Do people still follow traditional wedding customs around gifts and budgets? : Life Kit Etiquette coach Myka Meier revisits traditional wedding customs, including the cost of wedding gifts — and how much a mother-in-law should contribute to the matrimonial budget.

Dear Life Kit: Should I spend $1,000 on a wedding gift?

Dear Life Kit: Should I spend $1,000 on a wedding gift?

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Photo illustration by Becky Harlan/Getty Images/NPR
Collage of a pair of hands reaching out to catch a wedding bouquet, a wedding gift, a wedding cake and a wedding invitation as they soar through the air, symbolizing a guest trying to avoid wedding faux pas and maintain proper wedding etiquette.
Photo illustration by Becky Harlan/Getty Images/NPR
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Myka Meier is the founder of Beaumont Etiquette and co-founder of the Plaza Hotel's Finishing Program. Photograph by Myka Meier/ Collage by NPR hide caption

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Photograph by Myka Meier/ Collage by NPR

These questions were answered by etiquette coach Myka Meier, who teaches courses in social etiquette, public speaking and the art of the afternoon tea. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Dear Life Kit, My friend recently told me that each plate at her wedding costs $500. She generously gave me a plus-one for my boyfriend of five months. Is it true you should give a gift equal to what the couple spent on you? In this case, $1,000.

I was thinking of getting her a gift in the $500 range and asking my boyfriend to pay a third of it. Is that enough of a gift for her, and is it rude to ask my boyfriend to cover part of the present? — Cheap date 

That is kind of an old wives' tale that you have to spend what the couple spent on you, because that's often not possible for many people. At the end of the day, you need to stay within your budget. According to a 2019 survey by The Knot, a wedding website, the average person spends $120 on a wedding gift. So if you were to spend $500, that would be a very generous gift.

You asked if you should let your date chip in. My answer is no. I do not think it's fair. You're the one being invited and the plus-one is just your guest. Just lower the amount you're spending on the gift to something you're more comfortable with.

As for the bride, technically, it's not correct etiquette to tell somebody what you're spending on them. I would advise a couple getting married never to share what they're spending on their guests because it could also make their guests feel guilty.

Dear Life Kit, My future son-in-law thinks that I, a divorced mother of two daughters, should pay the traditional bride-of-the-family expenses [which customarily include big-ticket items like the venue, photographer and flowers, according to Brides Magazine].

I am a teacher who is a year and a half away from retirement. He earns more than I do and he has a large family. What should I do? — Modern mother-of-the-bride 

This is an outdated and old-fashioned rule that no longer applies to modern wedding etiquette. Today, couples often pay for the wedding themselves. Sometimes different families contribute different amounts — somebody pays for the rehearsal dinner or flowers. Sometimes they don't put anything in other than their time, which is also of huge value.

Sit down with both families when you first start planning and decide who is going to be in charge of what. You can still show up in big ways without it being financial.

This digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. The visual editor is Beck Harlan. Listen to Life Kit on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or sign up for our newsletter.