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Receiving a wedding invitation should be exciting, not dreadful. But if it’s not the first one this season, or if you’re keeping a wary eye on your budget, getting that embossed white card in the mail could bring mixed emotions — and the search for a tactful way to decline.
One-third of Americans have skipped or considered skipping a wedding because they couldn’t afford to attend, according to a recent survey from NerdWallet, conducted online by The Harris Poll. Their reluctance to attend is understandable, considering that the average reported budget for a close friend’s wedding gift was $128, according to the survey.
“Many wedding guests look at a friend’s bridal registry and start doing the math,” says Courtney Jespersen, NerdWallet consumer saving expert. “But thankfully, the $100 coffee maker and $200 vacuum aren’t your only gift options.”
Here are several budget-friendly wedding gifts that cost far less, or even nothing at all.
Go in on a gift with a group. Other guests may be in the same boat, and if the wedding registry has gifts at various price points, there’s an opportunity for you to pool your gift budgets and choose something the couple really have their eyes on. Check with friends you know are on the guest list and choose an amount to spend that fits everyone’s budgets.
Shop off-registry. You don’t have to stick to the wish list the couple put together, particularly if there’s nothing on there within your budget.
“It’s perfectly fine for a guest to go off-registry.”Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert
“It’s perfectly fine for a guest to go off-registry,”
says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. “A registry is a useful guide that makes sure the bride and groom get what they need. However, a guest can also feel free to write a check or purchase something else they know the bride and groom will enjoy.”
Give an experience. If the happy couple are millennials, there’s a good chance they’d love an experience more than a material gift anyway. Offer to plan and prepare a romantic picnic or help them build a garden in their backyard, Gottsman suggests.
Contribute to a larger cause. If it’s good enough for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, this may work for your friends, too. More than 4 in 10 (43%) millennials say they’d prefer to donate to charity in a couple’s name than buy them a registry gift, according to the NerdWallet survey. This is an appropriate gift if the couple has requested charitable contributions in their name or if you know they feel strongly about a certain cause or organization. Most charities don’t have a donation minimum, so you can spend as much or as little as you want.
Help fund a honeymoon (or home). Honeymoon and even down payment funds are increasingly popular choices for couples with pending nuptials. If your friends have set up such a registry, it’s a good option for guests with fixed budgets.
» MORE: How to cut wedding guest costs
Get creative. Personalized gifts often mean the most. If you’re artistic, write the couple a meaningful poem or paint them a picture. You could also pay for someone else’s creativity — getting a relatively inexpensive photo frame personalized with the wedding date or couple’s last name, for example, makes a unique gift that may come in well under the average gift budget.
“A gift doesn’t have to be expensive to be significant,” Gottsman says. “The most important thing is to let the bride and groom know you’re happy for them and wishing them a lifetime of happy memories.”