Spring has sprung and so have the wedding invitations. They'll be joyous events, but finding the perfect gifts to bring along can be stressful during these tough economic times. Here are a few ways to cope if a crystal sugar bowl or a setting of designer china just isn't in your budget. Associated Press
Get focused: Keep your goal in mind. You are giving someone a gift to celebrate their marriage, not attach a price tag to your relationship with them.
So buy what you can afford, with their taste in mind. And forget the rule that the gift's value must equal what your hosts spend on your meal, says Rebecca Black, etiquette specialist at Etiquette Now in Davis, Calif. There's no magic amount.
"A gift should be thoughtful," Black says. "We want them to have this because we care about them."
Often there are affordable items in a couple's registry, with a wider array of choices if you shop early.
But it's perfectly acceptable to give something that's not on the registry, and you can use the registry as a guide to the couple's preferences and style.
Get crafty: If you can sew, cook, work with wood or have other creative talent, consider making something. Someone with calligraphy skills could provide a handwritten love poem. Most couples will cherish a wedding quilt made for them by a friend or an heirloom handed down to recognize the big event.
"It's quite appropriate and means a lot more, you remember it — and you don't tend to remember that beautiful vase that got broken," Black says.
If you're all thumbs, consider framing the wedding invitation, a special photo or another memento.
Get personal: Find a way to incorporate the couple's tastes and hobbies into a gift.
For people who enjoy art, consider a museum membership or a subscription to an art magazine. Or consider donating in the couple's names to a charity that supports a passion of theirs. Personalizing something with their names, initials or a new address — anything from a door mat to an embosser — makes a memorable gift.
Get resourceful: A group of friends or relatives could pitch in for one significant item. If you want to avoid shelling out any cash and you participate in a credit card reward program, use those points to buy a gift; such programs offer everything from espressomakers to jewelry.
Maybe what the couple would like best is an experience. You could use your frequent-flier miles or reward points to buy them a trip or upgrade their honeymoon flight to first class. Consider a gift certificate for a restaurant at their honeymoon destination or one near home.
You could assemble a kit for, say, a home-date night with a movie DVD, popcorn and candy. Or give them dinner at home — a special recipe with all the key ingredients for them to try out together. A special bottle of champagne, wine or liquor is also acceptable, experts say.
Whatever you give, make sure it suits the couple's style.
"A gift shouldn't be another errand — something they are going to have to return or isn't them," says Molli Barss, owner of Soiree, a special events planning business in Portland, Ore.