When wedding season is in full swing, you can spend a big part of your personal budget celebrating the brides and grooms in your life. Of course, gifts are important tokens of love to the people you care about, but there comes a point at which they cross over from gracious to burdensome. Conventional wisdom dictates that you should spend approximately the cost per plate that the bride and groom are spending on you as a guest, and taking one look at a registry packed with fine china and expensive appliances can have you wishing that weddings weren’t such big affairs.
A lack of money or a desire to keep from overspending shouldn’t stop you from extending your well wishes to the happy couple. In fact, they’re probably more concerned that you show up to their big day than they are about getting a pricey present. That said, acknowledging a new union is important, so try looking for gifts that are thoughtful and you won’t necessarily have to spend a ton of money.
Wedding Gifts on a Budget
It’s not uncommon for me to attend five or more weddings each summer, so it’s important that I come up with gift ideas that are thoughtful, inexpensive, and useful. By checking off those three requirements, I can be sure that the bride and groom will love my gift – without having to fork over the money for a super-expensive registry item. Here are some of the best ideas I’ve picked up along the way, plus some thoughtful gifts I received for my own wedding.
1. Small Registry Items
When a bride and groom create their registry, they’re usually encouraged to add a variety of items at different price points for wedding guests whose budgets may vary. If there’s a registry, take a peek: You might be surprised at how many smaller, less-expensive items there are alongside the top-of-the-line coffeemaker and new china.
Choose a few of the more modestly priced registry items to create a little gift basket for the bride and groom. By doing so, you keep better control over how much money you spend, and the happy couple still get the spatula, measuring cups, vase, and placemats they wanted. Other guests might pass up these smaller items in favor of splashier gifts, so it’s a win-win situation. Many registries offer access online, and you can often sort items based on price to get started.
2. Embroidered Linens
You can buy towels, pillowcases, and sheets on the cheap at big box stores. But you can also take it a step further by bringing those linens to a seamstress or tailor who offers embroidering services
Look specifically for machine embroidering (as opposed to hand embroidering, which can be significantly more expensive) and you can expect to pay about $3 to $5 per item to put a name, monogram, or a nickname down for the newlyweds. This is a great way to elevate an otherwise basic gift to something truly memorable.
3. Dinner or Dessert for Two
If you’re short on cash, wrapping up a few smaller related items can make an inexpensive gift much more thoughtful and useful. I love the idea of giving dinner or dessert for two as a cheap, cute gift basket idea. Here are some components for each.
- Package of dried pasta
- Jar of your favorite pasta sauce
- $5 or $10 gift card to a local bakery or grocery store for bread
- Candles (tealights are the least expensive)
- Boxed brownie mix
- Rubber spatula
- Set of measuring spoons and cups
- Cute pair of oven mitts
- Large mixing bowl
Place the items in the bowl or colander and wrap them with clear cellophane, securing the top with a ribbon. The gift should cost less than $20, but a couple of newlyweds starting out on their own are sure to be grateful that you’re thinking about some of the staples they’re going to need after their honeymoon. To make it extra special – and if you have the budget – add a $10 bottle of wine (or a similarly priced bottle of dessert wine or port) to the dessert basket.
4. A Framed Wedding Invitation or Photos
A dear friend of mine gave me one of my most cherished wedding gifts: a framed copy of our wedding invitation. She had placed it in a shadow box and added embellishments, so it looks great hanging on our wall. I realized that while it was definitely a thoughtful and sweet gift, it was also one of the least expensive ones we received.
With a shadow box, you can take the invitation that you received and create something the bride and groom will cherish. If you’re unsure how to place the invitation inside the shadow box, check out Pinterest for great ideas on embellishments and assembly. I ran a search on “wedding invitation shadow box” which turned up plenty of creative ideas. With a free afternoon and about $25 in supplies, you can hand-make a gift that you know the bride and groom will draw joy from for a long time.
If you don’t have the time or resources to put together a shadow box, frames filled with sweet and thoughtful photos can be a cheap but meaningful gift. You can find frames for just about any budget, from basic black at the dollar store to more elaborate or classic designs when shopping at a home decor shop. You can leave the frames empty for the bride and groom to put pictures in, or fill them with pictures and even quotes to help the newlyweds commemorate the occasion.
5. Future Wine
Prove that you know the couple’s love will stand the test of time by bringing this inexpensive and impressive gift. Visit a local wine and spirits shop and speak to the wine expert there. Ask for a semi-inexpensive bottle of wine (in the $20 to $40 range) that will taste even better in 10 years. Then, you can wrap the bottle with a note that instructs the bride and groom to drink up and toast their love on their 10th anniversary.
6. Date Night In
If the bride and groom are like the majority of newlyweds, money can be tight during those first few years of marriage. When there are bills and debts to pay, the days of pricey date nights, going out to eat, and seeing movies might no longer be feasible. Reduce their burden and put together a “Date Night in a Box” – it’s a thoughtful, cheap gift that can help newlyweds feel connected, even when times are tough.
I like to use decorative shoe boxes, which can be found at crafting supply stores. Then, I fill the “Date Night Box” with the following items:
- Super-soft throw blanket (find one at a discount store like Marshall’s or T.J.Maxx)
- Romantic comedy DVD (stock up on Black Friday, when DVDs cost only $3 to $5)
- Gourmet popcorn
- Wine or a couple of vintage soda bottles
- Some boxes of movie theater-style candy
Overall, the basket shouldn’t cost you more than $30, but it means a total no-brainer night in for the happy couple.
7. Honeymoon Gear
Find out where the couple is headed on their honeymoon, and you can probably come up with a few thoughtful travel gifts on the cheap that enhance their trip without breaking your bank. Try these combinations:
- Beach Vacation: A couple of matching beach towels, sunscreen, and some good beach reads.
- Adventurous Vacation: Skiing or hiking trips could use a first-aid kit, sunglasses, trail mix, and a disposable camera.
- Theme Park Vacation: Mickey Mouse ears for the bride and groom, matching T-shirts, and water bottles.
- European Vacation: Maps for the countries they’re visiting, cute passport holders, and luggage tags.
- Road Trip: A prepaid gas card, road maps, mix CDs, and some healthy snacks.
If all else fails, a “morning after” kit might be just what the doctor ordered after partying all night. Wrap up some ibuprofen, water, eye masks, and flip-flops so the bride and groom can take it easy on their way to the airport – and maybe catch a few z’s while on the plane.
8. Crowdfunded Gifts
If you’re short on cash but really want to pack a big gift-giving punch, consider starting a crowdfunding effort. This can be used to help pay for the honeymoon, reduce the couple’s financial burden, work toward a down payment on a new home, or simply help get a nest egg started. Crowdfunded gifts are especially appropriate for destination weddings, or if the bride and groom plan on moving and simply don’t have the space for larger items.
Since it’s generally seen as poor etiquette for the bride and groom to begin their own crowdfunding effort, your gift can be the setup, administration, and promotion of the profile – so friends and family know that it’s an option in lieu of gifts. Sites like PlumFund, Crowded Wedding, and GoFundMe can all help. While it might not be the most traditional of wedding gifts, making it easy for guests to donate money could be a lot more valuable than whatever’s on the registry.
The bride and groom are going to get plenty of toasters. So, why not be a little different and offer the gift of an experience instead? For under $100, you can give the married couple long-lasting memories – the most thoughtful gifts of all.
Not sure where to start? Check out these inexpensive experience-based gifts:
- Recreation Center. Membership to a local facility, where newlyweds can work out together, go for a swim, or take classes.
- TV Subscriptions. Netflix offers gift cards (you can buy them at Staples) that are redeemable toward monthly subscription services. A Hulu gift subscription is $7.99. Simply set how much you want to spend and the newlyweds can curl up for a “House of Cards” marathon.
- Couples Massages. Guaranteed to reduce post-wedding stress. Expect to spend from $75 to $100.
- Events. Tickets to a festival, fair, wine-tasting, concert, or other event for under $100.
- Memberships. Annual memberships to a local attraction the newlyweds would enjoy, such as a museum or zoo.
- Cooking Class. These usually range from $50 to $75 per couple.
- Date Night. Restaurant gift certificates for a night out.
Shabby-chic design is back in full swing: Just check out any Anthropologie or Pottery Barn store. Of course, their antique-looking wares might cost an arm and a leg, so instead of going for the re-creation, choose an actual antique for a wedding present. By frequenting flea markets, farmers markets, yard sales, and estate sales, you can come up with some beautiful pieces to help outfit any newlyweds’ home. Whether it’s a gorgeous vase, old picture frame, decorative tchotchkes, or an old sign with a location or phrase that’s meaningful to the new couple, your antique gift can be thoughtful, personal, and special.
As always with antiques, make sure that the items are cleaned and properly cared for before you give them. It might take a little weekend hunting and some elbow grease to make an old item usable again, but a well-chosen antique can make for a beautiful addition to a new bride and groom’s home.
11. Plants and Trees
Puns about “growing love” aside, giving a pair of newlyweds the gift of something living is a sweet way to acknowledge their union. Trees and plants continue to grow long after the wedding, and can act as a metaphor for a couple’s relationship and a long-lasting reminder of their love’s endurance.
Try gifting the happy couple a functional tree or plant – a planted fruit tree can yield sweet treats for years to come. Or, if that’s not feasible, a row of potted herbs for a kitchen can make for fresh, flavorful meals – and smaller grocery bills.
You’ve probably noticed that weddings have been changing. They’re becoming less formal and more friendly affairs to celebrate a bride and groom’s commitment to one another.
As such, the standard for gifts has changed drastically, as well. There really isn’t a set spending amount you need to adhere to, especially since simply attending the wedding can be pricey considering travel and outfits. By thinking beyond the usual suspects and going with a gift that has heart, you can blow the bride and groom away – even if you’re on a tight budget.
What’s your go-to wedding gift?