Wedding guests
Photo: Bec Martin

If you're invited to all of the couple's pre- and post-wedding parties, are you expected to bring each and every one? Though the etiquette rule says you're never obligated to give a gift, no one wants to miss the memo and walk into a party the odd one out, surrounded by other guests bearing pretty wrapped packages. There are, of course, a few hard and fast rules to follow that will help you determine when it is (and isn't!) appropriate to pull up that registry. Speaking of registries—if you're attending a wedding celebration that does require a gift, be sure to consult the couple's curated list of gift items, so you can make sure you're giving something they truly want and need. Without further ado, here's a breakdown of when it's appropriate "to give or not to give" (a gift).

The Engagement Party

There's no hard and fast rule here, but, traditionally, gifts aren't expected. While some family members may buy a small present for the newly-engaged couple, friends often bring nothing but a card or a bottle of wine or champagne. Ask the host of the party what the local custom is if you're undecided about what to do.

The Bridal Shower

The whole point of this all-female party is gifts galore—guests "shower" the bride with everything from toasters to theater tickets. If she has a registry, look there first, and if something strikes you, buy it before someone else does. Or, take a glance at the registry for ideas and buy a gift elsewhere. If there's a gift theme—the host will include it on the invite—factor that into your purchase pick.

The Wedding

There's a myth that's been around for decades that guests have a year from the day of the nuptials to give a gift. Ridiculous! Just as you wouldn't wait 12 months to bestow a birthday present on a pal, don't wait any longer than three months—if you must—to give a gift to newlyweds. There's such a wide range of gift ideas—furniture, glassware, artwork, honeymoon experiences (rock-climbing, surfing lessons)—that you'll be able to find something they'll love that's within your budget.

Something from the U.S. Treasury would always be appreciated, in the form of cash or a check, which the newlyweds can put towards a house down payment or household goods they need. One other silly myth to banish from your brain: that your gift should be equal to the per-person cost at the reception. We know of a guest who went as far as calling the couple's wedding venue to find out how much they were spending! Instead of trying to match dollar for dollar, base your gift on your budget and how close you are to the new Mr. and Mrs.

The Post-Wedding Bash

If the wedding guest list is tiny, couples often throw a party when they return from their honeymoon for their larger circle of friends; this way, no one feels left out. Since it's not exactly a wedding reception, the gift question is ambiguous. Some guests will bring a gift, while others will not. If you'd like to bring more than a bottle of your favorite screwtop to the party, feel free.

This story originally appeared on MarthaStewartWeddings.com.