There's a major difference between planning your own big day and attending a wedding as a guest—the latter is fun, light-hearted, and stress-free. At least, it should be. When it comes to wedding guest worry, you likely know the source of much of the anxiety: the wedding gift. You've heard so many rules about what and how much you should give, and now the questions are piling up. How do you set an overarching gift budget when you've been invited to virtually every pre-wedding event possible? Is it taboo to give cash? And (our personal favorite) what about that per-plate rule?
That's why we tapped several industry experts, including the country's top etiquette gurus and wedding planners, to share some insight into the exact amount you should be dishing out as a wedding guest. Even better? These pros have broken down how much to spend based on the specific event you're attending. With this handy guide, you'll be able to navigate the art of wedding-related gift giving with peace of mind. Without further ado, here's every gift dilemma you've ever grappled with, decoded.
First thing's first: The per-plate rule is antiquated, and, quite frankly, rude.
Some guests believe that their wedding gift should be equal to the cost of their dinner, but don't pay this any mind. "That rule is outdated and, to many people, somewhat offensive," said Myka Meier, the founder of Beaumont Etiquette. "While guests generally want to give a beautiful gift which honors the couple, there is no way for the them to know how much the cost of food and beverage will be." The couple also doesn't expect (or want) you to dig around for that information—it'll be the last thing on their minds. The best rule of thumb? "Give what you can afford, and make sure its from the heart," said Meier.
Keep a cumulative number in mind, especially if you're attending multiple pre-wedding events.
And that total number is a lot lower than you might think. We averaged all of our expert's suggestions to give you one solid amount to defer to wedding after wedding, and it tallied in at $200 per person. This means that if you're attending a pre-wedding party that requires a gift, you'll break down the cumulative cost per event. For example, if a guest attends both the bridal shower and wedding day, it would be appropriate for her to gift $100 at both events.
But, not every pre-wedding event mandates a gift.
It's a long (and happy!) road to the wedding day, dotted with many celebrations. But you don't need to show up to every single event with a gift in hand. Presents aren't typically required for bachelor or bachelorette parties or rehearsal dinners, our experts unanimously agreed.
Here are the events that do require a gift, with an amount to give for each per guest (the sum can be fulfilled by a registry gift or cash!): the engagement party, if planned ($50), the bridal shower ($50), the wedding day ($100, typically cash). While not required, it's considerate to bring a hostess gift ($25-$30) to the rehearsal dinner or bachelor and bachelorette parties, said Meier. A nice bottle of wine will do.
Your cumulative number might be subject to change, depending on your closeness to the couple, type of wedding, and budget.
But budget comes first, said renowned etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. "No one should feel obligated to give a certain price point under pressure," she explained. "However, the number does go up when you have a close relationship with the bride or groom, you have a larger budget, or you want to reciprocate for a beautiful gift they gave your son or daughter."
Alternatively, that number might go down if the couple is having a destination wedding, said Lauren Fremont of Loli Events. "If the wedding requires a lot of traveling, the couple usually understands that guests won't spend as much," she said.
Choosing between cash or the registry is up to you.
"A guest can always select a gift from the registry, however, they also have the option of giving cash," said Gottsman. "Sometimes the registry may be limited or picked over by the time you are ready to buy a gift." Giving cash, however, isn't necessarily a last resort—in fact, a lot of couples prefer it. "Cash is king," said Fremont. "But those gifts are on the registry for a reason. It's totally up to you." While it's not a science, most guests defer to the registry for the bridal shower and opt for cash on the wedding day.
You don't need to double your wedding day gift total if you're bringing a plus-one.
According to Meier, most people spend a little more (about $50), since the couple has graciously extended an invitation to someone they might not know. While the general consensus is that you'll up the actual wedding gift, it's absolutely not necessary to double the total amount if the couple didn't actually invite your guest. "It's not a rule that your gift cost more because you're bringing an extra person," said Gottsman. "The assumption is that your gift is going to be heartfelt either way."
If the couple conveys that they don't want gifts, listen.
Some couples prefer guests to donate to a charity of their choice, in lieu of cash or registry gifts. "It's appropriate to honor their wishes," said Gottsman. "If they prefer you donate to particular charity, make sure to follow their request."
This story originally appeared on Martha Stewart Weddings.