What If You Can’t Afford Anything on a Wedding Registry?

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We all know that it’s impolite to attend a wedding without giving the couple a gift, but what happens if you can’t afford anything on the wedding registry? Perhaps the couple has expensive taste and all of the registry items are out of your budget, or maybe you waited until the last minute and the only remaining registry items cost too much for you.

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Whatever the case may be, it’s important to know your options so you don’t end up coming off as a rude wedding guest. Here’s what etiquette experts and wedding professionals say to do in this situation.

Pool Your Money With Other Guests’ To Give a Group Gift

“In an ideal world, the bride and groom will choose a wide enough selection of goods that most people can afford something from the registry, but of course, there’s always the possibility that the items or remaining items are out of your budget,” said Julia Esteve Boyd, The Etiquette Consultant. “I would suggest trying to find another guest or guests that would be willing to share the cost of a larger gift. That way, the couple receives something from the registry and you don’t pay the full price of the item.”

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Gift Them an Experience Instead

An alternative to buying off the registry could be to gift the couple a unique experience.

“Offer a gift of a spa day for couples, a sightseeing tour, etc., and say that you wanted to get something a little different that they can enjoy after the wedding and also remember to you by,” Esteve Boyd said.

Buy a Gift of Your Choice That’s Not on the Registry

Just because a couple provides a wedding registry, this doesn’t mean that you are obligated to buy a gift from it.

“The registry is a guideline, not a mandatory contribution to attend the event,” said Jodi RR Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. “Use the registry as a guide and choose something that matches the couple’s taste.”

If you don’t know the couple well and aren’t sure what to give, Angie Allison, a master etiquette trainer and founder of Daily Protocol, recommends scouring the wedding website for insights into what they might like.

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“Perhaps therein an idea can be sparked for a personal gift not on their registry, like pet sitting services or pottery classes, or a monetary donation toward a cause close to their hearts,” she said.

If you buy a gift that’s not on the registry, you may want to include a note about why you chose an alternative.

“There is always room for honesty,” Esteve Boyd said. “Offer a gift of your choice and say that there were no gifts remaining on the registry within your budget, so you selected something you hope they will like. [This] will not be unwelcomed — at least it shouldn’t be.”

If you don’t feel comfortable offering an explanation, however, you don’t have to.

“There is also the option to choose a gift of your choice without offering any explanation,” Esteve Boyd said. “After all, you wouldn’t bring a hostess gift and announce that you couldn’t afford anything more expensive!”

Give Them a Thoughtful Gift Card

“If you waited too long and the options are limited on the registry, a gift card to the store they registered at is acceptable,” said Mona Zegarelli, a modern etiquette and financial responsibility expert and author of “The Hopeful Hostess.” “Use an amount that works for your budget.

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“If you are giving a gift card, it is best to have an actual gift card and place it in a nice store-bought card, and bring it with you to the wedding,” she continued. “Most affairs will have a box or basket for cards.”

Cash May Also Be an Acceptable Gift

“[Giving] cash is becoming more and more popular in the U.S. after COVID,” said Maryanne Parker of Manor of Manners. “In many cultures, the cash option is widely accepted — and preferred — because the new couple can be flexible in utilizing it.”

If you do give cash, you’re free to give an amount you are comfortable with.

It’s OK If You Truly Can’t Afford To Give Anything

If you’re going through a tough time financially, it’s OK to not buy the couple a gift. This shouldn’t deter you from attending the wedding.

“If you are in a circumstance where a gift is just not possible, chances are the wedding couple is aware of your situation,” Zegarelli said. “They invited you to be a part of their day, so go! Bring a nice card and write a kind memory or message to the couple they can treasure. Your best gift is to be at the wedding and to be a part of the day.”

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About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 
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