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Are guests expected to give engagement, shower and wedding gifts?

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A wedding is a joyous occasion, right? It usually is, anyway. If two people you care about have decided to take that big step, you ought to be happy for them. You should be excited about the prospect of sharing in their big day -- in person if possible -- and at least in wishing them well. But then reality starts to intrude. How much is your joy going to cost you?

Make no mistake: Weddings are one of the biggest gift-giving-and-getting occasions in our culture. Of course, the specter of the big day raises a host of questions. What sort of present do you have to give? How much should it cost? And if you're close enough to the happy couple to be included in engagement celebrations and showers as well as the wedding day festivities, must you come up with a gift for every event?

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Much has changed in social customs and expectations over the recent decades. But when a wedding is involved, traditional etiquette usually comes into play. The apparel, the music, the venue -- many wedding details change from year to year. When it gets down to the essentials, however, most people -- those getting married as well as those celebrating with them -- stick with tried-and-true notions of propriety. And giving gifts is one of the big wedding essentials.

The technically correct word on wedding gifts, according to most etiquette experts, is that no one is required to give one. A wedding invitation is just that, an invitation to relatives and friends to join in the celebration. You won't need to bring a gift as the price of admission. If those who are invited feel moved to show their support and friendship with a gift, then the wedding couple should be grateful.

Custom, however, is different. According to custom, the answer to whether to give gifts for engagements, showers and weddings is: maybe, yes and yes. Keep reading, and you'll find that the present puzzle is really pretty simple -- and it doesn't have to break the bank.

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Most people don't give engagement gifts -- and etiquette mavens say you don't have to do so. Some close family members may give a gift; in some regions of the country, it's becoming more of a custom to take gifts to a formal engagement party. One frequently offered bit of advice to those invited to an engagement party and don't know what's expected: Discreetly ask the host in advance or check in with a local wedding planner.

Thoughtful hosts can avoid the problem by throwing a party at which the couple formally announces the engagement. When guests know in advance that they'll be attending an engagement party, some probably will bring gifts. The couple should wait until after the party to open them. That way, those who -- quite properly -- didn't bring gifts won't feel awkward.

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Showers are different. The whole purpose of those events is to "shower" the bride or couple with presents. In fact, opening gifts is the highlight of the party.

Everyone who is invited to a shower should also be invited to the wedding, with the possible exception of workplace showers. And yes, guests are expected to give a shower gift as well as a wedding present. The key is to remember that the shower gift is supposed to be less expensive. One way to tackle the problem is to figure out how much you can afford to put into a gift, total. Then spend 15 to 20 percent of that amount on a shower gift, and the rest on the wedding gift.

Some showers have themes such as kitchen or lingerie, which can help narrow the choices. Others keep costs down by asking guests to bring something inexpensive or homemade such as a favorite recipe.

Brides should avoid putting the same people on the guest list for more than one shower. Close relatives and wedding attendants who are invited to multiple showers don't have to bring gifts every time, although they may choose to bring some small token.

Read on for tips on how to deal with the big item: the wedding gift.

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You have up to one year after the wedding to give a gift, but most guests buy them well beforehand.
You have up to one year after the wedding to give a gift, but most guests buy them well beforehand.
Buccina Studios/Getty Images

While no one is obligated to give a wedding present, custom dictates that most people who are invited to a wedding should bring a gift. Those who receive an invitation from someone to whom they aren't close or to whose ceremony they will be unable or unlikely to attend, may send a card or note. The uninvited can give one if they are so moved, but they aren't expected to.

The rest of us may need help figuring what, when and how much to give.

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The gift is supposed to be something both bride and groom will use or enjoy. To help with the selection, many couples register at one or more stores -- physical, online or both. Thoughtful couples will realize that different guests have different budgets and include items with a range of prices. Guests may choose gifts from the registries because of the convenience and because they'll be sure of sending something the couple wants. They're not, however, obligated to do so. You may venture off-registry if you know something else the couple would like.

Guests have quite a bit of leeway on the timing to give a wedding present. Many have the present delivered before the big day. Some take gifts to the wedding or reception, where couples may have a table set up to receive them. Etiquette books say that it's fine to send a gift anytime until a year after the wedding.

The toughest question may be how much to spend. Most etiquette mavens agree that no matter how lavish the wedding, guests aren't expected to give gifts to help defray the cost. The price of the gift shouldn't follow some formula about the event.

No matter your thought process, common sense should prevail. Wedding gifts tend to be more expensive than gifts for other occasions, but people should give within their means. Recent surveys show that the amount spent on a wedding gift hasn't changed much in several decades. Typically, people who can afford it spend in the neighborhood of $75 to $100. They may spend more for close friends or relatives.

Some people may pool their resources to buy a nice wedding gift. For example, several people might chip in to buy the wine rack on the couple's registry and then each buy a bottle of wine to put in it.

Don't let buying a wedding gift become a daunting chore. The idea is to show your affection and support for the couple as they start their new life. That shouldn't be too hard.

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Sources

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