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Surviving wedding season
5 Tips: Picking the right wedding gifts.
May 31, 2005: 1:16 PM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Opening day: the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. It's (unofficially) the wedding season. Thousands of couples across the country will walk down the aisle between now and September, June being the most popular month.

Chances, are you'll be invited to at least one this year. One in 62 Americans will get married this year, and 295 million will be their wedding guests.

Before the champagne toasts, cake-cutting, and boogying, as a guest, you have got to find the perfect wedding gift. How much do you spend? Do you buy from the registry? We have all the answers in today's five tips.

1. Spend just enough.

Hey, you can't go skimpy on weddings these days. Couples and their families are spending more every year. The average wedding this year costs $26,327, according to the Fairchild Bridal Group, publisher of Bride, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride magazines.

You're not going to see the bill though, so you shouldn't base your gift's costs on the price-per-plate. There are other guidelines to follow, wedding experts say.

According to a survey of 15,000 brides and newly-weds performed by The Knot and Kohl's, guests should never spend less than $50 on their wedding gift. The best strategy is to base it on your relationship with the couple, bride, or groom.

The survey says, if it's a co-worker or distant family friend or relative, choose a gift costing $50-$75. If the couple is a relative or friend, find something around $75-$100. If the bride and/or groom is a best friend, close relative, or sibling, spring for something worth at least $100, maybe even more than $150.

2. Make it a group thing.

Those price tags can be steep, especially if you're a twentysomething with 20 friends getting married this summer. Or maybe you are retired and have 12 weddings ahead for all your kids' friends.

"Group gifts are a great way to save money," says Melissa Bauer at The Knot. "By buying something nice between friends, you can still make a big statement without going overboard."

What's more, it helps the wedding couple out too, because a group of ten guests can easily afford the $600 vacuum cleaner they asked for.

3. Stick to the registry.

You think you're being boring, but couples don't spend all that time registering for nothing. They do it to tell you what they want, and well, to make your life easier.

Case in point: 85 percent of today's to-be-weds want you to select a gift from their registry, according to The Knot. It shouldn't be a problem -- 98 percent are at least registered at one store or Web site.

If you still feel boring buying the crystal bowl on their list, add some fun by personalizing it, advises Rosie Amodio, executive editor at TheKnot.com. "In addition to the bowl, get them some movie popcorn and a DVD of their favorite movie," she says.

Get creative with the packaging and you can make it more memorable. Get them the sheets on their registry and then add on a monogrammed hamper. With the mixer they wanted, give them a hand-made book of your favorite recipes.

4. Know what's hot & what's classic.

Wedding registries are changing. People are more excited about day-to-day household items than anything else. It's okay to stray from the place-setting and get them the grill set on their list.

The Knot says you can't go wrong with anything in the kitchen. As professional chef TV shows teach America how to cook gourmet at home, the altar-bound are registering for more and more kitchen tools.

So no, it's not dumb to give them measuring cups. Throw in the ten other kitchen utensils on their list, get them personalized aprons, and you've come up with a cute and useful gift.

If you're more comfortable with classic registry items, remember to fill the things they need most -- first. The gravy boat might fit well in your price range, but don't forget the place-settings are more important.

What's not hot, and could be a classic joke are re-gifts, and well, just unnecessary tchotchkes. Re-gifts are considered okay if they are still new in their original packaging, haven't been used, but will be useful to the couple.

As for tchotchkes, the annoying trinkets already adorning many of our homes, a couple moving in together probably has enough between the two of them.

5. Better late than never.

Hey, we're all busy people. If you're headed to the wedding next weekend and still haven't had time to get the gift, don't sweat it. You have a bit of time. The old etiquette books say you have a full year to give your gift.

Most registries, especially the online ones available at www.TheKnot.com and www.TheWeddingChannel.com will stay open for a couple even a few years after the "I do's". However, The Knot and Kohl's survey found that many people often forget if they put it off.

So they advise you give your gift within two months. But procrastinators, beware. You could face slim pickings if any at all as many registries are fulfilled quickly.

Spending thousands of dollars on your friends? The high cost of being popular.

Wedding costs near $30,000. Click here to read more.


Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.com.  Top of page

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