Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wedding Registries: A Love Hate Relationship

The practical side of me loves wedding registries, and the values-driven side of me has grown to loathe them, as brides and grooms seem ever bossier. Registries are nothing new, of course. We registered for gifts in 1973 and as a result received two lovely sets of china and 10 place-settings of silver. Beyond that it was open season: we received all sorts of gifts that not designated. Most we used, a few we actively hated, and many we came to appreciate and even love over time.
The pros of a gift registry are:

  • Efficiency. You can order the gift and you're done. The store ships it and you don't have to wrap it, schlep it, or even buy a card.
  • The couple picks what they choose and you know your gift is their taste, especially helpful if you hate shopping or don't know the couple well enough to key in to their life style. Easy. done.

From my point of view, the negative list is more extensive.
  • It's impersonal. No way to write a note to go with your gift, except electronically.
  • The choices are not prioritized. Recently after scrolling through scores of chosen items, I finally decided, once I added on the shipping/gift wrapping charges*, to just purchase a gift certificate from the registry and let the couple decide.
  • *By the time you add the wrapping and shipping, it's an extra $20, which seems mostly wasted.
  • The options are overly directed. The attitude expressed, even if it's not intentional, is DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT GIVING US SOMETHING NOT ON OUR LIST! I find it arrogant that young couples think they know more about what they will need over a lifetime than people who have actually lived a generation or two longer.
  • I don't like being limited to chain stores and/or mass produced items. Some of my favorite wedding gifts are pottery and other handmade crafts, which you can't purchase from a registry. It's also nice to give a family heirloom or something more personal.
  • I still might very well decide to give them a place setting of something they've chosen, or whatever, but as a sport PSAWSWLD, I could probably find it cheaper elsewhere on line, and/or perhaps using Amazon Prime's free shipping, thereby giving them a more valuable gift.
  • I am often turned off by the actual items chosen, since often they are way pricier and extravagant than anything I have ever owned, and I've lived a perfectly abundant life. I like to feel simpatico with the gift I'm giving, since it's an expression of my values.
  • I don't like not knowing whether our gift arrived, since brides and grooms (or bride + bride and groom + groom) are often really terrible about writing thank-yous.
  • The old-fashioned side of me feels uncomfortable with the couple knowing precisely, down to the dime, what I spent on their gift. It feels so calculated. I mean, why don't they just send a bill?!

A few brides and grooms I know have recently worked to transcend the tax-assessment feel of store registries. While they feel obliged to include conventional stores on their wedding sites, because that's what lots of their guests prefer, they expand their suggestions, including favorite charities and causes. One couple said they would love gift certificates to local bookstores and garden shops and described their garden, giving their guests a sense of their values and passions. A few years ago we gave a giant composter to a couple, since they had included it on a wishlist, and it really spoke to me; I totally enjoyed sending it to them. The fancy china comes out maybe once a year, but that composter is used every day!
Another way some couples counteract the gimmes is to ask for non-material gifts. We were recently asked by a bride's friend to submit a favorite recipe, along with all the other invitees, which they will make into a cookbook for the bride and groom. My sister's sister-in-law Dale did something similar for her future daughter-in-law, collecting recipes from all the immediate family, including copies of recipes written by grandmothers no longer alive. (She made copies for all the contributors, and I'm sure they are treasured!) A nice custom in the Jewish community is to send close friends and family fabric squares to decorate , which are then sent back and stitched together to create the wedding canopy. None of these touches are instead of a material gift, but they serve to make guests feel like they are more than ATM's. Some couples create an online donation registry in lieu of gifts, but the site notifies the couple of the amount of each contribution, something which makes some people (like me, for example!) uncomfortable. I recently received a link to New American Dream's registry where the celebrants (brides and grooms, new parents, etc) can set up a registry asking for whatever they like, mixing purchased and guest-created items. Their sample asks for recipes, food for potluck weddings, advice, and fair-traded household things. Very nice idea for a small, simple event, but for a conventional, fancy wedding, I don't think it would freak people out. Though it would be a nice alternative addition alternative to a conventional registry; a couple could do both.

And what about the most obvious wedding gift? Cold cash, of course. It's nice to receive, but I can tell you, 33 years later, it's the beautiful, thoughtful items which I enjoy, the cash long ago having been plowed into aggregate savings. Many of the brides and grooms I know are mature and earn more than I do, so money feels like a weird gift. Though when the they really are starving students, money is a great idea, perhaps along with a smaller material item.

Let's hear what you all think about wedding registries, pro or con, and from both givers and receivers' points of view. Are they a necessary evil, a God-send, or something in between?


Erika said...

My husband and I chose not to have one. We figured that getting to be with our families was gift enough. We did ask that our guests donate to their favorite charity if they wanted to give something, but we did not have a registry or get any record of how much they donated.

Also, while looking at the registry of some friends of ours, we decided that modern formal china is a complete waste of money. We added it up, and the china set chosen by the couple came out to about $400 per place setting! I would feel guilty asking someone else to buy us something so expensive.

Betsy Teutsch said...

and given how infrequently the average couple entertains (who has time?), think how high the per-use cost of that china is!!

Betsy Teutsch said...

PS Erika, did your families complain that you didn't register? some guests get really anxious if there's no registry.

Erika said...

Some people insisted on getting us gifts, and we let them, but only a small number chose to do so. One of the best gifts we got was a hand crocheted decorative piece by one of my mom's friends who had known me all my life. That was really special. Other people chose to get us more traditional gifts (e.g., a blender). I guess they just felt uncomfortable getting nothing.

Of our parents, my husband's mother was a little uncomfortable with the idea at first until she saw how we were going to phrase it (simple card separate from the main card with no explicit mention of gifts) and saw a Cathy strip that mentioned it (showing that it was at least somewhat mainstream =).

Anonymous said...

I agree with you totally. The best gift we received was one that was handmade for us. It was beautiful and thoughtful.

Betsy Teutsch said...

Geez, you have to tell us what it was!!
Good point, I didn't include gifts handmade by the gifter, just handmade by anyone. Made by a guest is very special. (though I admit I didn't love the needlepoint a family friend stitched for us....)

PiggyBank Raider said...

Just a note: a registry does not necessarily mean an impersonal card. One could purchase the gift at the store and then wrap it herself.

That said, we had a registry when we got married. I almost didn't do it--I loathe them--but I realized that many of our guests would appreciate it.

I shy away from the idea of suggesting charitable donations or gift certificates, mostly because that smacks of *asking* for a gift. It is not the couple's place to assume a gift will be presented to them. Though the registry may make it seem that way, I've always understood that no mention should be made of the registry except by word of mouth, usually spread through the bride or groom's mother, and only upon request from a wedding guest.

Personally, I hate registries. I buy off the registry for people I know well, but I buy on the registry for people I'm not really close to.

Also, my favorite wedding gifts were, by far, the handmade or personal items that had meaning. The matching china is nice, but it doesn't have the same sentiment for me.

Betsy Teutsch said...

The private registry, available upon request, is a useful approach. We did that informally for our children's bar and bat mitzvah. But now most brides and grooms include the registry on their website, which they send you.
We actually received an engagement email announcement, which was the registry itself! that was the height of bad taste, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Agreed - the best gifts we got were given to us on the fly. A registry is a fun idea, but can get a bit pricey. I miss the fact we didn't get a bunch of things to start our house, but I like more the fact that I DON'T have a huge debt to pay off to start the marriage!