Wedding pros answer the top 5 questions about gifts

Advice about everything from when you can go off-registry to how much to spend if you're in the party

Advice about everything from when you can go off-registry to how much to spend if you're in the party

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You know not to RSVP late, not to get drunk over cocktail hour and what to wear. But even those of us who have been to a dozen weddings sometimes still scratch our heads when it comes to wedding gifting. From what to give to how much to spend, what are the rules today? So we put these prevalent  wedding gift questions to the pros: Lauren Hughes, owner of Lauren Hughes Events Co. in Toronto, Alison McGill, editor-in-chief of Weddingbells magazine and Alexandra McNamara, owner of Blush and Bowties wedding planning in Toronto, to help you make the call as we head into wedding season.

Answers as told to Katrina Clarke.

Should you ever buy gifts that aren't on the registry?

Lauren Hughes: For the general population, I say no. You won't know for sure what the couple's style or needs are. It's only okay if you know the bride and groom really, really well.

Alison McGill: It is okay to go off it. The gift registry is meant to help take the guesswork out of buying a present, but if you know the couple's taste and have an off-registry gift in mind you know they'll love, go for it.

Alexandra McNamara: If you want to play it safe, buy from the registry. With so many couples living together pre-marriage, they probably have a lot of items already. You don't want to run the risk of buying them duplicates of wine glasses they already have.

How much money should you gift the happy couple?

Hughes: As a general rule, you should cover the cost of your dinner plate, which is usually between $100 and $200. But that's a traditional way of doing things. It really depends on how well you know the couple. It they're co-workers or distant relatives, you could give in the $75 to $100 range. If you know the couple well, or it's a formal, expensive wedding, you might want to give more.

McGill: That's such a loaded question. It's really hard to target what is the right amount. Generally, the $100 mark is where you start and gifting between $100 and $150 is average.

McNamara: That's a hard question. What I want to say to preface this is they should give what they can afford, but typically, it should be between $150 to $250. That's what your dinner and alcohol would usually cost the couple. That said, to me, it's more important that the person actually attend. I would rather have someone come to my wedding and give $50 than not come at all because they can't afford it.

If you can't make it to the shower/wedding, should you still send a gift?

Hughes: Traditional etiquette does suggest you should, but I don't think people should feel obligated to send a gift.

McGill: Yes. It might be a less-generous gift than it would have been if you attended the wedding, but I think you always send a gift. If there are others who can't attend, consider giving a group gift.

McNamara: Traditional etiquette-wise, you're still supposed to send a gift. My advice is just to follow your instincts. If you know the couple well, giving a modest gift and hand written note might be the way to go. Just do something nice.

If it's a destination wedding, do you bring a gift?

Hughes: If it's costing guests an arm and a leg to get there, most couples would expect them to spend less on a gift. You could probably get away with not giving a gift or giving a smaller gift. Be conscious of the size of the gift – you'll have to bring it to the destination and they'll have to bring it home!

McGill: Yes, a gift is still required. You likely want to give the gift to the couple before the wedding and not travel with it.

McNamara: I'm not sure! I don't do many destination weddings.

Bridesmaids and groomsmen will likely already be spending money leading up to the wedding. How much should they spend on wedding gifts?

Hughes: This is tricky. Generally, bridesmaids and groomsmen will give the same or more than other guests because they're close family and friends. However, everyone involved should keep in mind the other large costs that these people are incurring along the way. Dresses and tuxes, hair and makeup, shoes and accessories, overnight accommodations, they all add up rather quickly and that doesn't even touch on the other parties involved such as the bachelor/bachelorette. One way around this issue is for all the bridesmaids and groomsmen to pitch in on one large gift, such as a great dishwasher for the couple's first home, or a few days at a resort. Group gifts allow each person to give something special without breaking the bank.

McGill: On top of their additional investment that comes as being part of the wedding party, wedding party members should target to spend the same amount on a gift as other guests.

McNamara: Personally, I didn't expect gifts from my wedding party. I think a lot of couples feel that way. If the bridesmaid or groomsman can afford it, I say give what you can but know that it's not expected.

Katrina Clarke is a Vancouver- and Toronto-based journalist who writes about relationships, health, technology and social trends. Find her on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.