How to buy a wedding gift


Buying a couple a wedding gift has never been easier thanks to online registries and wedding websites. So why is it still so complicated? Here with gift etiquette advice is Carley Roney of The Knot.

How to buy a wedding gift

You may be wondering what exactly are the rules for giving and receiving wedding gifts. Should you always register? Can you return wedding gifts you don’t like? There are a few guidelines you can follow.


  • Spend what you can afford but get the gift off of their registry rather than trying to find it somewhere else cheaper.
  • It is best to go buy the gift as soon as you get the wedding invitation. This way you get to pick from all the gifts on the registry.
  • If you choose to buy a wedding gift that is not on the registry then you should include a gift receipt and a note that simply states that you thought this would be a perfect fit for them and let them know it is okay to return it.
  • It is more proper to send your gift to a pre-disclosed location than bring it to the wedding.
  • You should buy a gift for the engagement party, bridal shower and the actual wedding.


  • You should always register for gifts. Registering for your wedding gifts makes it easier on your guests.
  • If what you really want for a wedding gift is cash the best way to get the message out is to tell your close friends and let them spread the word when people ask. DO NOT put it on your invitation.
  • If you receive a wedding gift before the wedding the rule of thumb is to send the thank you card within two weeks.  After the wedding you have about four weeks.
  • Try and make the thank you notes a little personal.
  • If you wish to return a gift then do so subtly and always write a thank you note for the original gift.

LISA: I'm Lisa Birnbach for What are the rules for wedding gifts? Can you register at several different stores? Can you return gifts you don't like? Here to discuss the art of the wedding gift is Carley Roney, editor in chief of whose new book is The Knot Book of Wedding Lists. Hi Carley.

CARLEY: Hello.

LISA: Should you register first of all?

CARLEY:  Please register for gifts. I tell couples it is so important. People don't know what you need, they don't know what you want, they don't know what style your home is. It makes it easier for everybody involved if you just go out there and register for wedding gifts. But it's not that easy. It takes a lot of time to do, you have to make a lot of decisions. You might not actually have that apartment or home yet--what colors are our living room going--So there's a lot involved in it, but it makes it a lot easier to just go ahead and do it. Fortunately now there are online services. At you can type in someone's name and find out anywhere in the country where they registered.

LISA: Now the one thing is, Carley, when you register and you get a gift from your list and you know exactly how much your friend spent.

CARLEY:  Now one thing I have found after surveying many many brides is that they would be happier that you bought something less expensive off the registry--so you bought them a $30 pan off their registry--than if you went out trying to save money some other way. The worst thing a guest can do is to go in and see what you're registered for and then try to find it somewhere else more cheaply. Spend what you can afford on a wedding gift and buy it someplace the couple knows where it came from--the best place is their registry.

LISA: And what about finding something elegant and terrific?

CARLEY:  You know I think you can buy someone anything. If it's convenient to you to go to a wonderfully elegant store near you, but please get a gift receipt and make sure to return it. You know make sure to include, you know what this sung out to us this was something you guys might like, but please feel free to return it, um if it doesn't match your decor or whatever. Give people the out.

LISA: Now is there a tactful way to suggest that they would rather have cash? 

CARLEY:  Clearly couples are so in need of cash and they often, it's not just that they want cash, that they already have so many of the things they need. They've been living together for three years, they bought their home together two years ago. And so their needs are very different. What they want is new hardwood floors or you know something for their home that they can't register for. You could say among close friends, you say once again a maid of honor could know, the best man could know, maybe your parents could know. So if their friends say to them, you know do know if they need anything--say they're saving up for a home and what they'd really love is actually cash. So tell people but don't put it on your invitation god forbid. Don't say it yourself.

LISA: Now is it still traditional to display the gifts in the bride's parents' dining room?

CARLEY:  It's actually not very good etiquette to even bring a gift to a wedding these days. You're supposed to send the gifts in advance to the location that either the invitation came from or where the couple has designated on their registry that they'd like the gifts sent to. That's one of the other beauties, buying on the internet. You buy the gift, have it shipped to them, you never have to worry about it again. And I always tell wedding guests too, as soon as you get the invitation, go buy the gift. Otherwise all the good things are going to be taken.


CARLEY:  You're going to go and there's going to be the $350 coffee maker and the $14 spatula and you're going to be like, ugh, now what do I do.

LISA: Now, Carley, I'm a little confused. If I get invited to an engagement party or a bridal shower, am I buying a present for the engagement party, for the bridal shower, and for the wedding?

CARLEY:  Uh-huh. Three gifts per wedding I know it's--and then there are the ones who have the multiple showers. You are only required to bring one shower gift across time. But certainly showers and weddings you are required. You'd be surprised how many times people don't send a gift to a couple. 

LISA: Carley I spent the first month after my honeymoon just writing thank-you notes. That's all I did. What are the rules of thumb for writing those notes?

CARLEY:  Well your thank-you note should be written if you received a gift before the wedding--you have about two weeks to send a thank-you note. After the wedding you have about four weeks. You know if you've received it post-honeymoon.  Literally you should just have the rule that you don't take the item out of the box until you've written a thank-you note. That you keep thank-you notes in a pile, you always have them with you. You know you want to make them a little bit personal. You know don't just say thanks for the gift. Put in there like thank you for the lovely vase, it's going to go perfectly in our home. Love, Gina and Tom. And be done with it. 

LISA: Returning gifts. Now that's an age old tradition too. Isn't it?

CARLEY:  I think it's okay. What you want to do is be careful about it. You don't call the person and say I loved your gift, but I'm going to return it. It's something you do subtly and you make sure you write a thank-you note for the original gift you were given. 

LISA: Well I think that about does it for us. Thank you Carley.

CARLEY:  Thank you.

LISA: For I'm Lisa Birnbach. 




meet theexpert
  • Carley Roney

    Carley Roney Editor-in-Chief, The Knot Carley Roney is editor-in-chief of The Knot, the number one wedding brand worldwide, as well as The Nest. She has authored nine wedding books for The Knot and appears regularly on TV shows such as Oprah, Live with Regis and Kelly, The View and Today. more about this expert »