Wedding Week: Should you go off-registry for that wedding gift? Brides weigh in
So you're thinking of going off-registry.
You've eyed the toasters, the salad tongs, the tasteful linen tablecloth. You've considered cash, but it feels too... impersonal. Your mind starts to wander. What could you give the bride and groom that's special, unique?
I've recently had success going off-registry for friends' weddings. I gave Diva Katie a painting of the Lyceum, her wedding venue, which now hangs in her living room. Katie and I, in turn, gifted friend Eve the framed blueprints to the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club, where Eve said "I do" last month.
Both gifts felt special and personal to the brides I was giving them to, and they were happy (or so they told me!). But going off-registry can actually be quite dicy and divisive if you're not careful about it. And in the Otherworld that is Wedding Season, the wrong gift can be a guest faux pas up there with wearing white or getting too sloppy at the open bar.
To gauge the temperature of off-registry gifts, and whether couples want to receive them, I spoke with seven brides who had weddings as recently as last year, and as long ago as 1981 (spoiler alert: that's my momma!). Here is what I learned - and I learned a lot - from their responses.
There is nothing "un-special" about gifting from the registry. A set of forks might not seem exciting to you, but it's exciting to the bride and groom, and it's something they want - that's why they asked for it. Several of the brides said the kitchenware they received is the thing they use most often. "I use our cutting board and our Wusthof knives every day," said a friend who married in 2015. "And our sheets, because we sleep on them." Another friend, married in 2014, said she was never much of a cook until she received the cookbooks and knives she requested; she and her husband started cooking together. "Not only was it healthier than eating cereal every night, it was actually really romantic and fun," she said. Another bride, married last year, "dreamed of a big Le Creuset Dutch oven in Flame," and the best man and his date delivered. She now uses it every week. So if your reason for straying from the registry is that you want to give the happy couple something "special," don't fret. Fulfilling their requests is very special.
Consider giving experiences, not stuff. The bride and groom are going to be receiving a LOT of things they need. A few brides confided that they truly did not have room for things they did not. A friend who married in 2013 explained, "We live in a small-ish apartment and don't have space for tons of things beyond the practical items we asked for." And some of the "stuff" she received just didn't fit in with their home. One gift, she said, was "more in line with the gift-giver's tastes than my own (it was handcrafted from a small village, while my apartment's limited decor is pretty modern)." But several brides said they were thrilled with off-registry "experience gifts" they received. This same friend received a set of gift cards to restaurants around her New England city for date nights. "We love eating out, so it was nice to be treated to an evening without having to plan it!" she said. A friend married in 2014 loved receiving a wine-club subscription, as well as gift cards for a massage and a kayaking trip. Another friend, wed in 2012, cherished a trip to a winery: "I, of course, love all the other gifts we got, but the experience was fun and gave us memories." On that note...
Make it about them, not you. The reason my two off-registry gifts were successful were because they focused on something the bride and groom cared about, a lasting memory of where they wed. This is also why my friend loved her massage and kayaking gift cards - those activities are right up her alley - as was the wine trip for the 2012 bride. But brides cringed when they received off-registry gifts that had much more to do with the giver than them. "Probably the worst gift was a piece of art," said a 2015 bride. A wedding guest backed out, then told the couple to pick a piece of art that her husband had created (he is not Picasso). "We had never expressed interest in his art...but, well, we had to pick one," she said, noting that it's in the back of a closet somewhere." Gifts that reflected the giver's hometown (by a local artisan, for example) were hit or miss with the brides; if that vase was truly beautiful, great. But the local connection didn't resonate when it wasn't their "local."
Gift receipt, gift receipt, gift receipt. If you go off-registry, the most important thing you must do, the brides said, is give a gift receipt. Often the couple did not ask for an item on their registry because they already had it - this happened a lot with cookware and electronics. A 2013 bride received a bluetooth speaker sans receipt, "a bummer since we already had one." A 2015 bride gifted a dutch oven to her family, having a nicer one on hand and no receipt for the second oven.
When in doubt, go with cash. Forgot about the registry and all the good (or affordable) stuff is gone? Don't run to Pottery Barn and grab a decanter. This is exactly what brides and grooms do not want you to do. "Most of the off-registry items we received I can describe as 'eh,'" said a 2013 bride. "But I'm also the kind of gal who knows what she wants. If I didn't register for it, chances are I didn't want it in the first place." Give the couple cash. They can put it toward their honeymoon, their first house, their second degree, whatever. This is something every bride said. "If you want to buy (a registry gift) but want to make it more personal, I would suggest simply putting a little more time into writing the card," said a 2015 bride. "It will be read!"
And for the finale, my mom. My mom and my dad met in 1977 when he accidentally threw a frisbee into her dorm room at SUNY Buffalo. They'll be married 35 years this December. I really loved my mom's answers because she reminded me that this is all about material stuff that really doesn't matter in the end. Her wedding reception was in my grandma's apartment in Brooklyn. They were 23, right out of college, far from wealthy. Here's what she said:
"We had a very small wedding and no registry. I don't recall any of the weddings we went to at that time having a registry, come to think of it. Most of our gifts were cash. I recall receiving silverware/utensils from my cousin Eileen and a now-outdated Cuisinart from Uncle Jeff. A favorite wedding gift was a dainty glass wine decanter with equally delicate and matching wine glasses. They were a gift from Dad's co-workers. We still use the glasses, but we are pretty sure the decanter broke a few years ago. The Tiffany wine glasses and champagne flutes from my dad are sentimental in that I have very few things that remind me of/connect me to my dad during my married years. We still use the flutes for toasts and the wine glasses when entertaining. My most treasured wedding gift was my mom's gift, the wedding itself. Small though it was, it took a lot for her to make it and she did it with love. When I asked my husband what his favorite wedding present/gift was, he replied to me, 'You.' Love, Mom."