Myths about wedding gifts

My little brother is getting married next April. I came up with an idea of a mortgage fund for them so that they are not able to use the money for anything other than a down payment on their new home. How do we do this? and...

My mother and stepfather have been divorced for many years but have still remained friends. Now he's getting remarried this July and I've been invited to the wedding which I have no problem with attending. My question is what would be an appropriate gift to give. I've never met his wife to be to know what things she may like. Money is no problem for neither one of them as they are financially stable. My thoughts were toward some type of crystal piece.

Shopping for wedding gifts ought to be immensely fun, but it so often turns stressful because of the expectations surrounding The Wedding Gift. Before getting down to the nuts and bolts of how to choose a practical wedding gift, let's clear up a few common myths about gift- giving.

Myth 1: Your Gift Should Cover the Cost of Your Dinner

There never has been an official rule that your gift should cost at least as much as your dinner at the reception. For one thing, how are you to know in advance what the going rate on catering was? People who can afford to hold lavish weddings often have friends with a similar income level, who can therefore afford to give lavish gifts. But if you're the relatively poor pal of an heiress to millions, you need have no shame about giving a wedding present that you can afford, even though the reception cost $500 a head. A wedding is a party to entertain friends, not a fund-raiser.

Myth 2: People Marrying Again Shouldn't Register

This used to be a rule, back in the days when a bride's second wedding took place at the courthouse with a minimum of witnesses. Of course the couple didn't register, as they had no guests! Nowadays, second weddings are usually greeted with considerably more joy, and it's likely that there will be guests who feel moved to give a little something. There is nothing wrong with a registry that is mentioned only when guests ask "Where are you registered?" -- just the same as for a first wedding.

Myth 3: Guests Must Buy from the Registry

The registry is a list of suggestions. It's very handy for guests who don't feel confident that they understand the happy couple's tastes. But guests have absolutely no duty to use or refer to the registry.

So. . . how do you choose an appropriate gift?

Check the Registry

Although you're not required to buy from the registry, it's a very good starting point for determining what sort of gifts would please the couple. If registry items are within your budget and you don't have a strong commitment to being creative and original about gifts, there's a lot to be said for buying from the registry, especially if you're coming from far away. Registries usually will ship gifts, saving you a certain amount of cost and hassle.

If the registry is nearly bought out already, or if you can't afford the gifts that are still available, or if you simply don't like buying from registries, the registry is still a good source of clues about the couple's tastes, needs, and planned color scheme.

While registering at sporting goods stores and home improvement warehouses has ceased to be controversial, other creative registries still raise a few eyebrows. Many mortgage lenders now offer down payment registries, the idea being that the couple can avoid having to document every cash gift used for the down payment because the money has been put directly into a special fund. Since a well-mannered couple never mentions the registry until a guest asks "Where are you registered?", and guests are never required to use the registry, my position is that a couple can register for whatever they like, and guests who don't approve should simply ignore the registry.

Think Personal

What if there is no registry, or if you don't feel comfortable buying from it? When you know the couple well, think about what gifts they might need or enjoy. A wedding gift is traditionally for "the house" rather than for one partner exclusively --- but if the couple's housekeeping will be vastly improved by some computer accessories or a pair of ski resort tickets, the Etiquette Police don't care in the least.

Safe Generic Gifts

There's also a category that might be called "safe generic gifts": things you can give that will rarely be wrong, though they're not all that personalized. Avoid toasters, crockpots, and blenders, as my husband and I were the last post-30 engaged couple on earth not to have two of each already, and we're safely married now. Instead look for:
◾Classic plain platters in crystal, silver, or glass, depending on your budget and the couple's lifestyle. Even if platters are only used twice a year, they look nice on a shelf or in a china cabinet.
◾Classic plain picture frames, especially in silver. Couples who complain that they have more frames than wedding photos should use common sense and pack away the extras for when they have photos of kids or pets.
◾A thematic gift basket such as "things for a romantic winter evening for two" or "kitchen gadgets no one remembers to buy but everyone wishes they had."
◾A nice glass or pottery pitcher. No one ever seems to have one, and they're nicer for serving guests than the plastic sort.
◾A good set of plain white or off-white table linens. We've draped our ivory linen runner and napkins over all sorts of things, including occasionally the table.
◾A subscription to a "dessert of the month" or "flower of the month" club. (A search for "dessert of the month" got 98 hits, so finding an appropriate plan should be fairly easy.)

What about Cash?

While it's not appropriate for couples to tell guests that only cash gifts are acceptable, it's certainly okay for guests to choose to give money. Gift certificates are also appropriate. If you like giving gift certificates, a certificate at the store where the couple registered can be especially helpful in allowing them to buy registry items that guests didn't purchase.

Food for Thought

Something both couples and guests should consider is that the favorite gift today may not be the same gift that is most loved years later. This doesn't mean that couples must stock up on crystal and fine china just in case their lifestyle ever calls for holding sitdown dinners for twelve! But it's interesting to read about the favorite wedding gifts of couples who have been married for a decade or more, and it may give the worried guest some food for thought.