Wow, this turned out to be really long… sorry!
This is something that has definitely come up for me over the course of our wedding planning (and wedding-having). Before this year, we had no idea about the costs and efforts of wedding planning, and we gave only about $75-$90 per gift, depending on our relationship to the couple, etc. It didn’t matter whether we were able to attend the wedding or not.
After this whole process, we will be giving substantially more, but it has to do with a lot of things. Mostly, we were grad students last year, this year we are not. Our financial position is necessarily a part of our decision when gifting in any situation, and now that we earn more (only slightly more, since we are both only postdocs now – not a big payraise from grad school!), we can give more.
I had never heard of this policy of your gift paying for your place at the wedding until I read about it here on WB. Frankly, I think it is kind of nonsense, at least from our personal experience. We planned the wedding that we wanted. We invited people that we wanted to be there with us, and yes, we planned things in part to show those guests a good time. Per person, we ended up spending well over what might be considered ‘reasonable’ for a wedding gift. There was never the expectation that we would gain that back through gifts from our guests, or that anyone should pay their way to our wedding through their gift. Our choices were our own – we could have chosen to have a much cheaper event, or we could have had a super-luxurious crazy fancy event, I just don’t see how it has any bearing on what guests should think about when they give.
Relatedly, people generally are shocked if someone does not attend a wedding and does not send a gift. For me now, post-wedding, I’ve vowed to attend as many weddings as I possibly can, because it was SO awesome that our friends and family made the effort to come to ours. Getting a "yes" reply on an RSVP was a million times more meaningful than receiving a registry gift. If I can’t make it, I will send a substantial gift, probably larger than what I would give if I do attend, maybe to make up for my absence. But, I did not expect the same from those who didn’t come – a few people didn’t send gifts, and that was fine for us.
In all honesty, I have to admit that I got caught up in it all, and at one point I was disappointed when a group of 10 of my friends went in on a $200 gift. After a few "$20 per person?! Seriously?!?" outbursts, I realized that they were (and some still are) poor grad students. Yet, they came to our wedding, which required a not-inexpensive plane ticket, car rental and multi-night hotel stay. Most importantly, they were there to celebrate with us on the most important day of our lives (so far). How could I expect anything more? I quickly felt so incredibly selfish and greedy, that my the attitude of wanting nothing but good wishes and support returned, and from then on out it was truly genuine.
Gifts from guests are always wonderful and nice, but I think when we start to feel wronged by a gift that we feel is too small or not enough, it’s time to step back and remember why we are really having a wedding, and why we invited the people we did. I’m glad I did!