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Wedding Etiquette: How Much To Give (and Spend)

Gabrielle Olya
·9 min read
Young couple kissing at wedding reception.
Young couple kissing at wedding reception.

Although weddings have evolved over the years and people are choosing less traditional ways to tie the knot — especially during the pandemic — there are still certain financial rules of etiquette that apply to both the couple having the wedding and guests attending the wedding.

Doing It Right:19 Unspoken Gift-Giving Etiquette Rules

Want to avoid money faux pas before, during and after the nuptials? GOBankingRates is answering all your questions about how much to give and spend when it comes to weddings and their surrounding events. Though most weddings are on hold right now, these rules will apply once we’re back to celebrating in person.

Last updated: Dec. 3, 2020

Bride throwing the bouquet at wedding.
Bride throwing the bouquet at wedding.

What To Know If You're Getting Married

If you’re planning a wedding, you want to ensure it’s one guests are looking forward to attending — and not one that will drain their wallets. GOBankingRates answered some of the trickiest financial wedding etiquette questions so you know exactly what you can — and can’t — expect of your guests.

wedding guest list and seating arrangement
wedding guest list and seating arrangement

How Should I Divide the Guest List If Only One Family Is Paying?

No matter who’s paying — whether it’s one family, both families, the couple or some combination of those parties — it’s traditional that the guest list be divided evenly into thirds: One third is guests of one of the spouse’s parents, one third is guests of the other spouse’s parents and one third is guests of the couple. If the parents who aren’t paying want to invite more than their allotted third, they should chip in for the payment. Alternatively, the couple could cut down their own guest list to make up for the extra guests.

wedding guest couple drinking champagne
wedding guest couple drinking champagne

Do I Have To Pay For All My Guests To Have a Plus-One?

Typically, all guests who are in a committed relationship — whether they are married, engaged or seriously dating — should be able to bring a date to the wedding. This rule applies even if you have yet to meet the guest’s partner. Don’t feel obligated to give single guests a plus-one, but do be consistent — if you let one friend bring their fling of the month, you should extend that courtesy to other guests as well.

destination wedding couple at altar
destination wedding couple at altar

What If It's a Destination Wedding?

This is the exception to the rule. Single guests might not want to travel alone, and they might be wary of attending an entire extended event if they’re not close with any of the other guests. The polite thing to do is to keep the guest list small enough that you can provide all guests with the option to bring a plus-one. Not everyone will opt to do so, but the choice should be theirs.

bridesmaids and brides at bridal shower
bridesmaids and brides at bridal shower

Who Usually Pays For the Bridal Shower?

The bridal shower is typically paid for by the hostess(es). This can be the bride’s mother, mother-in-law, the bridesmaids or other friends or family members.

Girls Party.
Girls Party.

Should I Give a Gift to the Bridal Shower Hostess(es)?

In this case, a thank you note will suffice, but you can also choose to give the hostess or hostesses a small gift, like tickets to an upcoming event or a thoughtful gift set.

rehearsal dinner for wedding guests
rehearsal dinner for wedding guests

Who Usually Pays For the Rehearsal Dinner?

Traditionally, the groom’s family hosts and pays for the rehearsal dinner. However, some families choose to split the cost. In other cases, the bride and groom host the event themselves.

Read: Here’s How Much the Average Wedding Costs

wedding gifts on table
wedding gifts on table

Can I Register For Gifts Even If It's Not My First Marriage?

Whether it’s your second, third or 10th wedding, you can still have a gift registry. Your friends and family will likely want to celebrate your happy occasion with a gift, and having a registry will give them guidance on what to buy. If you don’t feel right about asking for gifts, you could register for a honeymoon registry or other fund. Or, you can simply request that guests not bring gifts if you truly don’t feel comfortable receiving any.

wedding invitation cards
wedding invitation cards

Is It Tacky To Put My Registry Info on My Invitation?

Yes — this can make it look like you’re soliciting gifts. Instead, include a link to your wedding website and link to your registries there.

man opening up wedding invitation
man opening up wedding invitation

Should I Pay For Postage on the RSVP Notes?

Yes, it’s common courtesy to include a stamped envelope or postcard for your guests to submit their RSVPs with.

Mid adult couple discussing with female receptionist.
Mid adult couple discussing with female receptionist.

If the Venue Is a Hotel, Am I Expected To Pay For Guests' Accommodations?

Whether your venue has accommodations on-site or not, you’re not expected to pay for your guests’ stays during your wedding weekend. If the venue is a hotel, guests can book directly through the staff.

Although it’s not necessary, you can choose to cover accommodation costs for close friends and family or subsidize room costs for guests, but you’re in no way obligated to do so.

wedding gift for guests
wedding gift for guests

How Much Should I Spend on Gifts for the Wedding Party?

Your bridesmaids and groomsmen have likely spent a pretty penny on your big day, from paying to attend all the festivities leading up to it to dropping money on dresses and tux rentals to make your wedding picture-perfect. A good price point for gifts for your wedding party is $75 to $150 per person.

A young Japanese man is drinking beer.
A young Japanese man is drinking beer.

Is It OK To Have a Cash Bar?

Although alcohol can be a major expense, it’s best to avoid having a cash bar if at all possible within your budget. Cut down on alcohol costs in other ways, such as having only signature cocktails made from a couple of select liquors, plus wine and beer.

You can also serve liquor during cocktail hour, and then serve wine and beer only during the reception, or stick to just wine and beer the whole time. You might also be able to bring in your own alcohol, depending on the venue.

wedding server pouring champagne
wedding server pouring champagne

How Much Should I Tip the Wedding Vendors?

If you have a contract with a vendor, you’re not expected to tip them, though you can give them cash or another small token of appreciation if you wish. The staff that you don’t have a contract with, such as musicians or servers, should get a tip. You should also plan to pay for any vendors’ meals during the event.

wedding groomsmen walking in rain
wedding groomsmen walking in rain

What To Know If You're a Wedding Guest

When you’re invited to a wedding, costs can really add up, especially if you are a member of the wedding party. With multiple events, travel and gift expenses, the cost to attend can be daunting. Here’s what you should expect to spend on and where you can save.

champagne toasting celebration.
champagne toasting celebration.

Am I Expected To Bring a Gift to an Engagement Party?

Not every couple has an engagement party, and those who do shouldn’t expect to receive a gift. If you want to bring something small and celebratory, like a nice bottle of champagne or a pair of champagne flutes, go right ahead. But if you expect to spend a lot on future wedding festivities, it’s OK to pass on buying a gift for this one.

Don’t Do This: I’m Living Paycheck to Paycheck Because I’ve Had To Go To So Many Weddings

Women celebrate a bachelorette party of bride.
Women celebrate a bachelorette party of bride.

Can I Say No To Being a Bridesmaid If I Think I Won't Be Able To Afford It?

Different brides expect different levels of financial commitments from their bridesmaids. Typically, all brides will expect you to cover the cost of your dress — plus alterations — though some brides might cover or offset some of this cost. The same goes for hair and makeup for the big day — some brides will cover this, while others will expect you to pay for your own. And different brides will expect different levels of contributions for other events, such as the bridal shower and bachelorette party.

Before deciding whether or not to accept the responsibility of being a bridesmaid — financial and otherwise — have a frank conversation about how much the bride expects her bridal party to pay for. If it sounds like it will be too much, it’s OK to be honest and tell her you can’t afford it. However, once you accept, it’s too late to have this conversation — it’s impolite to back out once you’ve committed.

Bridal shower parter decorations
Bridal shower parter decorations

Am I Expected To Bring a Gift to the Bridal Shower?

As the name suggests, the bridal shower is a time for guests to “shower” the bride with gifts — so yes, you should definitely bring one. You can buy something off the registry or give something more personal if you wish.

Sweet gift box heart shape on table for wedding day.
Sweet gift box heart shape on table for wedding day.

How Much Should I Spend on a Wedding Gift?

There’s no hard-and-fast wedding gift etiquette when it comes to dollar amounts. Give a gift based on your personal budget and how close you are to the couple. However, you should plan to spend at least $50.

If you’re in the wedding party and have already spent a lot on the wedding, it’s OK to spend less — just make it meaningful. A framed picture of the couple or a book of romantic poems are both thoughtful gifts that won’t bust your budget.

destination wedding with bride and groom
destination wedding with bride and groom

Do I Have To Give a Gift If It's a Destination Wedding?

You might not want to hear this but… yes. However, the couple should be understanding that you’ve already spent a lot of money to be at the wedding, so if you can only afford to give a small gift, that’s completely acceptable.

wedding guest holding safe money gift
wedding guest holding safe money gift

Can I Give Money as a Gift Instead of Buying Something Off the Registry?

Yes. New couples can almost always use cash, whether they’re saving up to buy a home, furnishing a new home, planning a honeymoon or saving for another big life event. You can give money through a honey-fund or other registry if they have one, or with a check.

writing a check
writing a check

If I'm Giving a Check as a Gift, Whom Should I Write It Out To?

Unless you know for sure that the couple has a joint bank account, write the check to either the bride or the groom to make it easier for them to deposit or cash it. There’s no strict rule for which person should get the check, so do whatever you feel comfortable with.

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Wedding Etiquette: How Much To Give (and Spend)