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Inspiration » Registries + Gifts » Wedding Registry Etiquette: 18 Dos and Don’ts

Wedding Registry Etiquette: 18 Dos and Don’ts

by Maureen Burke
Wooden table topped with a brown wedding gift box and two filled champagne flutes.

Engaged couples know all too well that the childhood rhyme, “First comes love, then comes marriage,” is an oversimplification of the wedding process. Between your engagement and nuptials, there are dozens of exciting moments, including creating a wedding registry

A wedding gift registry is a chance for you and your partner to request items that will prepare your home and lifestyle for your next chapter together. Some couples see this as an exciting opportunity to fill their home with useful goods; others struggle to build out a list. Whatever your feelings are regarding wedding registries, take comfort in knowing that creating (and fulfilling) a gift registry is a common practice during the wedding planning journey. 

While a wedding registry is a wish list, you’ll still need to approach it with some tact. Here’s your guide to wedding registry etiquette — with 18 dos and don’ts — to make the most of the experience.

1. Do create a wedding registry.

A registry is a wedding must-have — even if you think you don’t need one. Loved ones will celebrate your marriage with a gift that sets you up for your future life together. It’s their way of showing they care and support your relationship. Since you and your partner will likely receive gifts even if you don’t have a registry, it’s in your best interest to build out a curated list of products that could enhance your lives after the wedding festivities have come to an end. 

2. Do start building your registry several months before your wedding day.

Some of your guests will begin brainstorming the ideal wedding gift the minute they receive a save the date. Give family and friends plenty of time to peruse your wish list and make their selections by creating your registry about six months before the actual wedding ceremony. This is also helpful for guests who wish to go in on big-ticket items — trust us, they will appreciate time to coordinate! At the very least, plan to have plenty of items on your registry prior to a wedding shower, if one is being held in your honor. This pre-wedding event will draw a lot of attention to your wedding wish list.

3. Do build your registry together.

Wedding gifts are meant for you and your partner to enjoy together as newlyweds. Make sure your partner is involved. Better yet, use it as an opportunity to have a special moment during the wedding planning process. You can talk through possible registry picks over cocktails or add gifts digitally when lounging at home on the weekend. However you choose to approach it, creating a wedding registry is a special bonding time where you and your spouse-to-be can have fun while envisioning your next stage in life. 

4. Do register for items you can enjoy as a couple.

Consider your future life together as a married couple when selecting the items for your wedding registry. Of course you’ll both use home essentials, like dinnerware or linens, but also weave in products that reflect your shared hobbies and interests. Perhaps you both enjoy traveling the world and new suitcases would be an exciting and practical gift. Or if you prefer to watch Oscar-nominated films together, a new entertainment system may spark joy in your newlywed home. 

5. Don’t register for clothing, jewelry or other personal items.

It’s totally fair to treat a wedding registry as a wish list, but it’s not the same as a shopping list. This isn’t the place to include personal items like clothing, designer purses, fragrances or other goods that cannot be shared between you and your future spouse. Keep those items in mind when buying each other gifts on anniversaries or other special moments in your long and happy marriage. A similar approach should be taken if children are part of your household; save those products for a formal baby registry or birthday list.

6. Don’t forget about items that are useful outside the home.

Because your lives aren’t contained by the four walls of your home, don’t limit your wedding gift choices to simply kitchen, bed and bath needs. Camping gear, tools for the garage, gardening supplies, an outdoor grill or a multitude of other products that can be used outside the house can be greenlighted as additions to your wedding registry. 

7. Do look to others for inspiration.

It may seem overwhelming to develop a list of all the products you’ll need throughout your married life. Don’t go at it alone — many others have walked down the aisle before you and will have valuable suggestions for what they actually found useful. Take a peek at your engaged friend’s registry, ask your married friends for advice or refer to wedding registry checklists. You may find unexpected and welcomed ideas as you make your own wish list.

8. Do add gifts at every price point. 

There’s no doubt that a wedding registry is for you and your partner, and that alone should give you two the final say on what earns a place on the list. However, it’s important to also keep your guests’ financial means in mind when selecting gift options. Everyone has a unique budget, and no one should feel as though wedding registry items are out of reach. But that doesn’t mean you need to write off higher-priced gifts altogether. Loved ones may decide to contribute as a group to gift those big-ticket items, so add them along with plenty of items at other price points. 

9. Don’t ask for cash outright — instead, set up a cash registry.

Cash may be king, but explicitly asking guests to write you a check or slip bills in an envelope can come across as immature and rude. In lieu of requesting cash, couples can tastefully drop hints that they are striving to meet important financial goals or to plan the ultimate honeymoon by creating a cash registry. Sharing your goal, such as a home down payment, lets your guests know they are contributing to a meaningful, specific part of your future. Similarly, if a certain cause or nonprofit is especially important to you and your future spouse, it’s acceptable to designate a space in your registry for charitable donations. Be sure to explain your connection to the charity and ask for donations to be made in your name.

10. Do use your wedding guest count to inform registry size.

For better or worse, there’s no magic number of gifts to have on your registry. Couples should ultimately select items that they will actually use, and that amount can vary from household to household. But when it comes to etiquette, a good rule of thumb is to double your guest list to get a rough number of gifts to include. If you’re inviting 100 guests, aim for about 200 items on your registry. Seems like a big task? Remember that items such as flatware can make this goal easier to reach since each set should count as one gift. That means if you’re planning to host a dinner party for 12, your flatware will take up 12 slots on your gift tally. This framework also accounts for the various occasions you’ll be showered with gifts beyond the wedding day, such as an engagement party or wedding shower. Feel free to dial things up or down based on your comfort level, too. At the end of the day, some couples may prefer to have a super curated wedding gift registry. 

11. Do update your registry as needed.

Even if you’ve completed your registry with an appropriate number of gifts months before your big day, couples often need to make adjustments on the fly. Wedding shower attendees may be extra generous and fulfill all your selections prior to your nuptials. Or that set of glassware you had your heart set on might be discontinued. Anything can happen, so it’s best to keep tabs on your list and to ensure there’s always a good selection available to guests. Don’t feel uneasy about revising your registry; it will likely be in your best interest in the long run.

12. Do set up a universal registry.

There’s an abundance of retailers that a happy couple can turn to when building a wedding registry. And it’s totally acceptable to register with more than one store, especially if your gift list is filled with specialty goods like premium cookware or outdoor supplies. One thing that couples shouldn’t overlook, though, is a universal registry. This online platform acts as a gifting hub by combining all wish lists for physical gifts in one place, plus providing options to set up cash registries such as a honeymoon fund or ask for charitable donations. With a tool like the all-in-one registry offered by Joy, your guests won’t have to scroll through various websites to make a gift selection.

13. Do customize shipping preferences.

In some cases, wedding registry gifts will be presented in-person at a wedding shower or carried into your reception hall. But other couples may prefer gifts to be shipped directly to your doorstep, especially if you’re planning a destination wedding. Be sure to specify your delivery preferences when registering (and share those details with family and friends, too!).

14. Do share details of your wedding registry.

While a wedding registry is a common part of wedding planning, it can be awkward finding the right way to spread the word about where you’re registered with guests. Remember: The key is to go about this in a respectful way so you don’t come across as rude. A wedding website is a fantastic place to include a link to your registry. Guests will already be visiting your wedding website for all the details about your big day so it will be simple to navigate over to a registry section. You can also enlist close friends, family members or your wedding party to discreetly (and easily) direct other guests to your website. 

15. Don’t print your registry information on wedding invitations.

Listing your registry details on a wedding invitation itself is not a registry best practice. You may think you’re doing guests a favor, but some things are better left unwritten. Loved ones may find it off-putting because there’s an assumption that all wedding guests must provide a gift — and at the end of the day, gift-giving is a personal decision and completely optional. Instead, include a link to your wedding website on your invitation for guests to read about your love story or RSVP; from there, they can organically navigate to the registry tab to purchase something from your wish list, if they choose.

16. Don’t forget to express gratitude promptly with thank you cards.

Sending thank you cards is a universal courtesy, one of those little acts that is always appreciated. While it’s a nice touch to send personalized thank you cards to everyone who attends your wedding, it’s absolutely necessary for you to express your appreciation after accepting a gift. Depending on when you receive it — at an engagement party, wedding shower or on your big day — you may need to send more than one thank you note to the same address. Aim to drop a thank you card in the mail two to four weeks after receiving an item from your wedding registry. The idea that thank you cards can be sent any time before your first wedding anniversary is outdated, and your guests won’t appreciate your improper timing. 

17. Don’t feel bad about returning gifts.

Wedding registries reflect your vision of married life. Sets of wine glasses are a nod to future dinner party plans. Gardening tools represent your shared dream of cultivating a green thumb. But sometimes who we hope to be as a couple doesn’t always become reality. It’s OK to change your mind and return gifts based on what your married life actually looks like, rather than what you believed it would be. Regardless of whether you keep a gift or return it, you should still thank gift givers for their generosity (and keep the return process to yourselves). 

18. Do take advantage of registry rewards.

Retailers offer a variety of benefits to entice engaged couples to set up their wedding registry. Perks can range from gift cards and completion discounts to free gifts. For example, Joy’s registry gives you a 20% discount on remaining items in your registry for 6 months after your wedding day. Be sure to plan ahead if you want to take advantage of these offers, whether that’s meeting all the requirements to cash in on gifts or adding your items before a certain deadline (typically your big day!) to optimize your savings. 

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