Being a guest at someone’s wedding doesn’t have to mean that you “disengage” from your good financial habits. Here are some wedding gift ideas on a budget that will wow the new couple without walloping your wallet.
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With wedding season marching down the aisle, many guests are looking to buy gifts for the happy couple. But when you add up the cost of engagement gifts, shower presents, bachelor and bachelorette weekends, something fancy to wear (and let’s admit it: if you’re in the bridal party, it’s a one-time outfit), travel expenses (transportation and hotel for the night of the wedding) . . . the tab for the guests can become astronomical. And that doesn’t even include the wedding gift itself. Buying a wedding present should never divorce you of your own savings.
There are no one-size-fits-all rules on how much to spend on a wedding gift. It doesn’t matter how expensive the event is. That’s a function of their finances, not yours. Don’t be influenced by what other guests might be spending. You shouldn’t think that the bride or groom have any expectations either, because (for the most part) they don’t. And you should never (as in NEVER) put a wedding gift on your credit card if you know you can’t pay the bill in full at the end of the month. If they want to go into debt for their big day . . . fine. Their financial tidal wave should not be your sinking ship.
Even if there are very expensive items on the wedding registry, don’t sweat it. They might want the Hope Diamond, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy something else. So how do you swing it? Here are 12 ideas for great wedding gifts that won’t break your financial back.
1. Use your artistic/creative talents to DIY a truly unique gift.
If you have the right talents, you could create something special that the couple could never find in a store. Here are a few ideas, depending on what talents you might have:
- Calligrapher: Offer to do the calligraphy for their wedding invitations as your gift to them—if you contact them early enough.
- Photographer: Offer a post-honeymoon photo shoot or enlarge a photo you’ve taken of the place where they met or some other place or object that has special meaning for them. Buy a beautiful frame for the photo, and you’ve got a great gift. (I recently bought this budget-friendly 8 x 10 silver-plated frame for a couple’s anniversary; it’s a great frame for a special photo.)
- Graphic Designer: Design and print their thank you notes—preferably with their input on color, style, etc. (If you’re too late, you could also design and produce personalized note cards or stationery for them.)
- Artist: Let their relationship (and your unique artistic talents) inspire you to create something beautiful and one-of-a-kind for them.
- Crafter: This topic has so many possibilities: design matching T-shirts for them; create a shadowbox of objects that have special meaning for them; create a beautiful piece of pottery in their color scheme (you might get a hint of which colors they like by looking at their registry) . . . . Use your unique skills to make something memorable.
- Winemaker: Give them a special bottle of wine, and slap on a personalized wine label for extra points. (You can design and print a label at a site like canva.com.) If you can make a special blend for the couple, even better.
- Chef: Offer to cook them a special meal at a date TBD or give them private cooking lessons at your place or theirs.
- Glassblower: If you have this skill, you can make something in a design or color that you know they would like: two champagne glasses; a glass bowl or tray; a vase; etc.
- For the artistically less adventurous: Find a beautiful frame (within your budget – nobody needs to know the price) for a special photo of the couple or even to frame their wedding invitation. (Or you can create a photo collage in an inexpensive but nice frame.)
2. Buy handmade items online or at local craft shows.
If DIY is not your thing, you can also find beautiful handmade and unique pieces on sites like Etsy or ArtFire. If you’re not sure what the couple’s taste or preferences are, take a look at their registry listing (if they have one). This might help you figure out what their preferences are for color, material, style (modern vs. traditional), etc.
In addition to finding beautiful handmade work online, you can also visit local craft shows to find items such as pottery, frames, vases, paintings, drawings, and other types of artwork. Besides supporting your local artisans, you would be able to choose a wedding gift that fits your budget without anyone knowing exactly how much you spent.
3. Hire an artist to do a caricature, cartoon, portrait, or other unique design.
If you look through a site like fiverr, you’ll be amazed at how reasonably priced it can be to hire talented artists or graphic designers to create one-of-a-kind images in lots of different styles (pop art, watercolor, realistic, anime, etc.). You upload a photo of the couple, and the artist usually creates the image in just a few days. The prices depend upon the artist you hire, but you can find many artists whose prices are well below $100 for a gorgeous, personalized, and unique gift. (You can even have the images framed or put on canvas.)
4. Send a subscription box service.
There are so many subscription services that deliver boxes to your doorstep: fruit; gourmet foods; meal prep/cooking ingredients (with step-by-step instructions); meats; nuts; wine; flowers . . . the list is endless. One of the many good things about sending a subscription box service as a gift is that you can select the number of deliveries (weeks or months) based on your budget. So the couple will receive something fun in the mail every now and then, and you get to send a great gift without blowing out your budget.
5. For the couple that loves to travel . . .
- Frame a large map of the world—just the frame, no glass. Every time the couple travels somewhere together, they mark the city, town, or country on the map (and the date they were there?). They can use pen, markers, stickers, push pins (depending on the material used). Over time, this map will become a souvenir (literally) of their travels together. You can also find poster-sized “scratch-off” maps of the world that show where you have traveled. (You scratch off where you have been, to reveal the colorful map underneath. These scratch-off maps come in many different sizes and levels of detail.)
- If you were thinking of buying luggage but it’s either too expensive or too personal and hard to select, packing cubes are a great alternative. They come in different sizes, colors, sets, and price points. If you’ve ever lived out of a suitcase on a trip, you’ll appreciate these super-lightweight (like parachute material) zippered packing cubes to keep your stuff organized. (I like ebags packing cubes—I have the 3-piece set—but there are other good brands out there, too.)
- If you want to make a whole travel-themed gift, combine the packing cubes with a matching set of leather (or other material) luggage tags. (Two each for suitcase and carry-on?) These can even be personalized with the couple’s initials.
6. Chip in with other people.
If the couple has large (as in expensive) items on the registry, and if you know other people going to the wedding, think about chipping in to buy a gift together. This is a great way for you to stay within your budget and still buy something extra Gucci that will last them a while. Even if there is no registry, chipping in for a more expensive item can enable you to be a part of a gift that you would not have otherwise been able to afford on your own.
7. Look for gifts at a factory outlet center.
If you live near an outlet center, you can look for items that are similar to the ones listed on the couple’s registry but that cost a lot less. (FYI, some outlet centers sell irregular or second-quality items. These would not be a good idea for a wedding gift. Look for first-quality products that are either made specifically for the outlet or that ended up at the outlet because they were overstocked and didn’t sell out.) If you don’t live near an actual outlet center (which has lots of individual brand outlet stores), you can also try department store outlets.
8. Buy a bunch of board games for game night (and some retro candy to go with it).
Digital entertainment doesn’t have to be the be-all-and-end-all. Buying a selection of board games will keep the recipients entertained and keep your gift within budget. If you want to make it even more fun, you could throw in a box of microwave popcorn. Also, retro fun is always appreciated (even if you pick the wrong decade). Get them some old-tyme (yes, I did that and I will smack you if you say that to my face) candy. Pop Rocks? Yes, Ma’am. Fake Cigarettes? Yuul has nothing on this. Give them some of these (even if they are from Gen Z).
9. Buy an experience from the honeymoon registry (if they have one).
Some couples have started adding a honeymoon registry to their gift registry. Once they know where they will be going, they can list different experiences (a boat ride, private or group tour, local restaurants, cooking class, etc.), and people buy an experience from the registry (just as they would with a traditional gift registry). If your budget is too small for some expensive kitchen appliance or other gift, you can probably find experiences on their honeymoon registry (if they have one) that are within your price range. If they haven’t done a honeymoon registry, maybe you want to drop a hint. Tell them to check out this list of honeymoon registries on The Knot.
10. Get the couple a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant.
If you know their favorite restaurant or their favorite types of food, get them a gift certificate for an amount within your budget. You can wrap the gift with a copy of the menu (even if you have to print it from the website).
11. Buy tickets to local theater, a minor league game, or other local event.
Not all event tickets cost a fortune. Think about buying tickets to a local theater production or some other local event that you know the couple would enjoy. If they are sports fans, you can save money by getting tickets to a minor league game . . . if they live close enough to the field. (Cape Cod Baseball in the summer, anyone?)
12. Look for coupons, rewards programs, cash back, and rebates offers.
If you are buying something online, make sure to look for online coupons at sites like Honey, RetailMeNot, and others. You can stack coupons with rebate apps like Ebates (now called Rakuten) and purchase them with a rewards credit card (if you have one). Check out our section on “Online shopping coupons, cash back, rebates, price monitoring, and refunds” for listings of other apps you can use to save money. Groupon and other deal sites (also listed in our Savings Apps post) can provide discounts and deals on restaurants, tickets, and other events.
13. Here’s our “Baker’s Dozen” Tip: Check out some of these low-cost gift ideas for the new couple (the first 4 items are all under $60):
- This Kitchen Supreme Picnic Backpack Set for 4 (with insulated cooler, stainless steel cutlery, and dishes, plus wine holder, corkscrew, cheese board, and fleece picnic blanket) is great for a picnic on the go.
- Sleek, modern 8 x 10 silver-plated frame. Who couldn’t use another beautiful frame?
- Cheese Board With Cutlery Set (bamboo cheese board with 4 stainless steel cheese knives) – Makes ordinary cheese and crackers look great.
- Nambe Gourmet 3-piece Wooden Salad Set – This is a great brand with a sleek design.
- And if you’re willing to spend a little more . . . This multifunctional Instapot is my go-to when I have no time to cook. Just set it and forget it. (You can read about how much I love my Instapot in “10 Things You Need In Your Kitchen.”)
June wedding season is an exciting time, but it can also be a very expensive time, even for the guests. (We’ve got some money tips for brides and grooms as well.) And lately, wedding “season” seems to run all year long. Many guests, especially those in their 20s and 30s, can find themselves invited to multiple weddings in a year. The last thing a guest wants is to go over budget to attend all these weddings.
One way to help manage these expenses is to put a reasonable cap on the cost of the wedding gifts. New couples don’t want you to go into debt for them. They just want you to be there for their big day. You can spend a little less if you spend a little time thinking about ways to stay within your gift budget. Beautiful gifts come in all price points. It truly is the thought that counts, and thoughts don’t cost a lot.