Wedding expenses can add up quickly, not only for the couple getting married, but also for the guests in attendance.

According to a 2019 survey of The Knot, guests spend an average of $430 to attend a wedding. But this number fluctuates depending on the location and the relationship of the guest to the couple. When the wedding took place in the guest’s hometown, the average spend was $185, according to the survey. But when the wedding required air travel, the number soared to $1,440.

So what if you want to attend a friend or relative’s wedding but just can’t afford a nice gift on top of all the other expenses? We asked etiquette experts to share their thoughts.

Don’t feel pressured to spend more than you’re comfortable with.

It’s easy to get hung up on what you think you “should” spend on a wedding gift because of something you heard from your aunt or a price range you saw online. But if money is tight, don’t overwhelm yourself trying to follow social norms.

“If you’ve spent a lot of money getting to a destination wedding or even traveling across town, taking time off, finding a babysitter, buying an outfit or renting a tuxedo, and your budget is in trouble , it’s important to only do what your finances comfortably allow,” etiquette expert Diane Gottsmanfounder of The Texas School of Protocoltold HuffPost.

This means you can absolutely ignore the so-called “plate cover rule”, which states that wedding guests must give a gift that costs at least as much as the couple spends per person on food and alcohol at the reception.

“Your gift budget doesn’t reflect the couple’s budget,” says etiquette expert Jodi RR Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, says HuffPost. “Your gift never needs to equate to ‘cost per meal’ or anything like that. Your donation reflects your finances.

Remember, “invitations aren’t bills and weddings aren’t fundraisers,” Smith added. Your presence is, indeed, a gift.

“The couple have invited you to attend their ceremony and join in their celebration,” she said. “Your presence is part of your gift.”

Think outside the box if money is tight.

Maybe you’d like to give the couple a fat check or a fancy kitchen appliance from their ledger, but you just can’t afford it right now. Its good! There are cheaper ways to show the couple how much you care. A heartfelt card is absolutely an acceptable gift. Gottsman suggested pairing a handwritten note with an offer to donate your expertise in some way.

“If you’re a gardener, tell them you’ll be helping them plant their first vegetable garden and include some seeds in a nice bag or deliver an herb planter,” she said. “Or a basket of bread, if you’re a baker. Although this is no ordinary gift, it is a gesture of love and kindness.

“Invitations are not bills and weddings are not fundraisers.”

– Jodi RR Smith, Etiquette Expert

You shouldn’t skip a wedding you want to attend just because you can’t afford what you consider a “nice enough” gift. Sure, a tight budget adds constraints, but it also forces you to get creative. Take a moment to reflect on your relationship with the couple and try to come up with something thoughtful and meaningful, Smith said.

“For example, you met your friend in Girl Scouts, where you sold more cookies than anyone else in the troop. So you give away brand new cookie sheets as well as beautifully handwritten cards of your recipes of favorite cookies,” Smith suggested.

“Or you search local thrift and vintage stores for crystal champagne flutes and give the couple a personalized toast,” she added. “Or, since you met in college, you make a donation – however much you can afford – in honor of the couple to fund scholarships.”

An other idea? Take photos from the couple’s social media and give them a nice framed photo or create a photo booklet, as an etiquette expert Elaine Swann, founder of the Swann School of Protocol, suggested.

Additionally, some wedding registry lets you drop a small amount on one of the more expensive items. So that could also be an option.

If you are skipping the wedding for financial reasons, you need send a traditional gift.

Traditional wedding etiquette says you’re supposed to send the couple a gift even if you say “no” to the event. But if you’re skipping the wedding for financial reasons, you can forgo the gift and send a congratulatory card instead, Gottsman said. She also suggested making a small gift that fits your budget, especially if you’re close to the couple.

“When there’s a registry, more often than not there’s something on the list that you can comfortably afford,” Gottsman said. “If not, send a card and plan to meet for lunch, where you can get treatment, if possible. There really is no need to explain your situation. If you’re not friends enough, you don’t even have to send a gift.

Smith recommends sending something — even just a small token of your affection — if you can’t attend.

“If it’s someone you care about and has loved you enough to include you in the guest list, you should love them enough back to send a token of your esteem,” she said. declared. “A gift, really any thoughtful gift, is the appropriate gesture.”

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