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A wedding gift needs to serve multiple purposes: You want it to say “congratulations” and avoid giving the impression that your wallet has been to one too many other celebrations this season.
There’s no easy answer to the question of how much is the right amount to spend on a wedding gift, but if you’re looking for guidance, these tips can help.
If you’re invited to a wedding and RSVP no, you’re technically not on the hook to buy a present, according to lifestyle and etiquette expert Elaine Swann. Having something from the registry sent to the couple is a nice gesture, but not mandatory.
If you say yes, you’ll be expected to provide a gift. The difficult part is deciding how much to spend on it.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to compare, consider what other guests spend. The national average cash gift amount is $160, according to the 2016 Wedding Season Report by cash-giving platform Tendr, although regional averages vary. In Arkansas, the average gift is $73, while it’s $245 in Vermont.
Gift expectations also depend on your relationship: The closer you are to the bride and groom, the higher your financial obligation. “I think if you’re very good friends or family members, you’re going to probably want to give a little more than if you’re not as close to the couple,” says Diane Forden, the editor-in-chief at Bridal Guide magazine.
Another consideration? If you’re flying solo at the wedding, a smaller gift can suffice. Couples usually give more than individuals, according to Forden.
As a general rule, the more that’s required of you as a guest, the less that’s required when it comes to the gift.
“With a destination wedding, in my opinion, your presence is a present,” Swann says. “So for those who go out of their way to pay for airfare and hotel and all of the festivities around a destination wedding, then that’s your gift to the couple.”
You can also cut back on the gift if you’re in the bridal party. Between the showers, the bachelorette party and the bridesmaid dress, the whole process can be “financially crushing,” Forden says. If you’re feeling the pinch, she suggests chipping in on a group gift with your fellow bridesmaids.
» MORE: 11 affordable wedding gift ideas
Finances always trump etiquette. There’s nothing wrong with selecting an affordable present — even if it’s the least extravagant item on the registry, or it’s not on the registry at all.
“People should never be ashamed about being fiscally responsible,” Swann says. “So if you cannot afford to get an expensive gift, then don’t do it. Hold your head up high and say, ‘You know what, my budget allowed me to get this beautiful card, and that’s it.’”
Don’t overthink it. There’s no right or wrong amount to spend on a wedding gift, and weddings aren’t about the gifts, anyway.
“The focus shouldn’t really be on gifts,” Forden says. “It shouldn’t be a gift grab. It’s a celebration of a marriage, and I do think a lot of brides and grooms are aware of that.”
Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.