Wedding traditions are changing and many couples choose to put a more modern spin on older ones. Photographers offer a "first look" as an option for those that want to get photos done early, seating arrangements are less strict to encourage both sides of the family to mingle and some brides and grooms are even looking to their guests to help fund their wedding or honeymoon.
Another ritual that could use a fresh take is wedding gifts. Registries are helpful when it comes to taking the guesswork out of gifts, especially when a couple is moving into a new house or just starting out. However, the pressure to spend a certain amount of money is an unnecessary cause of stress. As long as you put thought into a gift, the budget should be whatever you are comfortable spending. Fortunately, you don't have to be embarrassed to see your gift amongst larger, shinier boxes on the gift table because there are plenty of creative ways to show the happy couple how much you care about them without breaking the bank.
Before you head out to buy a wedding gift, think about the event from start to finish. Is there an engagement party in addition to a wedding shower? Will you need to travel to get there? Do you need to factor in child care or buy a new outfit? There are plenty of unexpected costs that can arise, so consider setting a total budget of what you would like to spend. Of course, if you are closer to the couple or even are in the wedding party, you might feel you should spend more than you normally would. Even if that's the case, the amount of time and consideration you put into a gift will be remembered for much longer than the price tag.
Depending on the couple, you might have several celebrations to attend. One way to make a nice impression and go easy on your wallet is to give various pieces of a set at each event. This works especially well with table settings or towel sets. Try to make the wedding gift the focus. For example, give hand towels and bath accessories at the engagement and shower and a set of monogrammed towels at the main event. A themed gift will be memorable while keeping your expenses reasonable.
Another possibility is to think outside the gift box. If you have any talents or services you can offer, such as designing a wedding website, photographing the wedding or making a special video, this approach is another thoughtful solution for a low-cost gift. It doesn't have to be based on a talent, either -- perhaps the couple needs someone to house or dog-sit while they are away on a honeymoon. Think about what will make their lives easier and maybe even reduce their own expenses.
You can also get creative with do-it-yourself gifts. Create a scrapbook with snapshots and memories of the couple, especially if you can dig things out of the archives that they haven't seen recently. Decorate a large card box for a sentimental place to store all the wedding and engagement cards the couple receives. There are plenty of easy tutorials online to help if arts and crafts are intimidating for you.
Lastly, giving the happy couple an experience they will always remember can keep the celebration going even after the honeymoon is over. Keep your eye on deal sites like Living Social or Groupon, which always offer great discounts on trips and activities. Gift certificates to a favorite restaurant can go toward future date nights, or take it up a notch and get the couple a hot air balloon ride at sunset, complete with champagne. You can even keep it simple with a paid subscription for Netflix or a home cleaning service.
One more tip: If you really want to give a splashier, more expensive item, get some friends or family who also were invited to chip in and give a group gift. This can be a fun way to share what you have in common with the couple, and take the pressure off yourself to spend more than you are comfortable. Just remember it's the thought that counts and that the focus should be on the celebration.
Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website BeFrugal.com, which saves shoppers an average of $27 per order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.
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