Updated on 10.30.14

The Frugal Wedding Registry

Trent Hamm

cake topWhen we got married, we received a ton of gifts from family members of all kinds, ranging from towels to a weird statue of a hobbit to a knife set to towels to a handmade quilt to towels. Needless to say, we still have plenty of towels.

Today, though, there are only a few that really stand out from the pack, gifts that really stuck with us and proved to be really useful in our life. In every case, these gifts were ones that helped us to be more frugal and do more things for ourselves. They’ve saved us money, saved us time, and helped us to build a richer relationship.

With that in mind, a reader sent me the following email this weekend:

What sort of possessions would give newlyweds a helping hand along their road to financial independence? An good example is a crock pot – affordable, useful and will save us many $$$ in the long run.

So, without further ado, here is The Simple Dollar’s Frugal Wedding Registry. All of these gifts should help a couple get on or stay on a solid financial path leading toward a very bright future together, both financial and otherwise.

Gift Ideas to Put Any Couple on a Sound Financial Path

For any couple: Smart Couples Finish Rich

Virtually all couples, when they are married, are not yet on the same financial page. That’s what this book is about – helping couples sit down and define their financial relationship, figure out if their financial goals match and ways to encourage the goals to match, and also plan for a lifetime of financial success together. They might forget about this gift at first in all of the hubbub around their wedding, but give it a year or two, and they’ll likely turn to this book when they discover that their financial life is leaving the honeymoon stage. At that point, this book is an incredibly valuable gift.

For the outdoorsy couple: national or state park pass

If they enjoy backpacking, hiking, or camping, free access to state and national parks will provide them with many, many hours of wonderful experiences for free. Some of our nations’ most beautiful areas are in state and national parks, and I can’t tell you how many fond memories I have from hiking and walking in national parks with my wife in the early years of our marriage. We used a park pass at multiple parks across the northern tier of states and some of our best memories of our marriage come from those state and national parks.

For the time-constrained couple: A high quality crock pot, like the KitchenAid KSC700SS

Couples made up of two professionals often barely have time to see each other in the evening, let alone prepare a meal. So they burn money on takeout instead. With a crock pot, though, they can easily prepare their own meals in a few minutes before work, and have a delicious homecooked meal waiting for them when they arrive home. You can also print out my earlier posts on slow cookers, The Art of the Slow Cooker and By Request: Five Essential Crock Pot Recipes for inclusion with the gift, to give them some free materials to start off with.

For the couple without anything saved: A mutual fund

Buy them an appropriate amount of a mutual fund somewhere and tell them to hold onto it until they need it for a major purchase, like a home. This is a great gift to get a large group of relatives involved in. Just a few months ago, I saw a couple receive only one “major” gift: a $5,000 mutual fund that was to help them make a down payment when they went to buy a house in a few years.

For the do-it-yourself couple: A sewing machine

Some of you might immediately write this off as archaic, but an individual who thrives on making stuff for him/herself can get a ton of value out of a quality sewing machine. My wife has one and has made everything from curtains to pajamas to quilts with it – it’s one of the best gifts we’ve ever received.

How to Cook Everything

For the kitchen-averse couple: How To Cook Everything

Forget Betty Crocker or even Joy of Cooking (even given my attachment to the latter), this is the single best book I’ve ever seen for beginning cooks. This book is loaded with details on preparation, explaining the finer points of almost every common culinary practice. The recipes (and there are a bunch of them) focus on a merger of simplicity and flavor in an effort to show beginning cooks that it is indeed easy to create something delicious in the kitchen. If you know someone who doesn’t cook for themselves much but has any potential at all, this is the book to give them.

For the food-loving couple: A high quality knife set

During our first few years together, we made do with a cheap knife set that made most tasks very difficult. When we upgraded to a high quailty knife set, it made all the difference in terms of our food preparation. Suddenly, it didn’t take an hour to chop vegetables, and with some practice on how to actually use a real knife, I was chopping carrots in fifteen seconds where before it would take eight minutes or so. This increase in speed got us to cook at home much more, and the knife set has paid for itself.

For the movie-addicted couple: A prepaid subscription to Netflix

If the couple loves watching movies together and has built up a large DVD library, that DVD library is probably sucking away a lot of their money each month. Get them a gift subscription to Netflix so that they’re not burning so much cash buying movies – and can instead find better uses for the money. My wife and I received a year-long subscription to the service and it massively cut down on our DVD buying habits.

Your Money

For the thoughtful couple: Your Money or Your Life

This book, more than any other, presents a thought-provoking view of money’s role in a person’s life. It makes some very powerful connections between reducing spending and quality of life and provides a ton of interesting activities that can authentically change a person’s perspective about money in their life. If the couple is thoughtful and loves discussing things, get them a copy (or a pair of copies) of this book – they’ll find plenty to discuss in it, and may find themselves making better and more frugal financial choices as a result.

If all else fails… Cash

For many, this seems unimaginative, but actually think about the bride and groom for a minute. They’ve just gone through a wedding that had great expense and may have put them in debt, and they’re about to embark on a married life that will probably involve even more debt. Help them out now with some cash, and maybe they won’t fall as deep into debt. I know that many of our friends and family gave us cash for our wedding several years ago with explicit instructions to use it to “get started,” so we used it to pay off some wedding, honeymoon, and credit card debt. Because of that, we had our wonderful wedding memories without the bad feelings of all of the debt we had to pay off.

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  1. Eric says:

    My fiancee had her wedding shower on Saturday. Almost everything that we got we already had and it seemed like such a waste. I would have loved it if some people gave us some money to help with a down payment on a house but I guess people like to give something more “tangible”. Of course, in reality, what is more tangible than a house?

    We did get a nice KitchenAid mixer that I have had my eye on for about two years now so it wasn’t all for nothing…

  2. Grant Boston says:

    The problem with what to give gets even harder as the couple get older or are re-marrying. We went to a wedding this weekend of an older couple and they had asked for contributions to the honeymoon. Another good gift is your time – make a “promissary note” to take the wedding photos, help paint the house or other renovation skills. This is not only frugal but it builds the friendship.

    On another tack, some people believe that giving knives is very bad luck as it signifies an intent to sever the relationship!

  3. SJ says:

    A great gift for those who “have it all” is a gift certificate for movies, or dinner at a nice restaurant, or for something bigger (and this is what we did for my brother-in-law) a small B&B or inn. We wanted to be more specific than cash, but we knew they had plenty of “stuff” – these gifts focus more on experience (but not necessarily frugality).

    I will also second the Netflix idea as a good baby gift for new parents (no babysitter needed!).

  4. You’ve made some great suggestions. I am weary of the hugely detailed bridal registries couples put up on their websites. They are practical but they really send the message that giftgivers are idiots and couldn’t possibly pick a nice gift.
    Dear friends thoughtfully gave us a membership to a museum for a wedding gift. We rarely had time to go, but whenever we had time, we felt like we OUGHT to go there, and it got oppressive pretty quickly!
    We’ve been to a lot of second (and some third!) wedding where couples asked folks to make donations to their favorite charities. that always warms my heart.

  5. Erika says:

    If you are getting married, you can do what my husband and I did. We asked for no gifts (and encouraged people to donate to their favorite cause if they wanted to honor our wedding).

    This decision is not for everyone. I will share how we came to choose it.

    First, we considered how much we needed. We really did not need that much. Both of us had been living outside of the parental home for a couple years so we had all the basic necessities. We also knew that in our current apartment we did not have room for things like nice dishes that we would use only once or twice a year. We would either have to store them somewhere or get rid of our old (perfectly servicable) dishes.

    Next, we considered how many gifts we would need to get enough on our registry. The average wedding has about 150 guests (or so random web pages told me when I was planning one). Assuming a mix of couples and families, about 50 gifts is probably a reasonable number to plan for. Now, you have to make sure that there are enough gifts for people to be able to choose something they want to get you, so your registry should have at least 60 gifts.

    Look at that! Just thinking about wedding gifts pulls you out of the frugal mind set. Just like you should not hang out with spendy friends if you want to be frugal, you probably should not spend hours and hours trying to find things you want but do not need to fill up your registry.

    Also consider what this does to your guests. Guests will feel obligated to get you gifts unless you tell them not to (and some will get gifts even then. We just let them; no point in forcing a conflict). This sense of obligation is responsible for billions of dollars in consumer spending (I have heard about $20 billion, again from some random website when I was planning my wedding). By having a registry full of things you do not need and probably will not use, you are encouraging your closest friends and family to spend.

    A “no gifts please” wedding will not appeal to everyone. If you are just getting started, you really do need things, and it is good to let those people willing to help do so. However, if you that between you and your spouse you have what you need, consider asking for no gifts.

  6. kev says:

    My brother got married the weekend before last. These are excellent suggestions (although, about two weeks too late to help me in my gift-choosing!).

  7. zen says:

    Excellent tips – I’ll be using this for my cousin-in-laws upcoming marriage.

  8. Tim says:

    I’m a big fan of the asian gift: cash in a red envelope.

  9. Toby says:

    OR…you can do what my Sister-in-law did. Register for all sorts of un-godly expensive things that you plan to return for cash.

    Example: Set of two crystal Pinot Noir wine glasses (which are oh-so-different than the Cabernet ones they also registered for) for $99! Yes, that is not a typo, $99! I think they asked for 4 sets of each for about 4 or 5 different types of wine plus cognac and port.

    That’s several *thousand* in glassware! That’s pretty frugal….right?


  10. Ruth says:

    I love How to Cook Everything. It’s a great cookbook!

  11. 1five9 says:

    As a recently married person, I have to say that one of the nicest things you can do for an engaged couple is to keep expectations low about the wedding itself: don’t assume the wedding will be big (or that you will be invited); don’t count on a full bar; don’t ask the bride where she got her dress.

    My guest list kept growing and the budget kept growing as people would casually mention that they couldn’t wait to come, couldn’t wait to have a martini, couldn’t wait to dance, etc.

    I know my friends would be horrified to think that they put some pressure on me, but I wanted my guests to be happy. So on a few occasions, I upped the amount we spent on our guests to make sure it was what they were expecting.

    So, when you find out someone is engaged, offer hearty congratulations about the upcoming marriage. Don’t offer your thoughts about a perfect wedding.

    P.S. As I read this, I hope it doesn’t sound too negative. Our wedding was fabulous…but probably could have been so on a few less dollars!

  12. domestika says:

    Love the list! And I’ve got one to add:

    For the the couple just starting out — or for a young’un setting up in his/her first apartment — a small toolbox filled with the basic absolutely-essential tools for domestic survival: hammer, screwdriver set, tape measure, adjustable wrench, roll of duct tape…

    Not particularly glamorous as gifts go, but there always comes a day when it’s deeply appreciated!

  13. carraway says:

    need help desperately, nephew(sp) is getting married soon. first for him (43) second for her;
    gift ideas…help

  14. beth says:

    how can engaged couples communicate their desire for gift alternatives? Should the bridesmaids or groomsmen or wedding planner or other family member be the ones to say just give “cash gifts” for honeymoon or savings or charitable giving in their honor?

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