This is a guest post from Betsy Teutsch, who writes about socially responsible investing, savvy consuming, and sustainable living at Money Changes Things.

The practical side of me loves wedding registries, and the values-driven side of me has grown to loathe them as brides and grooms seem ever bossier. Registries are nothing new, of course. We registered for gifts in 1973, and as a result received two lovely sets of china and ten place-settings of silver. Beyond that, it was open season: we received all sorts of gifts we had not designated. Most we used, a few we actively hated, and many we came to appreciate and even love over time.  (Regifting hadn’t been “invented” back then.).  From the point of view of the brides and grooms, wedding registries have many upsides.  But let’s look at it from the perspective of the gift-giver.

Pros and cons
The pros of a gift registry are:

  • Efficiency. You can order the gift and you’re done. The store ships it and you don’t have to wrap it, schlep it, or even buy a card.
  • The couple picks what they want, and you know your gift is to their taste, which is especially helpful if you hate shopping or don’t know the couple well enough to key in to their life style. Easy. Done.

From my point of view, the negative list is more extensive:

  • It’s impersonal. No way to write a note to go with your gift, except electronically.
  • The choices are not prioritized. Recently, after scrolling through scores of chosen items, I finally decided to just purchase a gift certificate from the registry and let the couple decide. Wrapping and shipping would have been an extra $20, which seems mostly wasted.
  • The options are overly directed. The attitude expressed, even if it’s not intentional, is DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT GIVING US SOMETHING NOT ON OUR LIST! I find it arrogant that young couples think they know more about what they will need over a lifetime than people who have actually lived a generation or two longer. This is often the case because the couple is using a store registry, which is a fixed template without options to comment or personalize any aspect of the choices.  They come off sounding very dictatorial.
  • I don’t like being limited to chain stores and/or mass produced items. Some of my favorite wedding gifts are pottery and other handmade crafts, which cannot be purchased from a registry. It’s also nice to give a family heirloom or something more personal.
  • I still might very well decide to give them a place setting of something they’ve chosen, or whatever, but as a sport PSAWSWLD [J.D.'s note: Yeah, I had to click that link, too.], I could probably find it cheaper elsewhere online, and/or perhaps using Amazon Prime’s free shipping, thereby giving them a more valuable gift.
  • I am often turned off by the actual items chosen since they are way pricier and extravagant than anything I have ever owned. (And I’ve lived a perfectly abundant life!) I like to feel simpatico with the gift I’m giving, since it’s an expression of my values.
  • I dislike not knowing whether our gift arrived, since brides and grooms (or bride + bride and groom + groom) are often really terrible about writing thank-yous.  My preference is to bring the gift with me to the wedding, if I am attending. Not an option with a registry — the whole point is to ship the gift directly to the couple.  They haven’t added return receipts for the giver, so far as I know,  so if you never receive an acknowledgment, you don’t know if it’s just another inconsiderate bride and groom screwing up, or if your gift didn’t arrive, and they think you are a creep.
  • The old-fashioned side of me feels uncomfortable with the couple knowing precisely, down to the dime, what I spent on their gift. It feels so calculated. I mean, why don’t they just send a bill?!

Other options
A few brides and grooms I know have worked to transcend the tax-assessment feel of store registries. While they feel obliged to include conventional stores on their wedding sites (because that’s what lots of their guests do prefer), they expand their suggestions, including favorite charities and causes. One couple said they would love gift certificates to local bookstores and garden shops and described their garden, giving their guests a sense of their values and passions. A few years ago we gave a giant composter to this couple, since they had included it on a wishlist, and it really spoke to me; I totally enjoyed sending it to them. The fancy china comes out maybe once a year, but that composter is used every day!

Another way some couples counteract the gimmes is to ask for non-material gifts. Recently all the invitees to a wedding we attended were asked by the bride’s friend to submit a favorite recipe, which they made into a cookbook for the bride and groom. Another woman I know did something similar for her future daughter-in-law, collecting recipes from all the immediate family, including copies of recipes written by grandmothers no longer alive. (She made copies for all the contributors, and I’m sure they are treasured!)

A nice custom in the Jewish community is to send close friends and family fabric squares to decorate, which are then sent back and stitched together to create the wedding canopy. None of these touches are instead of a material gift, but they serve to make guests feel like they are more than ATMs.

Some couples create an online donation registry in lieu of gifts, but the site notifies the couple of the amount of each contribution, something which makes some people (like me, for example!) uncomfortable. I recently received a link to New American Dream’s registry where the celebrants (brides and grooms, new parents, etc) can set up a registry asking for whatever they like, mixing purchased and guest-created items. Their sample asks for recipes, food for potluck weddings, advice, and fair-traded household things. Very nice idea for a small, simple event, but for a conventional, fancy wedding, I think it would freak people out. (It would be a nice additional alternative to a conventional registry, though; a couple could do both, and explain their thinking on their wedding website, the new de rigeur system for communicating wedding plans.)

And what about the most obvious wedding gift? Cold cash, of course. It’s nice to receive, but I can tell you, 33 years later, it’s the beautiful, thoughtful items which I enjoy, the cash long ago having been plowed into aggregate savings. Many of the brides and grooms I know are mature and earn more than I do, so in those cases money feels like a weird gift. (If the couple is a pair of starving students, money is still a great idea, perhaps along with a smaller material item.)

Let’s hear what you all think about wedding registries, pro or con, and from both givers and receivers’ points of view. Are they a necessary evil, a godsend, or something in between?

Teutsch previously told GRS readers about the pros and cons of working at home and discussed how to get a grip on consumerism.

This article is about Relationships, Shopping