Dear Penny: Do I Have to Buy Wedding Gifts if I’m Spending a Ton on Airfare?

A bride and groom receives presents.
Getty Images
Dear Penny,

An old friend is getting married. I live in the Northeast, and she lives in California.

I couldn’t attend the engagement party, so I sent a card and a bottle of wine. I’m flying in for the bridal shower and then will fly in again for the wedding. I’m not in the bridal party, but even so, the cost of travel, hotel and gifts is turning out to be quite expensive.

My question is: Since I already sent something for the engagement, am I expected to get both a shower gift and a wedding gift?

My living expenses have gone up exorbitantly over the last couple of years. I want to be there for my friend, but I also have two other weddings I’m expected to attend this year.


Dear N.,

If we’re going by the rules of traditional wedding etiquette, yes, you’re supposed to treat the bridal shower and the wedding as separate events. That means you send a gift for each one.

But you’re the one who makes the rules for your budget, not Emily Post. Plus, I’d hope that your close friend would be guided by common sense, rather than traditional etiquette rules. And common sense would tell her that flying across the country twice for wedding festivities is pretty darn expensive.

Dear Penny

Ask Dear Penny!

Get practical money advice from Dana Miranda, the voice of Dear Penny and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance.

DISCLAIMER: Questions will appear in The Penny Hoarder’s “Dear Penny” column. We are unable to answer every letter. We reserve the right to edit and publish your questions. But don’t worry — your identity will remain anonymous.

I don’t know how stretched your budget is or how soon the wedding events are happening. But if these costs are breaking you, might you skip the shower and only attend the wedding?

If you’re determined to attend both events, though, I would think that showing up empty-handed at the shower would be a lot more awkward, given that gift-giving is at the center of the event. People often send gifts to a wedding instead of bringing them to minimize the hassle for the couple.

Another option would be to get a slightly less expensive shower gift to free up room in your budget for a wedding gift. Then, perhaps you could send a $25 or $30 gift card with a heartfelt card expressing congratulations for the wedding.

A final option: In wedding etiquette land, you’re supposed to have a year after the ceremony to send a gift. I have no idea whether people actually send gifts 10 or 11 months after a couple’s big day. But if you’re worried about not sending a wedding gift, know that you have some breathing room. You could easily get away with letting a couple months pass between the wedding and the timing of your gift, which will hopefully give your budget time to recover.

Try to keep some perspective when it comes to other people’s weddings. Just because you receive an invite for an engagement party and a shower and a bachelor/bachelorette party and a wedding doesn’t mean you’re expected to attend all of the above. Some people may err on the side of inviting everyone who’s on the wedding guest list to all the other events in the spirit of not excluding anyone. They may want to give you the option to attend, assuming you’ll decline if you can’t afford it.

Though some couples have certainly been known to behave unreasonably about wedding-related matters, the optimist in me tries to believe that they’re the exception, rather than the norm. Hopefully, your friend values your presence more than your presents as she celebrates her nuptials.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].