There are very few moments when I feel forced to consume, but one look at a wedding registry and I fall into line adding up prices of the potato ricer, confectionery tool set, pasta drying rack, ice cream spade, spud scrub and jelly roll pan in order to reach some respectable gift amount while wondering if the couple will really use the 6 sets of bath towels they’ve added as “nice to have”.
So when I clicked on “registry” on my cousin’s very high end website, I was surprised to find a mandate requiring the limiting of presents to just a “book and sweet”. I’d heard the “your presence is our present” line before, but it’s very difficult to actually attend a wedding empty-handed so their addendum was what set the tone. “Honoring us with your presence at our wedding is a tremendous gift. If you’d like to bring something extra, we would be happy to have a copy of your favorite, hard-bound, fiction or non-fiction book.”
While their site is more about clean lines and sparse wording they dedicated a line to “no fancy wedding paper or ribbons, please. If you would like to wrap it, newspaper or a paper bag is just fine”.
Their second request was for a “cake, pie, tart, cookie or any sugar-doughy eatable” to help them “break bread at our reception”, which left no question these gifts would be used.
Anti-registry gifting: Mets tickets and cleaning 911
After so many years of demonstrating my friendship by clicking my mouse and entering a credit card number, I felt a connection to this type of gift-giving. I could relate not just to giving a gift of my grandmother’s special lemon cake or my sister’s peanut butter chocolate squares, but to their obvious concern for avoiding waste.
Inspired by this show of creativity, I went online and found my cousin and fiance aren’t alone with their non-registry. One couple who had realized they have enough stuff already asked for guests to “help support our baseball habit” with tickets to Mets games.
For couples looking to actually register their alternative options, you can create your anti-establishment wedding wish list on the Alternative Gift Registry. They point out that $19 billion is spent every year buying gifts from wedding registries they aim to “encourage and legitimize asking for help from friends, sharing time together, reusing second-hand items, and giving environmentally sound presents as tasteful, thoughtful options.”
To encourage creative giving, they even offer a sample page with suggestions like:
- Recipe cards: John and I want to know your favorite recipes. We’re especially looking for quick or crock-pot dinners…
- Cleaning 911: We’re hopeless at cleaning, and are looking for two or three experts who could give us their best tips then wouldn’t mind if we called or emailed during our first year for those little emergencies (like when I spill red wine all over our brand new tablecloth).
- Pie reception: We’re looking for people to make and bring their favorite kind of pie, whatever that may be, to serve for dessert in place of a wedding cake at our reception.
They also offer baby shower registries with ideas like used clothes, babysitting, cloth diapers and homemade dinners post-birth.
Registering for an experience
A few years ago, Gary Gardner from the Worldwatch Institute broke down for me the types of consumption into investment and gratification, the former being where we need to put more emphasis. “That is, I’m putting out an expenditure that’s going to give me returns over time and it’s going to help me be a better person. I’m going to learn to play the piano, for example, learn a language or invest in a local charity.”
I like the idea of putting language and piano lessons (or to contribute to a piano) on an alternative registry and decided to look for more ideas in this vein.
One UK company offers “great experience days” as wedding gifts that include: hot air ballooning, tandem skydiving, white water rafting, scuba diving, sailing, kayaking, circus or secret agent experiences or to “be a singer/dancer for a day”. Or for something bizarre, uniquely British, but green, you can register- for £30 ($46)- for a lord and lady title.
A honeymoon fund
A big part of why so many of us, as brides and grooms, are all so bound to registries has to do with etiquette. No one wants to come straight out and say, “what I’d really like is for you to pay for my honeymoon”. Though now you pretty much can thanks to a pack of new websites focused on letting you register your honeymoon.
Rather than simply asking for cash, these sites let gift-givers choose to purchase (or part of) any imaginable honeymoon activity like couples massages, facials, meals, theater, golf and airfare- or general trip- contributions.
Even if you’re not planning a lavish honeymoon, you can use these sites as a way to avoid lavish wasteful gifts because in essence they’re really just “a honeymoon-themed front for collecting wedding cash”. As Jane Hodges explains in the Wall Street Journal, “guests don’t literally buy those bullfight tickets or the airfare, but rather choose bullfights and airfare as the element of the honeymoon they wish to fund”. In the end the sites distribute cash to the couple to use as they’d like.
One of the downsides of these service is most of them charge a service fee starting at about 7% of the gifts, paid for by the gift-giver or the recipient. The only free one I could find was the Honeyfund. Other sites include: Send us off, Honeyluna, Honeymoon wishes, The big day, The honeymoon and Travelers Joy.
Registering your mortgage
One wedding gift that will definitely not go to waste: the down payment on a home. While it seems a bit of an absurd ask, the U.S. government made it a lot easier when they created, back in 1996, “Homeownership Bridal Registry Accounts” (though technically these can be used by anyone- whether at weddings or a graduation- to accumulate funds from relatives and friends for a down payment).
The system was set up by the Federal Housing Administration who offer an info pamphlet (1-800-CALL-FHA), but really the account needs to be setup through a bank. Those lenders that offer home bridal registries usually provide gift cards that you can send to wedding guests who then return them to your bank with a check.
You don’t need to use the money right away, but when you are ready to purchase a home, or move homes, you can access the interest-bearing account. Nationwide, there are over 30 mortgage companies participating in the program. Here are the sites for a few participating banks:
- Chase bridal mortgage registry:
- SunTrust FHA bridal registry
- Bank of America Home Bridal Registry: 1-800-272-6791
Just ask for money
By getting married in Spain, I mostly avoided the registry headache. Here everyone just gives cash. Guests simply ask for your bank account number and wire you the money (money moves mostly by wire, not checks, here).
While in other countries, this might seem too impersonal (except of course among certain communities, red envelopes at Chinese weddings are still the norm), it’s perfectly acceptable according to the Emily Post Institute.
It’s okay to ask for money says institute director Peggy Post, who points out that it is often the preferred gift for both recipients and givers, but it’s important to request cash in the right way. Her suggestions:
- If money is the gift you would most appreciate, get the word out to family and close friends.
- If you are asked point blank what you would like, you might say, “Whatever you want to give us is wonderful, the choice is yours, but money is at the top of our wish list.”
- It’s also a good idea to state the intended purpose. Perhaps you are saving for a down payment on a house or your honeymoon. Guests will then know how their gift may be used.
“With more second marriages and couples coming to the altar with established households”, adds Post, “there’s not as much need today for toasters, tumblers and table settings.”
I wonder if there was ever a pressing need for toasters, tumblers and table settings, but at least now there are options to accumulating wedding junk.