The myth of the “gift grab”

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Ah, the enduring legend of the gift grab.

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 here in the present, 'round these parts? Close to half of us are paying for our own weddings.

Based on research from Splendid Insights, when it comes to nontraditional couples, 43% of us pay for our own weddings.

…So if we're paying for the wedding out of our own pockets, why in the world would we spend money on a wedding (or even just a reception) to get gifts?!

If I have $5k to spend and I just wanted a bunch of gifts… why wouldn't I just buy that shit for myself?!

There seems to be this very strange economically unsound logic around weddings and gifts, to the point where some folks 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 of my own money 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 amazing candlesticks, bed linens, and vases!

Furthermore, in an era and culture where many couples are living together before marriage, many of us don't even want wedding gifts.

The very frequent question I receive from Offbeat Bride readers is “How can we keep people from giving us stuff we don't need or want?”

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 guidance about “gift grabs”:

  • 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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Comments on The myth of the “gift grab”

  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.

  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

    • 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.

  3. I think we’re going to say “Gifts are fun, but we desire your presence more than your presents.”

  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!

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

  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.

    • 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.

  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!

    • 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

      • 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.

        • 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

  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.

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