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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