Smart Money Podcast: How to Approach Wedding Costs and Gift-Giving Budgets

Liz Weston, CFP®
Sean Pyles
By Sean Pyles and  Liz Weston, CFP® 
Edited by Kathy Hinson

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Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions. In this episode:

Get an inside look at the latest trends in wedding planning, as Director of Communications Emily Forrest joins host Sean Pyles to discuss findings from a recent survey of more than 2,000 American adults. They discuss the financial challenges many engaged couples face during the wedding planning process, ways to prevent money matters from being overlooked in pre-wedding conversations, and tips for initiating these critical financial conversations.

Then, NerdWallet’s Liz Weston and Kimberly Palmer join Sean to discuss how to navigate the pressures of gift-giving, managing expectations for birthday party guests, and the art of selecting the perfect present that strikes a balance between thoughtfulness and price.

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Have a money question? Text or call us at 901-730-6373. Or you can email us at [email protected]. To hear previous episodes, go to the podcast homepage.

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Episode transcript

Sean Pyles: We're in the middle of peak wedding season, but wedding planning season is always underway. And with planning a wedding comes a lot of choices. Who to hire, where to host the wedding, how many people to invite. So in this episode, we'll walk you through how to make smart financial decisions for your wedding.

Welcome to NerdWallet's Smart Money podcast, where you send us your money questions and we answer them with the help of our genius Nerds. I'm Sean Pyles.

So this is a show where we Nerdy people answer our listeners' money questions on everything from how to buy a car to whether budgets are really necessary. And this means, listener, that we want to answer your question and we want to hear from you, literally. So consider leaving us a voicemail on the Nerd hotline or emailing us a voice memo at [email protected]. You can leave a voicemail or text us on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. That's 901-730-NERD. You can also email us at [email protected].

In this episode, my co-host Liz Weston and I answer a listener's question about how much to spend on gifts. But first, we are going to be talking about how much to budget for weddings. This segment of Smart Money is sponsored by, an advertising partner of NerdWallet.

For a lot of couples, planning a wedding might be the first time they sit down and have an in-depth financial conversation with their partner. And with so many options out there, the process can seem daunting and it can lead to some hard conversations. But if it's any consolation, countless other couples have made it through this exact process before. And wedding planning company Zola has worked with a lot of people who've made it through to the other side, which is why NerdWallet teamed up with our advertising partner Zola to share some findings from our latest survey of over 2,000 American adults conducted online by The Harris Poll. Among those surveyed, 133 are currently engaged and 1,018 are married. So here to walk us through some of the findings is Zola's director of communications, Emily Forrest.

Emily, welcome to Smart Money.

Emily Forrest: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Sean Pyles: So Emily, can you please walk us through some of the survey's key findings?

Emily Forrest: Sure. So as you said, we surveyed over 2,000 Americans, many of them were married or engaged, about how they juggle finances and financial conversations while wedding planning, which we know can be a lot because wedding planning can take up so much time, but it's also really fun.

And we found that over 70% of engaged couples say that they face money struggles while wedding planning, which is definitely a significant number. And the biggest struggle is that 30% of those couples are trying to balance their wedding with other money goals.

So, for example, I think that today's generation of couples, they are getting married at a very particular moment in their life. They're not getting married necessarily to check a box. They're getting married because they really want to have a wedding and because they really want to have their loved ones join in that celebration. But at the same time, they're also getting married a little bit older as they're more established in their careers and they're probably more established financially, which means they're also focused on buying a home, starting a family, paying down their debts, maybe student loans and also paying for their honeymoon.

So I think it's just not that surprising that we're finding how many couples are balancing the wedding with other goals. But I was surprised at how many couples say they face these money struggles.

Sean Pyles: Right. Well, a lot of couples also stated that they didn't really talk about money as much as they maybe wish they had, right?

Emily Forrest: So through the survey we also found that close to two-thirds, 60% of married Americans, say that there are financial topics they did not discuss but wish they had discussed before getting married.

And separate from that, we also found that over half of the people who took the survey said that they found it actually difficult to have serious financial conversations with this partner. And that stat also shocked me, because at Zola, we see that couples really choose each other and they gravitate towards each other because they share the same financial goals and they share a lot of other things, like values and their vision for the future and what they want their family to be in fun times. But it's interesting that people want to choose someone who shares their outlook financially, but then they find it difficult to talk about it.

Sean Pyles: Interesting. OK. So a lot of couples are skipping money conversations. Do we know why?

Emily Forrest: Yeah. So the biggest reason why, based on our survey, is that 24% of married Americans say they don't want to create conflict in their relationship. Others said they felt too awkward about it and 13% said it felt unromantic, which …

Sean Pyles: Fair I guess.

Emily Forrest: And then 12% actually said they just didn't think it was important.

Sean Pyles: The point about not wanting to create conflict is so interesting and to me really counterintuitive, because my perspective is that if you're not going to be talking about money with your partner, there's going to be conflict because something will come up and you hadn't discussed it and then suddenly you're on opposite sides of a financial issue.

Emily Forrest: That is a really interesting perspective. And I was also just surprised by this because I'm married and not everything in marriage is romantic. That's not the reality of planning a wedding.

Sean Pyles: You're just living your life together.

Emily Forrest: Yeah, you're living your life together. I understand that money is arguably one of the most difficult conversations to have, but it really is also one of the most important conversations to have. And I definitely agree with you. It can save you some arguments in the future.

Sean Pyles: At NerdWallet, our money experts recommend setting up money talks now and during your married life, because money impacts everything in life and both spouses need to be in the know with the family finances. Do you see successful couples practicing this enough? How have you heard couples do this successfully?

Emily Forrest: So I really love this tip. I think it's very practical. For me, if it's not in my calendar, it absolutely does not exist. When I think about the moment in time when I usually think at the top of my head of a very lengthy conversation to have with my husband, it's usually right when we're winding down before we go to bed and then it's really not the right time to bring up a big financial conversations or …

Sean Pyles: Yeah, not the most relaxing thing to discuss as you're trying to go to sleep.

Emily Forrest: It's not. So during the wedding planning process, I always recommend that couples really set aside time to plan together, and you can turn it into a date night. You can pour yourself a glass of wine, you can do all of your wedding planning, you can create your wedding website, pick out your invites, shop for your Zola registry. But within those wedding planning blocks, I think it's also important that couples take the time to talk about their budget and their finances.

And this can continue after wedding planning. It doesn't have to be awkward or complicated. You can simply do it once a month, once every other month, when you need to have a big conversation. If you block it off, then you'll do it. It'll be accomplished, you'll feel good about it. And also maybe you won't feel so awkward.

Sean Pyles: Right. And it's also about establishing a habit with your partner that you can do together and building the muscle of how to have these conversations. That way you can also learn where you are a little sensitive financially, things that might be difficult for you to talk about and for your partner, too. But the more frequently you do this, the easier it gets to do.

Well, I also want to talk about wedding planning specifically because these days a lot of couples have so many decisions to make when planning their weddings, and naturally there are a lot of places that you could spend money. So how do you think couples can focus on what's important to them?

Emily Forrest: So I think that couples today, especially because so many are paying or contributing to the payment for their weddings, they're really spending with a lot of thought and intention.

So my biggest piece of advice is to try to come to an agreement about the three to four parts of your wedding budget that are most important to you before you start spending, and then focus on those while creating your budget. I'll say that again my husband and I did not do this and this is why I think we ended up going over budget.

But I would also say think about the things that are less important to you, or not even necessarily less important, but where you're willing to save money. Things that you maybe have seen, other ways people have saved money.

Sean Pyles: All right. Well, let's turn to some numbers. How much do people typically spend on weddings?

Emily Forrest: The average wedding in 2023 will cost about $29,000, which is slightly up.

Sean Pyles: Ouch. That's so much money.

Emily Forrest: Yeah, it's an ouch. It's an ouch, but it's an even bigger ouch if you live in a place like D.C. or New York where the cost is actually closer to about $45,000.

Sean Pyles: Well, let's talk about some other ways to save money on weddings, because I'm currently in the process of beginning to plan my wedding with my partner. We're about two years out.

Emily Forrest: How exciting.

Sean Pyles: But we're still starting it. Thank you. And the prospect of spending close to $30,000 on our wedding is a little terrifying. So I would love to hear ways to cut back those costs.

Emily Forrest: Sure. So I would say the best place to start is really with a budget calculator. And yes, we do have one of these at Zola, and it's free. And within that calculator, we publish recommendations for how much couples usually allocate towards different pieces of their budget. And I think that that's helpful to give you a viewpoint into how much you should expect to spend each point in the journey. It doesn't mean that you have to spend that. Like I said, maybe flowers are the most important thing to you and you want to get married in a field that costs you no money, but you want to bring in $20,000 worth of flowers. It's up to you. You can do whatever you want, but start there.

I would also say if you explore less popular wedding times and days of the week, that's a really great way to save money. So for example, a January wedding is definitely going to cost you a little bit less than a June wedding. That's just the truth. There's a demand and supply, always.

Sean Pyles: You may spend a little more on a winter jacket though just to keep you cozy.

Emily Forrest: You might. But I got married in the fall and I had a beautiful winter stole and it was just perfect. So highly recommend a cold-weather wedding.

I have been to a breakfast wedding, which I thought was really fun. They saved a lot of money, and I got up really early to do my makeup that day, but I still danced my butt off.

Sean Pyles: Of course. Yeah.

Emily Forrest: At like 9 a.m.

Sean Pyles: Have fun. I love that.

Emily Forrest: Yeah.

Sean Pyles: So Emily, the survey also found that 22% of engaged Americans said they will go over budget for their wedding, which could mean starting your married life with debt. Are there any budgeting tools that can help couples avoid this?

Emily Forrest: Yes. Well, as somebody who did go over her wedding budget, accidentally, I would definitely give a big plug for Zola's free budget tool. We definitely have the best budgeting tool that I've ever seen, and I wish it was around for my wedding, but you can easily track all of your expenses through the tool and we'll also send you payment reminders. If you book your vendors on Zola, it will completely integrate into our budget tool. So it's much better than keeping another Excel spreadsheet on your desktop, which might end up accidentally in the trash if you're someone like me, who's sometimes a little unorganized.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, that's fair enough. All right. And while it's not recommended to go into debt for your wedding, it can be a good idea to put your wedding expenses on a credit card to earn rewards on your purchases and maximize your budget. But that said, it is a good idea to pay it off in full by the due date in order to not have to pay a lot of interest.

And it's also worth seeking out smart ways to lower your wedding cost if you'd like to save some extra cash for the honeymoon. Do you have any other ideas around how people can lower their wedding cost?

Emily Forrest: Two very easy ways is, think really hard about your guest list. Your wedding will definitely be more expensive if you have more people there. Do you really need every plus one and every kid? I'm not sure.

And the last tip is you can add a cash fund to help cover the cost of your wedding. I know that this can be controversial, but last year we found that about 24% of couples who are adding cash funds to their Zola registries were adding a cash fund to help cover the cost of their wedding.

And I do not think that this means that couples are asking their guests or even relying on their guests to say you need to help me pay for their wedding. But rather, they're just saying, “If you're going to give me a gift …”

Sean Pyles: “ ...might as well make this event a little more affordable.” Yeah.

Emily Forrest: Yeah. What I would really like to have is I would love to have a hundred dollars to help pay for the chuppah of my dreams. That's what I would like.

Sean Pyles: Oh, I love that. So I have another question for you, and this is slightly a selfish one, because for my partner and I, we're planning on getting married on our 10-year anniversary and we are debating whether we want to frame it as a 10-year anniversary party that's also sort of a wedding at the same time, a little bit nontraditional.

And part of why we're thinking about doing this is because I've heard about what's sometimes called the wedding surcharge where people are charged more money for hosting an event at a venue simply because it is a quote-unquote wedding compared to a 10-year anniversary event or a family reunion. Have you found the wedding surcharge to be a real thing in your experience and do you have any ideas for how to circumvent it if it is real?

Emily Forrest: This is such a good question. And actually we get asked about the “wedding tax” all the time, if this is real. And so I would say yes and no. It is real, but I don't like to call it a wedding tax, because it's not necessarily just a venue saying, "Oh my god, they're having a wedding so I'm going to add $10,000 to their bill." That's not what it is.

I think weddings are not family reunions, they're not birthday parties. Maybe they are an anniversary party, but it is still a wedding and it is a different type of event, which usually does require venues and vendors to spend more time, effort and attention in order to do that biggest day of your life justice. So I don't really think that you can necessarily circumvent it. And I also don't know if you really want to.

Sean Pyles: You want to make sure that you have the accommodations that you would expect at a wedding.

Emily Forrest: Yeah. I mean, it is your wedding. And going back to the beginning of our conversation, I think you can only speak to your own wedding, but I imagine that you've been with your partner now for 10 years and that's amazing. And so I would ask you, why are you having a wedding now? And it's probably because this is the time in your life where you feel like you really want to have a wedding and maybe you understand the cost and you're willing to spend on it.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. And also partially, we've been waiting for the COVID backlog to work its way through. So we got to looking at that and we were like, "Well, we're getting close to our 10-year anniversary, so let's just make it that."

Emily Forrest: Yep. But if you think about what you're paying for when you're paying for a vendor to do your special event, you're paying for a baker who is baking you this hopefully beautiful wedding cake or whatever dessert you want — wedding pie, doughnut bar, whatever — that's probably different from the cake that you would have at your birthday party. And so you're really paying for the time and investment that they are taking to make you that perfect memory.

Sean Pyles: Do you have any parting words of wisdom for couples in the midst of wedding planning right now?

Emily Forrest: I think that my biggest piece of wisdom, if I may bestow it, is that really the best way to stay within your budget is simply to work with your vendors and just to be upfront about what your budget is.

I think be upfront with yourself about what you want to spend, be upfront with your partner about what you think you should be spending and rely on the people who are going to support you during that big day to help you decide how to really best spend that money.

Sean Pyles: All right. Well, thank you so much.

Emily Forrest: Thanks for having me and best wishes to you.

Sean Pyles: Thank you. And listener, I'll leave you with one more tip. If you have time before your wedding, think about setting up a dedicated high-yield savings account, or savings bucket as we call it on Smart Money, for your wedding. I did this a couple of years ago and it's worked out really well for me. I have a couple hundred dollars auto deposited into this account each month and it's been really helpful as I've worked to build up enough money to cover — maybe not $29,000 of a wedding, but hopefully something close to it.

And I guess in general, the bottom line is that weddings can be expensive. So have money conversations with your partner as early as you can and keep having them after you're married. Try to focus on things that are important to you rather than springing on everything that a wedding vendor offers, and work with vendors and use your budget calculators to find a price that works for you.

So listener, if you have any great tips about planning your wedding, let us know. Email us at [email protected] or contact us on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373.

Also, I want to let you know about a new webinar series that NerdWallet is hosting this fall. The series will cover things like how to choose the best bank for you, tips for creating a budget, how to start investing and more. The first one is coming up on Oct. 4. So if you're interested, mark your calendar and check out for more info.

OK, that's it for our This Week in Your Money segment. This episode’s Money Question is up Next, stay with us.

I'm Sean Pyles.

Liz Weston: And I'm Liz Weston.

Sean Pyles: This episode's Money Question comes from a listener's text message. Here it is as read by Smart Money producer Rosalie Murphy.

Rosalie Murphy: I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and my kids and their peers are in fifth and eighth grade. What's an appropriate amount to spend on a kid's birthday gift? I recently gave a kid $40 for a purchase of his own choosing, thinking of a video game he might like, which could be $20 to $70 plus tax. He's my son's best friend. Was that too much? It's hard to figure out because the cost of living is high, but we tend to be a more frugal group of comfortable, privileged, highly educated adults. My kids' public school, their band buddies and our general vibe attracts a down to earth crowd.

Liz Weston: To help us answer this listener's question on this episode of the podcast, we're joined by personal finance Nerd and Smart Money regular Kimberly Palmer. Welcome back to the podcast, Kim.

Kimberly Palmer: Thank you for having me.

Sean Pyles: Kim, it's so good to talk with you, especially about such an exciting topic. I love to give gifts and I want to talk about gift-giving. Generally to start, are you guys big gift-givers or not so much?

Kimberly Palmer: I personally absolutely love giving gifts. To me, it's such a fun part of the birthday party process and I like doing it with my kids. So we talk about, what does your friend like, what are they into. And then together we pick out a gift. And to me that whole process is so fun.

Sean Pyles: I love giving gifts. It's my love language if that is still a thing that hasn't been totally debunked by science, but I think it's a little bit of an art. I love that balance about being really thoughtful about what someone might like without spending too much money. And I also want to focus on giving people things that they will genuinely enjoy and not just look at and think, “What am I going to do with this now?” Which is really not an easy balance. What about you, Liz?

Liz Weston: I find the whole thing pretty stressful.

Sean Pyles: Oh yeah?

Liz Weston: Yeah. I love figuring out the exact right thing for someone. When you really hit, it's great, but sometimes it's really hard to figure out what that is and the right amount to spend.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. And it's also hard when you do give it to them and you're not sure if they like it or not. You don't want to misread someone or maybe inadvertently offend someone or make them feel like they're indebted to you because you gave them something that was maybe a little bit more expensive.

And there's so many things that go into giving a gift beyond just being thoughtful and choosing the right thing. There's a lot of ideas around expectations and what you might be imposing upon someone with a different type of gift, but I'd like to talk about some of the money aspects of it now. So do you guys go into gift buying with a set budget in mind? And if so, how does that vary from one person to the next?

Kimberly Palmer: I am really strict about the amount, and I think this is why I find the picking the gift so fun because I don't spend any time thinking about the amount. Basically for a kid's gift, I say, "OK, it's 20 to $25." I tell that to my kids. I say, "This is the amount that you have to spend so we can pick something within that amount." It might seem strange, but being that strict, it takes that element of stress out of the equation. So we just have to think about the fun part, which is what to get them.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, it's one less decision that you have to make. Right?

Kimberly Palmer: Exactly. And so to me, that takes away that stress and it makes it so with my kids, we're not fighting about how much to spend. It's just very set in stone. They know what it is, every time it's the same.

Sean Pyles: I like that.

Liz Weston: How about you, Sean?

Sean Pyles: I tend to vary by person. For my partner, Garrett, I maybe shouldn't admit this, but I won't put a cap on how much I'm going to spend on a gift for him for his birthday or for Christmas because I just want to get him things that I know he'll really love.

For my closer friends, I'm a little bit more precise about it, but still kind of squishy. Usually $50 to $60 for a birthday gift. And that's because I really love giving birthday gifts, but it might be something totally random. Like for one friend this year, I got her a necklace from Etsy that is fragrant and shaped like a hotdog, a glittery hotdog because she loves hotdogs. And then another friend of mine, she loves this type of Gatorade, that's the cucumber lime Gatorade. I am also a huge fan of this, but where she lives in New York City, it's unavailable unless it's the sugar-free option, which tastes like garbage. So I shipped her a big box of it, which was over $60 and I felt very silly spending that much on Gatorade. But she loved it and she told me verbatim it was the best gift she's ever received. So well worth all of that money.

Liz Weston: Wow.

Kimberly Palmer: You're such a good gift-giver.

Liz Weston: Yeah. So I'm going to consult you next time.

Sean Pyles: It's so fun. I do love it. I will say I'm a little bit awkward about receiving gifts because I worry about people fretting over me, but that's a whole ’nother conversation, anyway. Liz, how do you approach this?

Liz Weston: Well, specifically with birthday parties, it can be a little fraught, and I wish I could remember where I saw this, but there was a scene in a movie or a TV show where a mom splurged and she got a really nice kick scooter as a birthday present for a child's friend only to show up at the party and discover that the party favor was the exact same brand of scooter. So this is L.A. in a nutshell. Some of the birthday parties can be really over the top.

Sean Pyles: Yeah.

Liz Weston: The flip side is that we have never been made to feel we had to buy our way into a party, which is nice. The parents are all pretty chill. Our gift budget usually ranged from $25 to $50 bucks, depending on what my daughter thought a friend might like.

Sean Pyles: And I feel like there's also this complicated factor as a parent giving a gift to another parent's kid where you know that kid probably has more toys than they really play with anyway.

Liz Weston: Oh, yes.

Sean Pyles: So I think that might also influence what you might want to buy. You don't just want another random piece of plastic sitting in a box at their house, or the parents probably don't want that, right?

Liz Weston: Yeah.

Kimberly Palmer: Exactly. And Liz, I don't know if this is a thing in L.A., but where I live in Maryland, it's very common to counteract that clutter problem. So many birthday parties now they say “no gifts” on the invitation. And so that takes this whole equation out of it because you don't even have to worry about the present. The parents don't collect that clutter. I mean, toys that can become clutter and everyone can just take that off their plate. So I don't know if that is just in my neighborhood, but it's definitely a trend I've noticed.

Liz Weston: My daughter's older now, so I didn't see that much as a trend when she was younger, but who knows, maybe it'll take hold.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, growing up, the toy aspect of birthday parties was the big thing. It was how many toys the kids are going to get and how many toys I was going to get along with my twin sister.

Liz Weston: Yes.

Sean Pyles: But I'm glad to hear it seems like things have maybe changed in that regard.

Kimberly Palmer: Maybe a little. And I have to say, I think it's easy to do for the 1- and 2-year-olds because they don't really know what's going on, but then once your child gets older, they might want those presents.

Sean Pyles: Yeah.

Liz Weston: Yeah, exactly.

Sean Pyles: Well, going back to our listener's question and the sort of uncomfy feelings they're experiencing around gift giving, I'm thinking this might be an opportunity for a money conversation with peers, which could also potentially be a little bit uncomfortable to broach. However, if our listener's feeling uncomfortable about how much money to spend on a gift, I'm going to guess that other parents are feeling similarly.

I'd love to hear your guys' thoughts on that. As parents, have you talked about money and gift giving with other parents? Do you think you would ever bring this kind of thing up? What do you think about this?

Kimberly Palmer: I'm going to say no on this one because I think that could be very awkward. And I even feel awkward if another parent says, "Hey, what does your child like or what kind of thing would they like for their gift?" Because then I feel bad as if I'm requesting something of them. So to me, this just goes into that territory of being too awkward. But I'm really curious if you two disagree.

Sean Pyles: Liz?

Liz Weston: I throw myself on other parents' mercy all the time, and I don't mind when people ask, “What does your daughter like?” Because their likes change so frequently when they're kids and especially when they're teenagers. So the conversation does go both ways and I find it really helpful.

When I'm asking the question of, “What's an appropriate gift?” I don't ask specifically what you're going to spend, but what an appropriate gift is I think a fairly good question to ask. It's like knowing what someone else is planning to wear to a party. It makes me feel like even if I blow it, I'm going to have some company. So that's good.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. I mean, I tend to talk about money a lot. Shocker, as the host of this podcast, and I talk about it a lot with my friends, and I don't really have many friends who are parents at this point. I'm not a parent, but I hope that I would be able to get to a place where I could have that transparent conversation with friends if this does happen.

But even if it does feel a little bit awkward, I think there are ways to get a feel for what you might want to spend just by asking other parents maybe what they're going to get the kid as a gift or what you're going to get even your friend as a gift. That way you can get a general sense of the price range. Are you going to be getting a friend a candle for a birthday or a nice bracelet? What are people expecting?

I get if it's a milestone, someone's turning 30 or 40, you want to get them something maybe nicer versus I turned 32 this past year and I was like, just give me a card and a candle and that's about it, because it's just a random birthday, I guess. But yeah, it really varies. But I do think going back to my point, it's helpful to just gauge what everyone else is doing, even if it's in a somewhat subtle way.

Liz Weston: Yeah. And Kim mentioned that this is also an opportunity to talk to your kids about budgeting. So I'd like to know more about how you have that conversation, Kim.

Kimberly Palmer: Yes. So while I might feel awkward talking to other parents, I don't feel awkward talking to my kids about money. I love that conversation. So basically, when I tell them or remind them, you have $20 to $25 for this gift, and then they can search what kind of item they might want to pick out for their friend. So many times they do want to spend more, but then that's a chance to say, "OK, you can spend more, but that will be out of your money, money you've earned or money that you have from your allowance." And so often when I put it that way, they say, "Oh no, it's OK. We'll stick with the $20 to $25 budget."

Liz Weston: So much harder to spend your own money.

Kimberly Palmer: Exactly. And I think that's a good conversation, a good lesson for them. And so that approach works for me.

Liz Weston: I love that. That is a really good way to approach it, Kim. We usually provided the money for gifts, but our daughter also liked to bring back gifts and souvenirs for her friends from our travels, and that was always out of her own funds.

Sean Pyles: One thing that I've been thinking about a lot around this question is that there's a lot of subtext underlying the gift-giving conversation that focuses on the idea of expectation. As a gift giver, how much are you expected to spend on a gift? Where are these expectations coming from? Did you maybe make them up? And also as the recipient of a gift or the parent of a gift recipient, what are you anticipating from your guests? And going back to the idea of kids getting gifts and maybe not fully appreciating them, I'll say that I don't really remember many gifts that I received at birthday parties growing up except for one year where my twin sister and I both got multiples of the same gift from different families. And that was really just a funny coincidence.

Liz Weston: Oh, what was it? Do you remember?

Sean Pyles: I got two of the same type of Jurassic Park dinosaur, and my sister got two of the same type of Barbie. And weirdly enough, it was the same families that gave us the same matching gifts. There was something going on in the universe that year.

Kimberly Palmer: Wow.

Liz Weston: I love it. Well, when I'm hosting, I just want people to have fun. So I'd hate for somebody to feel obligated to spend money. And I hope that comes across.

Kimberly Palmer: I do want to add one thing, which is that I'm worried that listeners might be worried about how much I'm spending on bigger parties. So I just want to say as a caveat, if there's something really significant like a bar mitzvah or some special party that's a big celebration, I do tend to spend more than $20, $25. That's just kind of our amount for the standard birthday party for a kid.

Sean Pyles: OK, that makes sense. Well, Kim, I'd love to hear if you have any other general tips for gift giving.

Kimberly Palmer: I think my biggest tip is that it is perfectly OK to opt out of this whole crazy gift-giving culture. I think, like Liz mentioned before, it's really easy for things to get out of control with gifts and for people to feel pressure to pick out the perfect gift or an expensive gift. And then that takes away from the fun and enjoyment of the party itself, which should always be the focus. So I think you shouldn't feel bad by just opting out and you don't have to bring a gift to a party.

I see that all the time where we host parties. Not everyone brings a gift and I certainly am happy that way. I don't hold it against anyone. I think you can opt out, not feel bad. And also on your own parties that you're hosting, you can say “no gifts necessary.” I think that's increasingly common. And so there's no need to let this part of the party, the celebration stress you out.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. And the celebration, the party itself, that moment is more important, just showing that you're there to support the kid and his family and enjoy that rather than what they're going to be left with afterward.

Kimberly Palmer: Exactly.

Liz Weston: I agree with that, but I'm also torn because gifts are so fun to get when you're a kid, but so many of us already have way too much stuff, and I felt like I was drowning in a sea of plastic during many parts of my daughter's childhood. So now, we're focusing on trying to give experiences, especially experiences that can be shared. So that's our solution to it.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, that's fair. And my tip, my final tip might not be really applicable for children, and I know it might sound corny and even cliche, but really some of the best gifts that I've been given in recent memory have been free or minimally expensive. Like last year, a friend painted me a really cute birthday card that had Garrett and I growing out of roses. Our heads were each in a rose and it had our pets flying around the scene. And there was this wonderful garden landscape, and you can tell that she spent so much time and care and attention painting this for me. And it's on my fridge now, and I just smile at it every single day. And so that has been really meaningful because it shows that she knows me so well. She's expressing her love for me through something visual, and I just cherish that.

Kimberly Palmer: That's beautiful.

Liz Weston: Oh, I love that.

Sean Pyles: Well, Kim, thank you so much for talking with us about this super-fun topic.

Kimberly Palmer: Thank you for having me. It was so fun.

Sean Pyles: Well, that is all we have for this episode. If you have a money question of your own, turn to the Nerds and call or text us your questions at 901-730-6373. That's 901-730-N-E-R-D. You can also email us at [email protected]. Visit for more info on this episode. And remember to follow, rate and review us wherever you're getting this podcast.

This episode was produced by Liz Weston and myself with help from Tess Vigeland and Kevin Tidmarsh. Kevin also mixed our audio, and a big thank you to NerdWallet's editors for all their help.

Liz Weston: And here's our brief disclaimer. We are not financial or investment advisors. This Nerdy info is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes and may not apply to your specific circumstances.

Sean Pyles: And with that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.