Kristen De Filippis recently had an argument with her aunt and mom about what makes an appropriate wedding gift. “They said, ‘You have to give at least $100 [cash] or more,’ ” says De Filippis, 38, who lives in Toronto. “I was like, the whole thing is insane. It should come down to what you can afford.” De Filippis loves her big Italian family, but wedding season isn’t cheap. It’s standard to give gifts at the engagement party and the shower, and an envelope on the big day. “With the older generation, if you don’t give a certain amount, you’re considered cheap.” (At a distant relative’s bridal shower, when De Filippis committed to giving a $40 gift, her mom put in $150 from both of them instead, she says, to avoid embarrassment.)
In many cultures, giving cash at weddings has long been standard. Now that a growing number of couples live together before getting married, money is an increasingly in-demand present: They may not need another set of towels or dishware, but would prefer funds toward a vacation, or the down payment on a home. “I have five weddings this year, and five next year, and I’m giving cash at all of them,” says Amanda Marshall, 29, of Vancouver. Having polled her close friends, she knows that’s what they want. But other guests can see it as a cash grab, and in some cases, cash-strapped guests are fighting back.
The first high-profile spat erupted in June, when two guests at a Hamilton wedding left a gift basket filled with salsa, oil, biscuits, spreadable marshmallow and Sour Patch Kids candies. “Life is delicious,” the card said. “Enjoy!” But the two brides did not enjoy. Afterward, one fired off a text: “I’m not sure if it’s the first wedding you have been to, but for your next wedding … people give envelopes. I lost out on $200 covering you and your date’s plate.” (The brides were of Italian and Croatian heritage, two cultures where cash gifts are the norm.) Outraged, the guests sent this exchange to the Hamilton Spectator newspaper, and it went viral.
Just a few weeks later, another woman—an American named Tanya—went public with a Facebook message she’d received from a friend whose wedding she’d attended. “I just want to know, is there any reason or dissatisfaction of Mike’s and my wedding that both you and Phil gave $50 each?” the bride wrote, informing Tanya that the cost was in fact $100 per person. “That money didn’t grow on a tree,” Tanya huffed to the Huffington Post. “If she had a minimum gift requirement, she should have specified it … or asked everyone for income statements before inviting them.” While that bride’s reaction might have been unusual, she wasn’t alone in her expectations. De Filippis notes that, at weddings, “it’s understood you have to cover the cost of food per plate.” This is also the rule of thumb with Marshall’s friends.
The average cost of a wedding in Canada is now $32,358, but never mind the couples—for those attending these events, the price is going up, too. This year, guests expect to spend $539 per wedding, according to a U.S. survey by American Express, up 59 per cent from last year. Close family members will spend an average of $179 per person on a gift; for co-workers, it’s $66. There seems to be a growing disconnect between the happy couple and their guests. Most Americans (35 per cent) would like to give a gift from the registry. Most couples (52 per cent) want money. A growing number write on the invitation, “Presentation” or “No boxed gifts,” to more politely imply they want cash, although etiquette dictates that even registry information should be left off the formal invite.
If there’s a generational gap between De Filippis and her mom about how much cash is appropriate to give, Marshall has experienced a different kind of disconnect: an ex’s mom who was told a couple wanted cash, and just “couldn’t do it.” Loath even to buy something off the registry, she insisted on picking something out herself. Indeed, some people still feel that cash is too impersonal. Most people, though, whether givers or recipients, seem to agree on one thing: After the big day has come and gone, proper etiquette dictates that thank-you cards should be sent out for each and every gift—even if it was a lowly box of Sour Patch Kids.