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Wedding cash splash - how much money you should give as a gift

Two women embrace at their wedding and Emma Edwards the author is smling and looking into the camera.
Australians are divided on how much money to gift couples on their wedding day.

I’m at that age now. The one where everyone you know is buying a Spoodle, renovating the property you’re still not sure how they paid for, or planning their wedding.

And when those weddings roll around, I’ll do what I always do – stress out over how much cash I should put in the wedding card. Well, that and incessantly request The Time Warp to an irritated DJ.

Why do we give cash at weddings?

Historically, wedding gifts helped the happy couple set up a home. Toasters, pots, pans, teapots, linens – you get the idea. Prior to all that, guests didn’t give gifts at all. Instead, the groom’s family paid the ‘bride price’ to her family as a fee for securing her and was then replaced with a dowry (where a bride’s family paid off the groom by funding the wedding).

I’ll give you a minute to go puke in a bucket.

Done? Great. Back to cash gifting.

Outside of cultural traditions, giving money at weddings has evolved in response to changing relationships. Couples tend to live together before getting married. They already have what they need to play house, so somewhere along the line we started giving cash.

It makes sense. Life is expensive, weddings are expensive. Plus, it’s simple.

But while it might be easier to head to the ATM than to trudge around Myer staring at crystal bowls, giving cash at weddings comes with a unique challenge.

How much am I meant to give as a wedding gift?

Like most issues to do with money, giving cash at a wedding is very ‘hush hush’. Even the request is usually wrapped up in a slightly nauseating little poem on the invitation, or hidden behind the thin veil of a ‘wishing well’.

But while the marrying couple might labour over how to say cash me outside without sounding vulgar, guests are losing sleep over the whole thing, too.

How much should I give? What if I give less than everyone else? Can I afford this?

As a chronically confused wedding guest, I asked my community over on Instagram for a consensus. But instead of asking ‘what do you give at weddings’, I asked people who had recently wed what they expected from their guests. Grab the popcorn.

The range sat somewhere between $50 - $150 per person, with $100pp being the average and most common response.

However, there were some responses that soared upward of $150 per person, and a lingering tradition that, please, I beg of you… can we scrap?

Can we just ditch the idea of paying for yourself?

The only real formula that exists for establishing how much to give is this weird idea of paying for what your attendance would have cost the marrying couple.

Have weddings become some sort of ticketed event?

Particularly for single and/or non-marrying people, cash gifting in line with the cost of someone else’s choices feels a bit off.

Is cash gifting at weddings causing guest resentment?

Ultimately, it’s not so much the gifting as the expectation of a cash gift on top of the overall cost of attending a wedding. Cash gifts are now the icing on top of a pretty expensive cake, by the time you factor in hens and bucks, and perhaps travel and overnight accommodation.

Which begs another question…

Do you give a wedding gift if you’ve travelled to attend?

As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch – or a free wedding. While outfits and transport to the venue can be chalked up to being all part of attending any event, weddings carry their own tax on top.

Overnight accommodation for nuptials out in Woop Woop. Travel that extends beyond a train or Uber ride. Maybe even a day off work. How do these impact how much we give as cash gifts?

Well, good news guests. The overwhelming response from the recently-wed was that if you’ve travelled a long way (like, a flight) you’re not expected to give much, if anything at all. The same goes for pricey accommodation at or near the venue. While this part depends slightly on whether this was necessary or a personal choice, there is a little more flexibility when you’ve incurred other substantial costs to attend the wedding.

Not giving cash? Still give a card!

One big lesson did stand out in these conversations, and that was that marrying couples really appreciate a card with well wishes. It’s not rude to give an empty card. It’s ruder to give no card at all.

Finding a middle ground for cash wedding gifting

I know I sound like a real sourpuss. Let’s pull this trainwreck together into something we can actually work with.

It’s not the gift that’s giving me the ick. It’s the expectation. The risk of judgement. The idea that your mates might think less of you, if you don’t give them what’s deemed enough.

I’m calling for a gentle shift in the way we see cash gifting at weddings – especially with a cost of living crisis roaring through our bank accounts.

Let’s bring the ‘gift’ part back to wedding gifting. Like birthday gifts or any other celebration where we’re not plagued by the need to meet some invisible benchmark, or guess how much it costs to be part of the chicken – fish – chicken – fish rotation at the reception.

There are ways to say I love you and I’m really happy for you on your wedding day without pushing your financial boundaries.

If you’re getting married soon, this is an issue with wedding norms, not YOU personally! Ensuring your guests are aware that you’re not expecting them to treat your wedding like a ticketed event goes a really long way.

Let’s lift the veil (you’re welcome) on wedding gifting once and for all. A gift is a gift, see you on the D-floor – (but only if you promise to play The Macarena).

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