Every functioning kitchen needs a $30 champagne chiller. It doesn’t matter who you are; the chiller is a necessity. No modern couple can live without one, and it’s why my fiancée and I recently received not one but three during her (our?) bridal shower.
And while I realize this is a dumb thing to complain about — it’s nice to have cold Prosecco, and it’s nice that nice people want to give us these nice things! — I can’t help but wonder why more couples don’t fill their registries with fewer swanky objects and more investments.
How about, say, a cash fund for a house? Or to turn around our debilitating student loan debt so we can inch toward our dream of someday being homeowners? What’s unromantic about lifelong stability and the slow accumulation of modest wealth? What’s insulting about requesting financial seedlings for a better future?
To be sure, there are no laws preventing me from doing this, only tradition. But if millennials are a generation of disruptors — dismantling one wasteful industry after another — why can’t the wedding registry be next?
The wasteful registry is not at all a “girl thing.” Just look at the lists of registry items “for grooms”: You’ll find luxury technology, “game room” items, high-end tools and aspirational kitchen/barware in a never-ending sea of SEO-optimized e-commerce listicles with hypermasculine branding (“24 Items Men Should Fight to Have Included on Their Wedding Registry,” etc.). On Reddit, fiancés like me swap suggestions for plates and silverware. This is simply the way it goes. The registry is for frivolous wants, not life essentials. It’s a rare chance to get the $250 status Dutch oven you’d never buy yourself.
Is it possible for couples to weaponize their registries to help unchain themselves from financial burdens? I reached out to a few etiquette and financial experts about how to strike a happy medium without looking cheap, spoiling all the fun and making your best friends resent you.
Make It About Your Family Goals
Phil Risher, a newlywed financial blogger, just went through a similar experience.
“There are definitely two sides to this story,” he begins. You can aim for those more traditional decanters and Crate & Barrel plates, or take a more progressive path: “where honeymoon activities can be listed out and a guest could buy you a ziplining tour of the rainforest.”
What Risher recommends: “Put on the registry, ‘At this time we have been fortunate enough to have all the material items we need. However, if you would like to support or marriage or family with a financial gift, we are in the process of saving for XYZ.’”
This way, you’re providing an outlet for people to buy you an experience or inch closer to a big family goal, not just accumulate cash. Still, “don’t throw a ridiculous number out there,” he adds. “To me, it feels like you are just having a wedding to get money, and that’s not what it’s about. … I have seen weddings where people put $200,000 for a down-payment fund, and in my opinion that is ridiculous.”
For example, “If I saw a Nelnet unsubsidized [student] loan for $4,536 on a wedding registry, I would be appalled,” Risher tells MEL. But maybe there’s a way to communicate why the loan is on there and how it will help your future family. Another way to phrase it: “If you would like to give a financial gift towards our new family financial goals, that would be great,” Risher suggests.
Being Debt-Free Is Not Your Guests’ Responsibility
Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, says the etiquette around money in a wedding registry is trickier than you think. Even if you try to explain yourself, and no matter how much logical sense it makes, asking for a financial contribution may piss people off.
“We all would like to be debt-free,” Gottsman says, but being debt-free is a matter of personal responsibility — “not a wedding guest’s responsibility.” In other words, no matter how out-of-control your debts are, wedding guests see them as your responsibility, not theirs.
A wedding shower is almost more about the gift-giving than it is receiving, Gottsman argues, so it’s better to give your guests an array of options for those gifts — not just “give us cash.”
“The universal theme is for the bride and groom to be modest and grateful when planning out a registry or a request,” she says. “There are definitely more options for giving gifts, and the types of gifts that brides and grooms will appreciate.”
“The reason why registries for small luxuries are preferable is because paying off a home loan comes across as greedy,” she concludes. “Unless you are in the immediate family and can have an honest conversation about paying a debt rather than paying for a large wedding, it’s best to stick to something that would not offend most people.”
The Long View
Danny Kofke, a financial expert and author who’s been married for 19 years, says after a recent move, he and his wife discovered boxes of wedding gifts in their attic they’d never touched.
“So, yes, I think it is okay to ask for money to use as a down payment, pay off debt, etc. instead of a gift that will never really be used,” he tells MEL. “I think you just have to word it appropriately so guests don’t take it the wrong way.”
Kofke draws a parallel between wedding showers and funerals: “People sometimes ask for donations to charity instead of flowers.” This is a similar situation, he says.
“With all the news and stats about student loan debt and how this prevents many from buying a house and starting a family, I think asking for help with paying off debt this is a much better gift than wine glasses!”