Wedding Etiquette Question: When Is It OK to Skip the Registry?

updated Oct 1, 2020
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You’ve marked the date on your calendar, sent in your RSVP, and perhaps already chosen an outfit. Now, it’s gift time. It’s expected that you’ll select something off of the couple’s registry, but is it ever fair game to do your own thing? 

The short answer? Kind of. According to San Antonio-based etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, it’s always best to stick to the registry, because the couple has used it to outline exactly what they need, and it helps ensure they won’t receive multiples of an item. However, there are a few instances when it’s okay to stray. 

You know the couple really well 

If it’s your best friend or a close family member tying the knot, you may already have a gift in mind long before the couple says “I do.” Etiquette expert Elaine Swann, who’s based in Carlsbad, California, says that something meaningful to the couple that has to do with their interests, hobbies, or a past experience can work as a substitute here.

But even if you’re sure of your unique gift idea, there are still guidelines. Gottsman advises that you not go with anything that the couple may feel like they need to show off when you come over, such as a large piece of art or furniture. “When [in] doubt, and you want to give them something very special and sentimental, test the waters by asking a family member if it is something they might be interested in receiving,” she says. “Wait for an honest answer, and don’t get your feelings hurt if the answer is no.” 

Items on the registry are out of your budget 

Your price range for a wedding gift should depend on a few factors, including your personal budget and your relationship to the couple. If you open the registry website only to see that all of the items in your sweet spot have been accounted for, this is another instance when you can explore other options, Swann assures. 

All of this said, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant financial strain for many this year, so if spending any money on a wedding gift isn’t feasible right now, that’s OK, too. “Every single case is different. A gift is not an obligation,” Gottsman says. “If you have found yourself out of a job, if you have found yourself in a situation where you can’t do it right now, then you send a beautiful card with a heartfelt note and say, ‘I’m supporting you, and I hope in the near future we can get together and celebrate differently.’”

You’d rather give money

Whether it’s because they’ve been living together for a while and therefore already purchased household items for their place, because they’re more established in their careers and have already sprung for high-quality products, or for an entirely different reason, a lot of engaged couples would love to get a check or digital deposit. A 2019 survey by Zelle found that 84 percent of respondents would prefer to receive money instead of a physical gift to celebrate a major life moment.

“And that money can go toward a lot of different things, everything from renovations to a larger purchase to upgrading the home,” Swann says.  

Especially now, as some couples may be hesitant to bring a bunch of packages into their home during a public health crisis, money may have its gifting heyday. “So don’t be afraid to send money as a gift,” she says. “It’s the one gift I would say that people will absolutely use.”