The Dangerous Art of Asking for Money as a Wedding Gift

Let's talk about wedding gifts. Specifically: Is there any way to gracefully request money for practicalities, rather than goblets?

One engaged woman wrote to the New York Times' Social Q's, asking for help. Her cousins have married in one elaborate ceremony after another—"ostentatious, wasteful affairs, in my opinion"—and she's the last in line. But she has absolutely zero interest in blowing her hard-earned dough on a wedding and by the way, she'd prefer cash in lieu of packages:

My fiancée and I don't need toasters or linens. We need a down payment on an apartment. We think putting our money toward that is more prudent than buying a fancy wedding dress or floral arrangements. Is there a nice way to tell our families this and still reap the rewards of a wedding (in cash)?

This lady sounds tired and exasperated, and who wouldn't be? She's powered through a dozen family weddings and now she feels pressured to empty her bank account for something she just flat doesn't want. If her family is breathing down her neck to throw some big shindig, they're jerks. Your money is yours to do with as you please. Throw a big wedding, don't throw a big wedding. In the words of T.I., you can have whatever you like.

But as for whether she and her fiance can "reap the rewards of a wedding (in cash)" without actually having SOME sort of wedding—sorry, it doesn't work that way. And the question is a pretty good illustration of how screwy our ideas about these gifts have gotten.

The letter writer has fallen into a pretty common trap. Many people seem to feel weddings are exchanges: I provide you with a meal and a good time, and you provide me with $100 worth of flatware. Registries have exacerbated this. They exist because your great aunt definitely wants to buy you SOMETHING, but has no idea what kind of dishes you like. Yet many couples act like they're five years old and creating a Christmas list for Santa. It's very easy to slip into this mentality when you're standing in the middle of Pottery Barn with a registry gun!

But wedding presents aren't supposed to be a "reward" for an event well-staged. Nor are they something to which you are entitled, simply for tying the knot. They're supposed to be an assist in getting your home established, a gesture of goodwill from members of your family and community. Like a barn-raising. Problem is, the whole model is a hold-over from the days when couples didn't cohabitate before marriage. We do need to reevaluate what counts as an acceptable wedding gift. Cash feels impersonal to many, but for some couples, it's plain and simply the best way to help them get their lives off the ground.

But that conversation needs to happen on a broader level. On an individual level, you can't simply announce that all these weddings have been a stupid waste of money and you don't need any dumb crystal and by GOD we're going to be responsible and focus on assembling our down payment, won't you please contribute? Know that requesting cash is a bold move that might go over badly, and you must proceed with the utmost tact. The Times' advice is pretty spot-on:

There is no logical difference between a registry of gifts and a request for cash. (Happy now?) What's more, the fiction that relatives or close friends must break the (shocking) news that there exists a registry, and never a member of the bridal couple, is also foolish and may be dispensed with. But, like items on a registry, contributions to your down-payment fund should be softly suggested, not foot-stomping demands.

They also suggest that without inviting people to some sort of public ceremony (even a dirt-cheap one!), you're probably not going to receive many gifts. You've got to involve them. Who wants to send a present when you've been excluded from something?

So, sure, feel free to set up some sort of honeyfund. You can gently, gently hint that you don't need many pots and pans, and your down payment is your current priority. But know that guests are going to give you whatever they're going to give you. Some people give the same Waterford vase to every couple they know. You might think it's silly, but you've still got to write the thank-you note.

Photo via Stefano Viola/Shutterstock.