excuse, but we would’ve done it anyway). We simply registered nowhere, didn’t announce anything about gifts (our wedsite had some charities that could be donated to) and really, we got a few gift cards but mostly checks and cash.

    • We are doing exactly like your friends moreover we’re just shy of turning 40 having only met a few years ago and we already have doubles of every basic thing and we sincerely only want their presence and blessing which is what we really care most about. I think the tradition is to provide household gifts to the “young” couple to help them start of their life but these are modern times where most people are independent, they no longer live with their parents leaving only to be married, co-habit before matrimony (absolute sin back in the days- in my culture is still taboo) have reasonably good china to serve guests instead of dented tin cups and beat-up wooden spoons. Honestly DH and I agree that what the heck do we do with “fine” china, we have perfectly good but simple dishes we use everyday to serve our guests. For us we look forward to the fond memory of having everyone we care about there as being priceless. BTW I am trying my damnest not to get sucked into the whole wedding fiasco but I am glad I found this site! thanks

    • We took a similar approach and said we didn’t want gifts, and meant it. We are an American+German couple and we had our wedding in Germany, where we and his family live. We told our guests coming from the US that the travelling to see us was more than enough of a gift, and we told our German guests that instead of a gift we would love it if they would contribute to the event in some way, whether by helping with decorations, taking photos, DJ’ing. People were really enthusiastic about helping out, which made our wedding much more personal (and affordable).

      However, my mother-in-law wisely advised us that no matter what you say about not wanting gifts, people want to give them to you anyway. Her opinion was that it’s better to just tell them what you want and make it easier for everyone. We didn’t want to believe her, but finally we decided to compromise by writing on our invitations, after the stuff about helping with the event, “If you want to contribute something, please contact the groom’s mom.” That way people could ask her how they could help out AND about gifts.

      Of course she was right and many people ended up giving us gifts or money anyway. Interestingly, in Germany it’s actually not considered at all tacky to ask for money, so I definitely agree with the other brides above who said that this differs a lot between cultures. Here, instead of “hiding” the cash, people actually try to make it funny. For example, because “mice” is slang for “cash,” my friends received a diorama of Haribo candy mice and money caught in mousetraps for their wedding. We received two large piggy banks filled with coins, as well as not one but two beautiful little pirate-style treasure chests, the second one being full of sand that we had to sift through to find the coins!

      I do have to agree with the person who said that the advantage of gifts (or even honeymoon registries) over bare naked cash – for both the giver and the receivers – is that you can think of the person when you use the gift. Though we’ve taken the money to the bank, we still have the pigs and the treasure chests. Also, it does warm my heart when I use the other gifts we got and think about how in 30 years, I’ll still remember that this was a gift for my wedding. I think I like the gifts more because they weren’t from a registry though and they reflect our friends’ personalities as well as our own. But I guess I’m lucky that my friends made good selections!

  10. I used to work at a small bridal store with china, crstyal, and other small gifts. Brides would come and register with us. We would have some little old ladies come in asking about, let’s say a dinner plate. “Oh, the brides already has 16 dinner plates purchased for her, but only has 1 salad plate purchased. Unfortunately we don’t have any salad plates in stock, but I can wrap you a gift card specifying it is for 1 salad plate.”

    Well some of those ladies would have a complete fit. “I can NOT give her a gift card! It has to be an actual plate wrapped up!! You can’t just give someone a GIFT CARD!! I’ll take a dinner plate!!”

    It blew my mind they would rather give the brides something she obviously does not need, just so they would have a tangible object in the gift box.

    • That’s funny, especially since most people would probably rather not get all of the physical presents at the wedding since they’ll have to lug them home.

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