Wedding “Cashers”

by Ehelldame on June 21, 2007

Fox and Friends (Fox News) ran a quick piece this morning on a letter that appeared in a June 20th Dear Abby column.  The letter writer wanted to know how to extricate themselves from having already rsvped to the wedding of a couple who had blatantly admitted to registering for expensive gifts for the sole purpose of returning them all for cash.

Jeanne Philiips, the new “Dear Abby”, hit it square on the head calling the wedding a “fund-raiser” the invited couple had no obligation to attend.  Great minds of people with the first name of Jeanne think alike!  I addressed this very phenomenon in my book, “Wedding Etiquette Hell:  The Bride’s Bible to Avoiding Everlasting Damnation” (St. Martin Press, 2005) , in the chapter called “Has It Registered Yet?”:

Registries have become convenient money-laundering schemes in which couples register for outrageously expensive gifts or items they would never really want for the sole purpose of returning the item for cash or store credit.  It’s a sneaky way to get the cash you really want under the guise of registering.  Poor schmuck guests actually believe the charade and carefully choose gifts from the registry under the delusion that you really want the items for which you registered. But it’s all a game, a little con game at the expense of the department store and your guests.  With abuses of registries like this, is it any wonder guests are becoming increasingly leery of even glancing at the registry?

My disdain for the practice goes back even further, when the registry money-laundering scheme was in its infancy.  From “Bridezilla: True Tales from Etiquette Hell” (Salado Press, 2002):

This type of underhanded manipulation of the gift giving process is gaining popularity as more people marry later in life thus combining two households that are lacking in nothing.  Cash then becomes a more advantageous gift, but to ask directly for cash gifts is rude, so the above dirty tactic is often used as a poor substitute. It’s a major etiquette faux pas, because it is a direct slap in the face of the guests, many of whom spent time, energy, and thought seeking out the registry, choosing a gift, and having it wrapped and sent, only to discover the effort was for naught.  It is simply the bridal version of money laundering by using the store registry to convert gifts to cash.  Make a mental note when you encounter such a couple and resolve not to buy them any housewarming or baby shower gifts since you will have firsthand experience in their schemes.

The discussion on Fox and Friends segued into giving cash gifts and whether it was proper to give enough cash to cover what the guests believes is the cost per person at the reception.  What on earth is it with New Yorkers and cash?  I had an interview earlier this week with a reporter located in New York City on the topic of wedding showers and our conversation segued to this same topic of giving cash gifts in the amount the guest understands to have been spent, per person, by the hosts of the wedding.  The reporter did not seem to comprehend at first why this was wrong so I asked her the following questions:

“How does the wedding guest come to the knowledge of how much is being spent per person for the reception?  It certainly isn’t by grokking the amount from the invitation by some psychic osmosis.  Did you hear it from the bride or her mother?  How crass and tacky to be discussing the financial particulars of what the wedding budget actually is!  It’s clearly done with an agenda to sway cash giving to its greatest greedy potential. Did you ask how much was spent?  If so, mucho tacky since it’s an indiscreet and nosey question to be asking.

Bottom line, there is no etiquettely correct way to convey how much is being spent per person on the wedding, so this whole belief system that cash gifts must equal or exceed the cost per person being spent on the wedding is based solely on either rude declarations by the hosts of how much cash has been expended on the wedding or rude speculations by guests on what has been spent.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Wedding Fort Lauderdale July 19, 2008 at 8:54 am

Bottom line, there is no etiquettely correct way to convey how much is being spent per person on the wedding, so this whole belief system that cash gifts must equal or exceed the cost per person being spent on the wedding is based solely on either rude declarations by the hosts of how much cash has been expended on the wedding or rude speculations by guests on what has been spent.

Amazing, I could not have said it better. I agree 10000%, I run into these type of questions on regular basis: What is appropriate to give?

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Alexis July 6, 2009 at 3:56 pm

All we ever cared about was hosting a nice celebration for all of our friends and relatives to enjoy. We wouldn’t have cared if we didn’t get any gifts. Wonderful family and friends are a gift. Everything else is just stuff.

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Alexis July 11, 2009 at 7:49 pm

There’s one other thing that bugs me about this attitude. What about people who can’t afford to give much? Or anything? Should they self-select and stay home so you are not burdened with entertaining and feeding them? Before you planned a party you apparently couldn’t afford in the first place, did you ask the people you expect to finance the whole thing what they could afford to spend? Or did you just decide that they are obligated to give whatever you have decreed they should spend?

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Ling October 20, 2009 at 4:37 pm

We hade the wedding we wanted, surronded with all our friends and family, and almost kept it within our budget. Those who wanted to bring a gift could call my mother and ask what we wanted, those who thougt their company was enough of a gift were equally welcome.
As far as I remember it, we sent thank-you-cards to everyone who attended, with an additional thanks for any present they might have brought. Those who brought money received a thank-you for that, and an idea on how we planned to use that money.
I don’t think we returned one single thing for cash or substitute. The only things we recieved doubles of, were two tea containers and two small glass bowls, and there is no problem with having two of them. None of them are identical, and all are lovely.

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Jenny December 18, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Worst of all is the underlying message…….the so-called “guests” are welcome only if they don’t incur any cost to the so-called “host” and “hostess”. Really, there is no such thing as guest and host in this scenario, since everyone is paying their own way if they do what is expected of them. It’s incredibly crass and removes all meaning from the event.

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Jan74 January 7, 2010 at 9:01 am

I was invited to a wedding whose registry included things like stove and fridge – the catch is, the bride and groom had been living together for 3 years. Am I supposed to believe they had no stove or fridge during those 3 years? The other items were videogames, tvs, etc. so it just looks like they blatantly wanted the highest value items they could get, to return for cash. I gave them a handmade tablecloth I bought from an artisan instead, so that it wasn’t returnable.

I was also once invited to a wedding with a registry at the most expensive store in town – and the wedding was literally just the church wedding at 4pm, no reception, not even juice at the church backroom afterwards (not that it matters, I was still gonna buy a gift anyway). The cheapest item was a 16-person dinner set. The bride and groom were going to live in a studio apartment, and I’d been informed of this, and they were also pretty young and moving out of their parents house so they’d actually need basic household items. I understand she might one day move somewhere bigger, but how would you even store a 16-person set in a studio, and also, it takes a mansion to be able to sit 16 people for a dinner party with a formal china set. So I picked a china set from the same maker she wanted, but from the “everyday” collection, in a very similar pattern, same colors, etc. and got a 6-person set minus the serving dishes. This still ran me around $150, over 10 years ago, so a lot of money. I thought she would be happy. The bride never spoke to me again, offended by my “lesser than” gift.

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Cooler Becky February 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm

In Asia, it’s not uncommon for cash gifts to be given at a wedding in the form of red packets. The newly weds have to prepare red packets for unmarried relatives attending the wedding and married relatives prepare red packets for the newly wed bride and groom,

These days, it’s becoming more and more common for actual wrapped presents to be brought to weddings. In Chinese Culture, any even-numbered amount of money would be considered a good gift (I think it’s the opposite in Japanese culture) or even-numbered amounts of presents (set of 6 wine glasses, for example). So long as the number is not 4 and does not contain the number 4, it’s all good – giving four of something is like wishing the failure of a marriage as the number 4 is a homonym for “death”.

That being said, the thoughts behind the gesture are the same. We’re not “paying for our meals” so much as giving newlyweds presents to start their married lives with.

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Jill March 19, 2010 at 7:48 pm

The practice Ling is talking about, where guests who wish to bring a gift call the bride’s mother, is IMO essentially the same idea as a registry – if you want to bring a gift but are unsure what the couple wants/needs, you check with someone who already knows, traditionally the mother of the bride. To me a registry is just a different way of doing the same thing – if you want to bring a gift and don’t know what the couple needs, you check with a store that has a list. So long as the couple doesn’t try to force guests to purchase from the registry or choose only expensive items (or return them for cash!), I think a registry is a great idea as it is very convenient for guests who want to buy a gift but don’t know what will be useful (especially when you can just order over the phone or online and have the gift sent straight to the couple – how handy for people like me who have family overseas and can’t attend the wedding but still want to give a gift).

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Gretchen April 1, 2010 at 9:34 pm

I have been reading your blog religiously as someone who is planning their wedding. The registry thing has been uncomfortable to me all along, as I’m not the type to go around asking for gifts. This particular post sparked my interest because of something that my sister did when she got married. It’s one of those border-line etiquette things. She really liked some rather expensive cookware. The set was several hundred dollars, so she registered for the individual pieces. After the wedding (she needless to say did not open the boxes or use the pans) she realized that if she returned the pans, she could get the set (which included all of the individual items) and have some store credit to get the non-stick friendly spatulas, etc. I’m still on the fence about whether it was a bit tacky or completely reasonable.

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Kim April 30, 2010 at 12:54 pm

If you register for gifts hoping to exchange them for something else, why don’t you just register for what you want to begin with? Hoping to exchange gifts for cash is just plain evil and if you are stupid enough to mention your intention to others you deserve nothing.

Guests are under no obligation to give gifts, and if they do so they like to know the couple will use them. If Grandma buys you a $300 set of china, believe she’s going to wonder why she is not eating off them when you host your next family holiday.

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juanita June 8, 2010 at 7:43 am

I do think that if guests are trying to guess what the wedding budget it is very Tacky with a capital T! I do think many people are quite confused and undecided about what to do about wedding gifts and its quite unfortunate because nobody is having much fun no matter what they do. Hopefully i can clear this up for at least myself. OK lets get back to basics. First, let’s all look up the definition of “giving” and “gift” Giving should be an unselfish act, an effort and a demonstration of friendship or love. How much it costs is irrelevant, it should reflect the bond that you have between the giver and the receiver. So what if some people have more money, they tend to give more expensive gifts because that is what what they are accustomed to. It all boils down to the unselfish act and the gesture. Give what you think is appropriate for the occasion and for the person you are giving to. it should be as simple as that! However, weddings are somewhat unnatural events, as this is actually quite a carnival show where the receiver’s (bride and groom) are completely distracted by a multitude of events as well as committing their lives to each other. There isn’t much time to have a personal interaction with each guest especially if it is a big wedding. Some of the guests are guests of guests, some are just acquaintances. Receiving gifts from strangers is somewhat unnatural. Compound this with the horrible, unnaturally, and very tacky habit of many couples who keep track of who gave what and how much it was worth. Having so many gifts all at once with the theme of “moving and setting up house” is very likely to produce impersonal items like toasters and many many of them. I’ve seen this with my brothers and sisters, before the electronic age, before the convenient ATM-like registry machine, before Amazon.com. In those days, all the toasters except one had to be sent back. A Carnival indeed! hence the registry, a fantastic invention!! Help your guests organize their gifts so that no gifts are sent back! If the registry contains items in a wide range of prices, nobody is left wondering whether they paid enough or got the right thing. Wonderful, I love this, as long as it is used as it was meant to be used! Please help your guests by guiding them to the registry. Tacky to put it on the invitation? maybe, so why not include a separate card in the envelope just like the map and the RSVP card? Similar to the map, it is a part of the wedding, but a different part. Technically its not on the invitation! Now everyone can be happy with that. Refusing to receive gifts, or returning gifts? very tacky! What if the couple have a home already, very common these days. They may even have a bigger home than the guests! In that case, most likely they are paying for their own wedding, so why not just help them out? Any wedding is a big expense no matter how small. New clothing and rings are pretty much essential, and won’t be cheap. Create a cash registry and provide the link or address. Tacky? no. Guests guessing on or discussing the costs of the wedding, the budget of the food they receive, and the overall value of attending and giving x dollars in cash or gifts, very very tacky. Let the bride and groom do what they want and ask for what they want. Let the guests have a great time at the wedding. Let the gestures of love unfold and stop counting beans!

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Typo T June 16, 2010 at 3:32 am

I think the whole debate is highly hypocritical. When you buy a gift, don’t you have to spend money on it? So why not just bring the money? You KNOW that the couple can use the money after financing a wedding, so I’d say bringing money is the considerate thing to do.

How do you decide how much to spend on a gift, anyway? If you decide t fork out for a $40 tablecloth, would it somehow shame you to just gift the $40 in cash instead?

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Jillybean July 27, 2010 at 10:11 am

@Jill – the difference between a registry and the old fashioned standard of asking mom/sister/etc. is that in one case the guest is told, “the happy couple really need a toaster.” In the other the guest looks up the registry and sees, “the happy couple really needs a toaster that has so many bells and whistles that it looks like it could launch the space shuttle and costs half as much.”

I’m not saying registries are always like that (clearly depends on how greedy the people putting together the registry is), but often times the choices have no resemblance to anything the bride and groom would be willing to pay for themselves. I had my shower over the weekend and went with the old fashioned method and gave my mom and sisters (who weren’t throwing the shower, but would most likely be the ones asked) and my MOH a list of about 10 things we could use. Other than that, I told them to tell people who wanted to buy a gift to think of something they have found valuable in their lives. I got some pretty amazing stuff, only a few from my suggestions (which was awesome, I’d much rather have surprises) and only 1 thing that we already had. Not bad! :-)

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Library Diva August 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Those who think that the dollar amount of the wedding gift is supposed to approximate how much the bride and groom spent per plate should imagine it this way:

You have just started a new job and get along very well with your cube-mate, who is due to be married in three months. She comes from a wealthy family and is marrying a man with a good job, so they’ve planned a large wedding at the nicest venue in town. Most of the office is invited, and because she likes you and doesn’t wish to exclude you, she includes you on the guest list, and since you like her, you accept. But by the wedding day, you’ve known her for three months.

Around the same time, your sister is getting married. (For the purposes of this example, you like her too, very much). Your sister, due to circumstances or personality, is planning a very small, inexpensive wedding.

Let’s say you estimate that your new co-worker has spent $100 per plate. Your sister has spent maybe $15. Are you really, actually, going to get a nicer gift for someone you just met, solely because she’s having a fancier wedding?

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