Unconventional Registry Items: Cash & Travel

While recently talking with a girlfriend from overseas (you may remember Alice from “Alternative Bachelorette Parties“) about my recent post concerning what to put on your wedding registry, she asked me whether or not I covered people like her.

And I admitted that I did not.

So here’s the thing about Alice: she’s a good old Southern lady from the U.S. of A., but she fell in love with a (fantastic) man from another country and currently resides there, an ocean away. She chose to have her wedding in said country instead of back here in the states for the same reason Jack and I had our wedding up here in the Midwest and not down South – it’s difficult to plan a wedding someplace you don’t live.

Aside from the difficulty of all of us having to make a long journey to get to her, there was also the problem of a registry. Very few of the stores that existed in the U.S. also existed in the country she lived in, and overseas shipping rates were astronomical. It was also difficult to expect people to attempt to bring their wedding gifts on one of those “+1 Day” journeys through the airports of the world, to say nothing of through customs.

Her response to this was typical of Alice – pragmatic, sensible, and generous. She understood that most of us were going to have to drop a serious amount of cash on the journey to her wedding (to say nothing of staying in a hotel for ten days of wedding festivities), so she made it clear through us (her bridesmaids) and her mother that the journey was more than enough of a gift for her.

“Everyone says ‘The most important thing is to have you there,‘ but when you get married overseas, that takes on a whole new meaning,” she said to me over the phone. “People you always pictured as a key part of your wedding are now having to choose between that year’s vacation and your wedding, or having to ask their family for a loan just to afford the plane fare. We could never ask for gifts.”

Likewise, she didn’t want the locals showing up with gifts at her wedding and making us Americans feel guilty that we hadn’t managed to tote a punch bowl half-way across the world, or found time to run out and buy something in a completely foreign country.

The quandry of cash: a retrospective of experience

Times have changed.

Today, American women are getting married at the average age of 25; American men are getting married at the average age of 27. People are waiting longer to get married, which means they’ve acquired a lot more stuff than they would have in 1960 when the average American woman got married at 20, or in 1900 when women got married at 22 but largely lived at home with their parents until she was married.

Furthermore, the idea that giving cash is unacceptable is relatively new and largely American.

When Jack and I were married, the thing that surprised him most was the money.

In typical Italian fashion, relative after relative came up to us and pressed envelopes into our hands as they kissed my cheek.

“That was like the wedding scene out of Goodfellas. I feel like Lorraine Bracco’s character,” he said.

In turn, I told him not to be stupid; not every Italian custom has to do with the Mafia. I also pointed out to be grateful for my family, because if we’d left it up to his family, we’d have six hand-mixers, three toasters, and a veritable plethora of too-large serving platters we’d never use.

Many Eastern cultures embrace the tradition of giving cash. Wondering where that tradition of pinning money to the bride’s dress came from? Poland, but Latin, Greek, Cajun cultures also embrace it. Giving cash is also perfectly acceptable – nay, sometimes even expected – in Jewish culture.

Some women balk at this idea, claiming that half the fun of gift-giving is getting to pick out something, and that there’s no emotional connection with cash.

I think this is absolutely bunk. I adore my money. I don’t throw my money around freely. To me, literally handing over cash from our hard-earned finances is just as intimate and generous a gesture than scouring a store for crystal candlesticks.

Another good friend of mine, Finn (the guy who sent me a plethora of vases for my own wedding), was more eloquent with his take when I chatted with him about it:

“We would have been proper fucked if no one had given us cash – we were counting on cash,” he explained. “I was too proud to accept money from Coleen’s family for our wedding – we were 26 years old, both employed, we felt ridiculous letting her family pay for it. And even our simple wedding still put a significant dent in our savings. Couple that with the fact that I was scheduled to be transferred to a completely new city with a higher cost of living immediately after we were married, and even though it was a higher paycheck, Coleen was going to be without a job for the first few months. It was a hell of a thing, to suddenly be married and living in a new city at the same time. The best gift our family and friends gave us was the freedom to make a transition like that without being worried about finances. You don’t get that kind of generosity from a hand mixer. Plus, the wedding gifts we did receive had to be toted to a completely new city, 200 miles away. While we appreciated them, it was a blessing that we weren’t loaded down with a ton of them – cash travels a lot easier.”

How to ask for it

This is simple: don’t, at least not outright. Wanting cash is fine; making a production of it is not. (And those little cards that brides are slipping into their invitations requesting cash or letting guests know where they’re registered? That’s making a production of it. Don’t.)

Mama always said never to put anything in writing that was awkward or might embarrass you later, and this is true. Don’t emblazon your wanton need for cash in engraved type on your wedding invitation, forever carved into history.

Be honest with your bridal and groom parties, and your mother, and let them disseminate the information verbally when people ask. Unless you’re in a situation similar to Alice’s, where giving a gift is going to be a major burden for everyone involved, you should still have a registry. This is common sense on your part – there are going to be some people who simply refuse to give you cash, and you’d rather have them buy you something you want versus something random and undesired.

There’s a lot of calling around involved in weddings, anyway – you’re probably going to need to deputize someone on both sides of the aisle to track down missing information or RSVPs, like Jane & Tim, who replied that they were coming but failed to select a entree preference, or Sue & John who confirmed in person but still haven’t sent their reply card. Make sure the person you deputize is readily prepared to offer the correct answer when asked, such as “Well Lily Beth and Jack are registered at Williams-Sonoma, but I know they’re also restoring that big old house, so I’m sure cash would also be welcome. Regardless, I know they’ll love whatever you give them.”

Furthermore, invitees will chat amongst themselves, and you need for cash will spread.

How to accept it

Unless those practices like a money dance or money tree are a long-standing cultural tradition with your family, avoid them. Have a simple box laid out at reception or the gift table for cards. Deputize your best man or maid of honor to pass cards and money off to when you receive it – many wedding guests feel uneasy about leaving cash or checks on a table, box or not, and prefer to hand it directly to the bride and groom at the reception.

Another way to soften the complicated blow of cash giving is by having a wedding webpage. There are a million different reasons Jack and I needed a wedding webpage – half the guest list was traveling from out of state and needed more instruction than we could afford to give them on the invitation, there were numerous activities going on the week of our wedding, and frankly our respective sides didn’t know a lot about our prospective spouse, so it was a good opportunity to introduce ourselves. And of course, it was an easy way to list our registry information for inquiring minds.

First thank people for thinking of you. Leading with a gracious thank-you is often the best policy to smooth the way for all sorts of potentially sticky situations. Include a link to your wedding registry, and also include any charities you’d prefer them to make a donation to (as Jack’s mother died of cancer when he was young, a donation to cancer research was the “wedding favor” we gave each of our guests, but this is also handy for wedding gifts, especially when there’s a significant income gap between the tons of money you’re making and the limited budgets of your family or friends) , and then ask guests to contribute to your [specific] fund.

As OffBeat Bride specifies in her video answer, “When people are giving a gift, the reason cash brings up issues is for people is that they don’t want to feel like they’re giving you a gift that’s going to be used for getting your oil changed, a six pack of beer, and a box of tampons at the grocery store.”

Therefore, to offset this feeling, specify what the money is going to be used for – a down-payment on your new home, your honeymoon, etc.

Wondering just how to register for a honeymoon?

Try Buy Our Honeymoon or a similar service that charges a one-time fee (not a commission per gift!) and allows you to use any travel service you please. Buy Our Honeymoon currently charges a single one-time fee of $64, and gifts are directly deposited in your own PayPal account or transferred into a check. (Essentially, you’re just paying them $64 to help smooth over the idea that you’re asking for cash by creating a wedding registry that lets you list unconventional things, like airfare, breakfast in bed, or dinner at the Eiffel Tower – and if your dream is to go to Paris, then that’s $64 well-spent.)

Not feeling great about using an online service? Check with your local travel agent in town and see if they can offer a similar service. Remember, once upon a time, travel agents didn’t charge a fee – they got kickbacks from airlines and hotel chains who would give them a cheaper rate than was typically available to the consumer in turn for the agent moving more seats or rooms than they could move on their own. You, in turn, got free travel help in days when the airline flights were published in a heavy book with 6-pt type and bookable only in person or by phone – everyone wins.

Nowadays, most travel agents do charge a fee, and in the days of real-time price changes, they can’t always negotiate the best prices for you either. You can still use an agent to book all your travel, but like most things, it’s not going to be as cheap as if you poured the sweat and tears into it to do it yourself. While a travel agent for a weekend trip to Boston is overkill, they can be useful if you’re looking for arrangements in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language or are unfamiliar with their transportation systems. Furthermore, you don’t actually have to use them to book anything – you can pay them a flat hourly rate to help you line out where to go and what to see, essentially paying them for advice.

Better yet, use a hybrid – register online, which means cash in your pocket, and then fork some of it over for some slight guidance from a travel agent.

The post-mortem: write those thank you notes

It goes without saying that every gift you receive – ever, in life – should require a hand-written thank you. But especially, especially your wedding gifts.

Cash and checks often fall under the radar because they’re so easy to miss. (When you see that KitchenAid mixer in your kitchen every morning, it’s a daunting reminder that you haven’t written a thank you note.) Either you or a trusty deputy (like your Mama) needs to keep a tally of the cash and checks you receive up-to, including, and after the wedding.

Also, this is one time when it’s okay to reference a specific amount of money – when you just say “Thanks for the cash!,” it makes one wonder if they appreciated what may have been a dear amount to you, or even if you actually know the amount they gave you.

Not only should you reference the amount (“We’re so grateful for your generous gift of $200,”) but also what you intend to use it for (“I recently used it to purchase a Singer sewing machine, and wouldn’t you know it, Jack has run up curtains for all the rooms in the house! He always did like to buck gender stereotypes! Thanks to you, the neighbors no longer have to see us walking around naked.”)

How to give it

So you’ve decided to give cash at someone else’s wedding.

How much do you give? Well, there are a lot of complicated formulas out there engaging how long you’ve known the couple, how close you are, etc, etc, but the simple answer is “give what you can afford.” Period.

If you’re asking Jack and I personally, we give $100 per couple. If we know someone very intimately (like the women who served as my bridesmaids), we give between $150-$300, or whatever we can afford at the time. When you’re giving cash in a subset, though – former bridesmaids are a good example – don’t set a really high precedent that you can’t carry out with everyone. I was the first to get married, but my own bridesmaids followed shortly after in rapid succession, and we made sure they each received the same amount from us – how embarrassing would it be to discover that you were only given a measley $50 while your sister, for example, was given $300 by a couple you know equally well?

We have, however, received and given touching gifts in all amounts – one couple we adore are both struggling actors, and don’t have a penny to their name. For our wedding, they gave us $15, which was a significant amount of money for them, and we were just as touched with their gift as we were with higher sums. It’s all about perspective.

Likewise, Jack has a couple he lived with during the roughest part of his life – they took him and his alcoholic brother in as young men when their mother died and their father refused to have anything to do with either of them. Because of this, I am fierce in my adoration of them; they helped him when no one else would. They were his family when he had none. And they got married a mere month after Jack, out of nowhere, inherited both his dead parents estate that had been tied up in limbo forever. He gave them $10,000 as a wedding gift, and I didn’t even blink an eyelash. It was the down payment on their home, particularly appreciated as, at the time, they were living in the modern-day equivalent of a cold-water walk-up while they finished graduate degrees.

It’s not the amount; it’s the history and feeling behind it.

Do I give a check or cash? Well there are multiple views on this – cash is king, as some say, but a check is also appreciated. Some prefer to give a check, simply because it’s less likely to be stolen (there’s a special place in hell for people who lift cash from other people’s weddings) and it’s easy to write out without having to remember to go to the bank.

When you do give cash, get newer, crisp bills from the ATM or your bank – don’t fork over the crumpled emergency $20 that’s been floating around in the bottom of your purse forever.

What do I do with it? Don’t ever just hand over loose cash or a check – it’s more likely to be misplaced or dropped. Plus, you need to include your well-wishes and sentiments. Buy a card or enclose it in personal stationery. A card is a quick solution, but I like to take the time to write letters of my favorite memories of the couple (like how Alice’s husband, because of his booming foreign-accented voice, was actually the man who stood up and pronounced us “husband and wife” at our wedding).

Drop it in the card box. If there is no card box and you feel wary about leaving it on a table, hand it to the bride and groom yourself. Can’t get over to the happy couple? Hand it to their maid of honor or her mother.

One Response to “Unconventional Registry Items: Cash & Travel”
  1. GC says:

    many relatives sighed with relief when they found out we did not have a registry and they did not feel the onus to go shopping
    they simply wrote checks or bought money orders or hit the atm minutes before arriving at our ceremony (and placed it in an atm envelope!)
    we are eternally grateful for their practical attitude as it helped us redouble our debt repayment efforts and beef up our savings

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