A guide to giving gifts for postponed and shrunken weddings

August 20, 2020, 7:03 PM UTC

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The pandemic has shaken up plans for everyone, and weddings are no exception. According to a 2020 OnePoll and Indochino survey of 2,000 Americans planning to wed, 93% have had to change something about their wedding due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

For couples who have been planning their dream wedding, the pandemic forced those dreams to change. Some have been able to roll with the punches. For others, it’s been heartbreaking. 

But wedding guests are also dealing with new protocols to wade through. With couples slashing their guest list to follow social distancing guidelines, COVID has more and more people uninviting guests. Then there’s virtual wedding showers and postponed celebrations. Additionally, the pandemic has created financial challenges with millions unemployed, so gift giving might be even more stressful. What’s the etiquette for something the country hasn’t been through before?

Fortune talked to wedding experts to weigh in on how to show up for your loved ones during this very unusual time.

Should I send a gift if I’m uninvited because the guest list shrank?

When bridal showers go virtual and weddings are now reserved for the closest family and friends, it can be hard to determine the kind thing to do. According to Zola, a wedding planning and registry company, about 90% of wedding guests are planning to give a wedding gift no matter what, even if the couple has to reduce their guest list or goes virtual. But experts stress that it’s still up to each guest to determine what feels right.

Heather Thomas, CEO of event design company HeatherLily, says opinions on gift giving vary—and did even before COVID.

“A wedding invitation should be acknowledged with congratulations beyond your RSVP card, no matter how close you are to the couple. Post-COVID, you should do what makes you feel comfortable based on the closeness that you share with the couple,” she says. “Ultimately, it’s up to the guest to decide whether or not to send a gift when they’re not attending the celebration. COVID or no COVID, that doesn’t change.”

Lizzie Post, the co-president of etiquette consulting firm The Emily Post Institute, agrees if you’re not particularly close to the couple, you probably don’t need to send a gift. “My personal stance right now would be that I think you’re absolved of having to send a gift,” she says. “Some of us get invited only to our closest inner circle wedding, and we would, of course, send a gift anyway just because we have such a close relationship with the person. But a lot of people also get invited to a wedding that they are very far removed from, and I think that if you get them uninvited from that wedding, it just seems unnecessary. ”

If you are close to the couple and want to send a gift, Elaine Swann, founder of the Swann School of Protocol, says the gesture can go a long way.

“Be sensitive to the fact that the couple is probably not going to get to experience the wedding that they had dreamed about earlier. So it would be nice to send some well wishes and good cheer, to provide them with a gift,” she explains. “If you’re uninvited, it’s not because of what they’re doing–– I mean, they’re not responsible for the virus. We should be doing our part to try to encourage them and put forth an effort to lighten the load of disappointment that they’re experiencing.”

What should I do if the wedding was rescheduled after I bought a gift?

This one’s for the friends and family who always think ahead. With a gift in hand and the wedding now postponed months or years, here are some options for what to do with purchased gifts.

“If you’d rather hold onto your big gift, it’s still a nice gesture to send something to the couple on their original date,” says Emily Forrest, the director of communications for Zola. “My husband and I were supposed to attend two weddings in May, both for couples who came to our wedding a few years ago. To celebrate them, we sent them each a small wedding gift through their Zola registry on their original wedding date, knowing that we will purchase a larger gift for each of them when they get married in 2021.”

But if you don’t feel strongly about holding on the gift—or you don’t want to store it for a year—Forrest says there’s nothing wrong with giving it early. “If you send the gift now I am sure that the couple will be thankful to have a few extra months using it, especially since we are all home,” she notes.

And if you’re worried that the newlyweds will forget about their early gift, Katelyn Stanis, professional vow writer, and owner of Wedding Words has an easy way to remind them.

Here’s what Stanis says to write with the gift you send immediately: “We’re so excited to celebrate your wedding next August but we can’t wait to shower you with your wedding gift now. We hope you enjoy using this espresso machine leading up to your big day and throughout your marriage.”

And when their wedding day rolls around: “Congratulations! We are so happy to celebrate your love today! We hope you’ve been enjoying our wedding gift, the espresso machine, and we wish you many years of happiness together.”

I sent my gift before the wedding was rescheduled. Should I get another?

Some couples lost their wedding venue or faced county regulations just weeks––or even days––before their big celebration. If you sent a gift ahead of time, Post says you have nothing to worry about.

“You could also send flowers on the day of the wedding or bring a card to the wedding and give them that instead,” she says.

What should I do if I don’t have the biggest gift budget right now?

Post won’t be surprised if the obligation of a gift for a wedding or bridal shower stops being the cultural norm.

“I think people end up in that space where they can’t go to all these weddings and events and still send expensive gifts,” she says. “Really, you don’t have to send expensive gifts at all. Budgets are a genuine consideration, and no one should feel like they have to send something they can’t afford.”

Of course, no couple would turn down a gift card or an envelope full of cash. According to Zelle, 80% of newlyweds would prefer to have money as their wedding gift. But if your have to watch your pockets, Swann has a suggestion.

“If you’re watching your dollars, you could also snag a photo of the couple off of their social media site and have it framed from them. A lot of times, we post a lot of photos, and we keep them in our phone but rarely do we ever get around to framing them in our home,” she says. “And the great thing about that is that those particular photos are obviously something that they liked, because otherwise, they wouldn’t have posted it.”

Whatever you decide to do, from buying a traditional gift to bringing a bottle of bubbly to a postponed celebration to showing love and support through difficult decision, Post encourages wedding guests to remember her number one etiquette rule: “Be understanding and respect whatever decision the couple makes. It is okay to decline a wedding invitation if you do not feel comfortable traveling or wait on a gift if you’re budget can’t afford to right now. The most important thing is to celebrate the couple, no matter what.”

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