Against Wedding Registries

It’s the year of weddings in my world: five (six?) different celebrations over the next four months. I’m fortunate that all of them are within driving distance, and two are actually local. I am lucky to have such dear friends who are honoring me with an invitation to a milestone event in their lives.

But I have more than a twinge of cynicism about all the money and gift-giving and hoopla of the wedding industry. In 2012, when the average wedding cost was $27,427, the median was $18,086. In 2011, when the average was $27,021, the median was $16,886. I mean, even a below average’ wedding of $15,000 is a TON of money. As one writer aptly noted, “The couple spent the equivalent of a down payment on a Lexus for one day’s worth of partying.” (In contrast, this awesome piece from A Practical Wedding summarizes my feelings).

And what’s a celebratory union without presents?! There’s an engagement party, a bachelorette party, a bridal shower, a lingerie shower, and of course the wedding itself. Despite lengthy registries, none of the couples who will be tying the knot NEED anything. They all cohabitate, several jointly own homes/pets and/or cars. They successfully cook using existing knives and grills, take trips out of town, own matching sheets and towels, have health insurance, and generally purchase their own goodies and services.They’re successful, educated, independent adults.

So what do I buy them? Do I really need to purchase a $350 Caphlone pan to send them my love and best wishes? A new grill — even though I know the current one works because I’ve eaten burgers made on it? A bag of tea votives they could pick up at IKEA for $25? It feels like I’m just buying them stuff they already own. Or, I’m buying them something that they just don’t want to buy themselves.

The phrase, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ isn’t just an outdated 1960′s adage. We own a lot of STUFF, and even when we donate it to charity, it leaves a mark. I’m not an eco-green maniac but it’s hard to ignore pieces like Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry. Here’s how a Slate author phrased it:

We could have registered and asked our friends to buy upgraded pots and pans for ourselves. But we didn’t. After all, if we really wanted fancier stuff, we could have just spent less on the wedding and more on housewares. Wedding presents for modern cohabitating adults with established households are in the pure realm of deadweight loss—you’re buying things for people that they haven’t bought for themselves because they think they’re overpriced.”

Ranting and idealism and heavy sighing aside, gift giving isn’t going away — not for birthdays, holidays or weddings. Tradition demands it and social norms uphold it. And let’s be honest – getting presents is fun! But there are a few creative alternatives to registering for a set of bamboo sheets:

1. Local Registry. It’s only available in New Hampshire at the moment, but I see this catching on and spreading like wildfire: NearbyRegistry.com. “Find gifts from your favorite local shops, service providers, and nonprofits.” Sometimes the best painting is from a local artist and not a box store. (Full disclosure: I own a giant framed photo from Crate & Barrel and love it.)

2. Experiences RegistryWed & Wish. Register for an experience. As one couple who used it noted, “We were already living together and we didn’t need more stuff …The honeymoon experiences [our friends and family] gifted us were incredible! We got a bicycle ride in Kyoto, a picnic in a cherry blossom spot, a bottle of champagne in a Ryokan, and Shiatsu foot massage.” Ding ding! And it’s got a cute site: here’s a sample registry.

3. Gift Rocket. It’s a website to buy online gift cards to anywhere. The recipient chooses how to receive the money — a prepaid debit card, direct into a bank account, via Paypal or check. Yes, it’s a glorified way to send cash but at least you’re giving something useful.

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