The Gift of Time Costs $$$

by admin on September 4, 2013

I’ve been asked to officiate a service for some dear friends in a few months. All the legalities have been taken care of, and I’m drafting the ceremony.

My question is this: are my spouse and myself then expected to give the happy couple a gift as well? I recognize that gifts are never *required* at a wedding, but I’m not really certain of the etiquette when one is both a guest and the officiant. Generally officiants are paid for their service (they have paid the fee for my licensing to perform the service in their state, but I am not being otherwise compensated, nor do I wish to be), and my family will be traveling to another state for the ceremony with all the expenses that incurs. I feel like the gift we’re giving is of my service; I know what my minister charges for non-church-member weddings, and it’s at least as much if not more than what we’d spend on a gift. But my spouse disagrees and feels that we need to have a gift at the wedding as well.

I’m pretty sure I’m right on this? Help me eHellions, you’re my only hope! 0831-13

What I tell people who have the gift of time to offer is that the wedding couple or parents (whomever is the main planner) have an obligation to offer compensation for their services.  The bridal couple or family should NEVER assume these gifts of time are free for the taking and therefore the offer must be made to pay their friends in some agreed upon fashion for the time and service being given.   The person then has the option of offering their services for free, as a gift.   This conversational “dance” has the effect of promoting an attitude of not assuming upon others, appreciating the expense of time, honors the gift of time as having worthy value, and allows the person to offer their talents as a gift voluntarily.   Dear OP, it sounds to me as though this conversation did not happen between you and the happy couple otherwise there would be no confusion as to what an appropriate wedding gift would be.

To be honest, I am quite surprised that your friends have not offered to assist in paying for your travel expenses to their wedding since you are a vital part of the ceremony.   They are truly assuming a great deal on your generosity to marry them at no expense to themselves whatsoever.   Traveling out of state AND officiating?   As if that was not enough, your husband wants to throw more money at them in form of a tangible gift?

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Lo September 4, 2013 at 7:47 am

You’ve given more than enough and a gift is not to be expected of you.

However if your husband wants to give them a gift why not a small gift, something inexpensive and meaningful. And if nothing else do give them a card. The bride and groom should understand already that you’ve given them a huge gift of service.


Mer September 4, 2013 at 8:31 am

I would agree with Lo. If it feels bad to arrive empty handed in wedding, a nice card should do, or maybe flower. Or, as you are officiating, if you make a speech outside of basic “do you, NN want” -questions etc, that speech printed or written on a nice paper. That would be nice but very inexpensive gift option.


ShellyLynne26111 September 4, 2013 at 9:35 am

When I got married, my husband had three close friends, two men and a woman. The two men were his best man and groomsman and we asked his female friend to officiate since we have no religious affiliation. We paid all the fees needed to become a notary, which she could actually use after the wedding if she wanted to. The idea was presented to her just as it would be any other part of the wedding. Don’t bridesmaids and groomsmen pay their own travel expenses and usually still give a gift? To me, the difference is whether this is a service you typically perform. If you were a professional wedding singer asked to perform at a wedding, it would be one thing, but if you became an officiant simply to perform their specific ceremony, I would consider yourself a member of the wedding party.

The other difference with my wedding was that I wrote the ceremony for her so she only had to read it. She didn’t have to go through writing it or asking our opinions or any of that mess.


Kimstu September 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm

@ShelleyLynne: “Don’t bridesmaids and groomsmen pay their own travel expenses and usually still give a gift?”

Yes, but etiquette officially recognizes that the role of bridesmaid or groomsman is considered both a great honor (FOR them) and a great favor (FROM them) showing a very close bond of family or friendship, and hence is not compensated financially.

Similarly with more minor “honorary” wedding roles like doing a reading during the ceremony, being an usher (only ushering duties, not full-on groomsman role), and so forth.

Officiating at the ceremony, though, is traditionally a professional service that is part of what a qualified specialist does for a living. It’s just as much a standard wedding expense as, say, making the cake or providing the flowers. Admin is quite right than anybody who’s asked by a bridal couple to perform a service at their wedding that is usually compensated financially should be offered financial compensation for it, no matter how emotionally close they are to the couple.

Then, of course, that person can respond charmingly, “No no I couldn’t hear of it, I want this to be a gift from me to you!” And it’s entirely up to them whether they want to give any kind of more conventional wedding gift in addition to their services.


Cat September 4, 2013 at 10:39 am

I would think that a happy compromise would be an inexpensive gift like an anniversary candle.


Wild Irish Rose September 4, 2013 at 12:47 pm

The very first time I sang at a wedding, I traveled out of state to do so. It never occurred to me that the soloist was supposed to be paid! The bride’s mother offered to compensate me, and I was taken a little by surprise, but I asked her simply to pay my travel expenses, which amounted to about $35. I was honored to be asked to sing, so I didn’t expect to be paid. I gave a gift as well, so maybe I’m not really the person to ask, but now that I’m older and wiser, I’m going to go ahead and suggest that you not assume the HC regards your services as a gift, and that you bring one. Doesn’t have to be anything expensive, but have one just in case.


Jeanne September 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I can’t figure out where it tells us the OP is a woman. Is that assumed or are you getting it from the original email?


Angepange September 4, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I don’t think a gift is necessary at all, although I would still give them a card. I have a friend who makes wedding cakes for a living and I had hoped that she would offer to make my cake for my wedding at a discount as a ‘wedding gift’. She hasn’t, but I am not upset by this (I’m not being a Gimme Pig, just being honest – it would have been nice to have a little less to spend money on, but I didn’t “budget” for not having to buy a cake, if that makes sense – I always anticipated it as an expense).
When people ask what we want as gifts, I have just told them that their presence is perfect, we don’t need anything else. If anyone offers to help, help is gratefully accepted and they are thanked accordingly. I am not by any means “the perfect bride” from an etiquette point of view, but I’m just of the opinion that my wedding day is about love, not gifts. I honestly believe that the gift of service and time is far more valuable than a set of glasses, a gift card or towels. More love goes into that than just picking something off a registry anyway 🙂


Kirsten (the first!) September 5, 2013 at 4:50 am

“I honestly believe that the gift of service and time is far more valuable than a set of glasses, a gift card or towels. More love goes into that than just picking something off a registry anyway”

I’ve seen this kind of attitude a lot, and I find it really saddening. In both cases people choose something to give the couple because they love and care about them. I don’t see how it matters whether that’s service, time or glasses. Glasses can be bought from a registry with love – it can take me quite a while to choose from a registry, I don’t ever ‘just pick’ something from it. People do spend time and love working from registries. I really wish others wouldn’t dismiss them as somehow showing less love/care than someone making a cake. I understand there’s more work in that cake, but that’s not the same thing, and I’ve never thought a couple with a registry didn’t think THEIR wedding day was ‘about love, not gifts’.

We are all different, we all choose different weddings. Along with the ‘well, MY wedding only cost £2 and we’re still together” and ‘well, MY wedding cost £1million and was miles better’, mine was small, mine was big…why do we have to imply superiority when we talk about our weddings? Surely we got married for a marriage? Why must we imply that people who spend a lot/a little/have registries/don’t have them are somehow better or ‘more in love’ than those who don’t?

I have glasses and china from my wedding and seriously, the love they hold and the connection to those who gave them to us is extremely powerful – so powerful. Please don’t underestimate that – love can take a variety of expressions, including towels and glasses. I feel that love many years after my wedding cake (made by me) has vanished.


Angepange September 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I apologise for offending you – I never meant to imply superiority AT ALL. My comment was meant purely to convey reassurance to the OP, not to upset anyone else. I don’t have any “special talents” to offer so I have always bought something off the registry for my friends getting married. Wrapped it with care, written a thoughtful message in a card. I am absolutely certain that these friends were grateful for the gift and cherished it – I would feel the same. But MY OPINION is just that there is something special about being able to offer your skills and talents as a gift. It is just my opinion, and I personally am grateful that I even have a friend who can bake my cake because, to me, that is just so much more personal. (I can’t bake, unfortunately).


Kirsten (the first!) September 6, 2013 at 7:01 am

‘More love goes into that than just picking something off a registry anyway’

I’m not offended. I just find this statement really sad, as well as wrong. I had both at my wedding – my father and uncle played the piano for us. My sister wrote a poem. A family friend offered to take photographs, and so on. I truly, honestly did not even think to compare this to people who gave us presents, or people who just came along. All of them loved us. If a wedding is about love, why say that some people have shown you more love than someone else? Why compare them?

This statement is a blatant declaration of superiority – they’ve put more love into it. Not necessarily. Not always. If the bride’s grandmother buys her some beautiful crystal from a registry, has she truly put less love into it than the family friend officiant who turns up to do the service? Would the bride honestly think so? I really hope not.


Angepange September 7, 2013 at 1:42 am

Ok,I get it. You don’t like my opinion. It’s unnecessary to quote me twice. It’s my opinion, based on what I have experienced. I am sure we can agree that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As I said, I never meant it to sound superior, I am sorry you see it that way.

Jessie September 4, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Lots of good thoughts here. I don’t think a gift is really needed but it can always be nice to give something more meaningful. Maybe put the description of the ceremony / vows in a nice booklet for them to look back on and read again and again. It is both meaningful and has to do directly with you officiating.


pinkiu September 4, 2013 at 7:44 pm

My husband is a pastor and this issue comes up often. If the couple are church attenders, they often assume the services are included because they attend or their parents attend. How does the pastor bring up this issue if he does want to make his time his gift? Should he just say, “My officiating at your wedding will be my gift to you.”?


Jen September 5, 2013 at 9:59 am

@Pinkiu, no, he should not automatically give his services as a gift. I’m a photographer and I run into this sort of mindset a lot — people assume because they’re friends or family that I wouldn’t mind doing professional services as a gift (services that can cost thousands of dollars). He needs to use his polite spine and let the couple know right away that there is a fee. For example, “Pastor! We’re getting married and we want to have the ceremony here and have you do the wedding!” “Fantastic! Congratuations! I’m so happy for you and I’m so honored you want to hire me to perform your wedding and share in your special day! What’s your email address? I’ll have the secretary [if there is a secretary] draw up the initial contract that details the fees and she’ll reserve the day once you send in your deposit.”


another Laura September 5, 2013 at 11:06 am

Maybe your husband could bring this up at the next council meeting. If the rest of the members are on board with it, something could be inserted in the minutes to the effect that nonmembers will pay $xx for pastor to officiate at wedding, +$xx for premarital counseling. For members (and their children) there is a discounted cost of $yy for the same services. He could then refer potential “clients” to this before an agreement for service is made, in the same way a vendor would.


Kimstu September 5, 2013 at 11:44 am

Maybe something like “I’m delighted that you want to be married in our church. Because of the long friendship you/your parents have shared with this community, I’d like to give you my services as an officiant gratis, waiving the usual officiant fee.”

That emphasizes the positive aspects of the pastoral relationship, and skates over the possibly embarrassing issue of whether the couple might not initially have even known about there being a “usual officiant fee”!

But he’d better be VERY clear about whether or not that includes “extras” such as an organist’s fee, use of the church, etc. etc.


Jeanne September 5, 2013 at 11:45 am

The church needs to have a paper that lists all costs and they should not be a gift. It should list fees for the pastor, the organist, the programs, the rental of the space (we use lower space fees for members), when they must reserve the space by, etc. that way there are no assumptions and it is matter of fact. The pastor should be paid every time. If he and his family then want to give a gift to the couple that is their choice but there should be no relation to his officiating.


Jazzgirl205 September 5, 2013 at 11:08 pm

I found out years later that my husband did not pay the priest for his wedding services. He handed the money to the best man (who is now a priest) to give to the priest. “A priest should not expect payment for what should be a normal part of his ministry,” dh was told. Since dh was not Catholic, he took the best man’s word for it and even assumed that offering money might be considered insulting. By the time our dd was Christened, dh handed the priest the money himself.


M September 5, 2013 at 9:20 am

I ran into this with a making a wedding dress once.

I am a professional level pattern drafter and seamstress, as in I’ve sewn for big designers, large corporations, television and films. I have some rare skills and am not cheap.

Two or three very close friends and family have asked me to make wedding dresses for their gift. I explain that they will pay for materials and *part* of my fee, and the rest will be my wedding gift to them. When all is said and done, based on my normal fee, I still end up giving them a gift of time and skill worth well over $1,000. Most don’t seem to realize this and don’t even give me a thank you card, which is why I no longer make wedding dresses.

The following friend is the main reason I will not be making any more wedding dresses as “gifts”:

I had always told a dear friend that I would make her wedding dress as her gift (less cost of materials) when she got married. It came up in conversation many times over the years we knew each other. She always reminded me I was making it anytime she saw one of my projects.

Fast forward 10 or so years into our friendship and she is planning to marry a lovely man. She is very excited and asks me all kinds of questions about how I can create her dream dress. I remind her that this will be my gift to her, less materials costs.

I get to work on designing her dress to her specifications (which is extra work that more than triples the fees/time, by the way- usually the brides give me a pattern they have chosen).

Fast forward a month or two, when I have already invested a couple thousand dollars’ worth of time into this dress. I meet with said friend to ask when she wants to buy the actual material for the gown and I can give her the invoice for the materials so far (I had already given her a quote on the full cost of materials).

Her response?

“Oh, just call my mom, she’s paying for my dress.”


The above lines are what my brain did instead of saying anything.

In the fog of that moment, I realized the bride had told her mom the dress would only cost $X based on the materials I had quoted.

I was so shocked I just couldn’t form the words “This was supposed to be my gift to you. And I know your mom cannot afford my full fee, is this gift now for her???”

At that point it was also too late for the bride to find and order another dress like the one she dreamed of before the wedding. I couldn’t exactly quit. I know I should have said something…but it was a moment without spine and I was in deep shock. We had been saying this would be my gift for 10 years!

I couldn’t even bring myself to give the couple a card, which I know I should have. I was just in a state of disbelief through the whole thing. Honestly, I was being robbed and I was allowing it to happen.

Anyway, point is, in addition to gifting the bride’s *mom* a couple thousand in discounts, paying for a very expensive hotel, hosting showers (I was in the wedding) and helping with all wedding setup, I never received a thank you card.

My advice? Get every last detail spelled out IN WRITING in regards to gifts of time when your gifted service is usually offered by a professional.


Jen September 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm

M, I’m so sorry, I feel like I’m missing something in your story here. Please, feel free to correct me on the details. 🙂

– You agreed to make the dress at a discount; meaning, materials plus only part of your fee.
– Her mom is the one who is paying you the money instead of the bride.

The rest I’m a bit fuzzy on. You said you had given the bride the full quote but also that you were being robbed. Did the mom not pay the full quote? Did she only pay materials but not your time? Did she even pay for all the materials?

I’m also slightly confused because it seems you were upset that the money was coming out of the mom’s pocket and not the bride’s pocket. I’m not sure why this is. I’m not sure how this ends up being a gift for the mom unless it was secretly the mom’s wedding and not the bride’s and the dress was worn by the mom instead of the bride.

So, on one hand, I think I’m reading that you didn’t get the full agreed upon payment, which is terrible, but on the other, you seem upset that the money was handed to you by the mom, and I’m confused as to why this is bad.

Please, I do want to understand. It’s quite possible I’m missing some important details or reading this the wrong way. 🙂


M September 5, 2013 at 11:11 pm

I realized after I posed that it might not be clear, sorry for confusion.

The Bride no longer considered my time and skill a gift.
The dress was now a gift to her from her mother.

The bride was in her 40s and she and the groom were paying everything with the exception of her mother having offered to pay for the dress.
The mother offered this at some point between me starting making the dress and the bride telling me about it. As far as I know the mother was aware for some time I would be making the wedding dress, but was never told the costly labor was intended to be my gift.
Had I known the mother intended to “buy” the wedding dress for her daughter, I would have explained it would cost thousands in fees, but I could reduce them slightly for her mother. I would not build the dress for free for the bride if the mother was paying for it as a gift.

It’s hard to convey all the details of the situation, but basically I had done the equivalent of spending $2000 on a gift for a friend, only to have the friend’s mother take my name off the tag and add her own.
The bride insisted on fully paying other friends who made cakes or styled hair for her wedding (after they also offered these as gifts). As j. says below, it’s as if all of a sudden “sewing” didn’t count as a real skill to her and she completely forgot the years of me explaining my labor was worth money.


Jen September 6, 2013 at 8:38 am

Ah, I understand now. So instead of it being a co-gift (the mom gifts materials, you gift valuable time, amazing skill, and labor) it suddenly became a gift from mom and you were simply the unvalued sweatshop worker who they believed should have been grateful to have the honor of making the dress?

I sew some, too, and have had to put my foot down with friends and fellow bellydance troupe members that I don’t have time to sew things for them and if they think it’s so easy to do and such a non-issue, why aren’t they doing it themselves? I’ve actually started to explaining to people that I hate to sew but the only reason I sew my own costumes is that I have a specific vision in my head and that’s the only way it’ll be made to my specific standards without me paying 1000s of dollars.

Sorry you were taken advantage of like that.


Sarah September 6, 2013 at 12:49 pm

I think women have to be more “upfront” – read “agressive” for some people! Recently I was walking by a made to measure tailor´s shop and ecologically I have been thinking of going that route! Buying clothes that are the colour and fit for me rather than buying ones that are so-so and end up never being worn. I priced a dress in the window – sleeved, knee length with a peplum, two fittings would be done. He quoted me €700 as an average (depending on the fabric that was chosen).
On a personal note I hope your friend was just caught up with organising her wedding and not thinking. I am wondering a little at the mother, even if she were told this was the price did she not think it was a little low? Maybe she does not understand that made to measure clothes are not comparable price wise to “The Dress Barn” (does the name not say it all??) Maybe you could talk to her about your disappointment at your present being usurped in this way, in the polite way you have told us! I imagine you either were unable to give her a gift or had to dip into savings or money marked for other purposes to purchase one. I hope you do not lose a friend over this. Do let us know if you did talk to her and if so how the conversation went!


June First September 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I think you mean “assertive” rather than “aggressive”. You don’t have to be mean or angry about it, just have a polite spine!

Kimstu September 6, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Thanks for the follow-up @M, but I’m still a bit confused: it seems perfectly possible to me that the bride was still regarding your work on the gown as YOUR gift, and her mother’s purchase of the materials for the gown as HER gift.

Yes, I agree that “my mom is paying for my dress” is a pretty stupid-axe way to express that. But I naively figured that what the bride meant, translated into PoliteSpeech, was something like “My mother has kindly offered to pay for the materials for this wonderful gown you’re giving me, and requests that you call her directly so she can pay you.”

The bride definitely DID blot her copybook both by not expressing herself in PoliteSpeech and then by not sending you a thank-you note (!!) for your very generous gift of labor and talent. But I wouldn’t necessarily assume that the lack of thank-you note implies that she didn’t consider your gift a “real” gift at all. For all I know, she may not have sent thank-you notes for ANY of her gifts; as we see all too often around here, many brides just don’t bother!


M September 7, 2013 at 9:40 pm

I wish we could mind meld in posts sometimes. We don’t want to bore anyone with details of the boors we meet, but we also don’t want to confuse or leave too much detail out. I also hate to hijack the OP’s story comments with mine. Sorry, OP! I still say a card is all the gift needed.

In regards to my dress story- The bride *did* send thank you cards to other people, yes.

Jen above nailed it, the possibility of this being a co-gift was never there. It’s hard to explain to those who don’t know this mother-daughter, but the instant her mom offered to pay for the dress, all thoughts of what the time/labor/skill I was giving were worth went out of the bride’s head. Her mom was taking care of the dress and that’s all the bride knew.

At some point the bride knew the labor cost money, we talked about it many times. But I think all the years I had been telling her that was pushed out of her brain to make room to reconfigure her centerpiece 9,000 times (and yes, she wanted my opinion every single time).

And as Sarah asks above, yes, the bride’s mother did not really understand that this custom designed and built dress with hand beading should have cost much more than the bride quoted her. The bride’s mother has money troubles, and I couldn’t bring myself to explain labor would more than quadruple what she was expecting to pay.

As for talking to the bride about it, I don’t see a point in bringing it up now. It’s not a sore spot, especially since it is my fault for not making the terms abundantly clear when the mother took over. I just thought of it for the first time in a while after reading Admin’s response above.

Actually, I just had a light bulb go on above my head. Now that I think about it, the bride may have never listened to me when I was talking about what my fees normally are. She has declared bankruptcy twice. She is by far my most financially irresponsible friend. She’s terrible at money.
See, mind meld. Details like this make stuff make sense.

Again, professional service as a gift? Write it down and hammer out the terms in advance, on paper. It’s harder to ignore all those zeros in a price when they’re on paper.

The bride and I are still friends, but I haven’t made her any garments since. Yes, she’s asked. But after I quote her a fair price that includes labor, she declines. 🙂

j. September 5, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Having a friend who sews seems to bring out the worst in people. I am always being told, Oh, I should “let” you make XX for me. Or Oh, I’m sure you’d love to make me YY, I’ll just pay for the materials!

I don’t know if it’s because sewing is a traditionally feminine occupation or what, but people who don’t sew tend to have a really hard time attaching monetary value to it. That, combined with the way people tend to go a little crazy where weddings are involved, is why the only wedding dresses I will ever be sewing are my daughters’.


M September 5, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Hear, hear, j.! I’m going to agree on the whole traditional “it’s women’s work” for why this skill isn’t taken seriously.


NostalgicGal September 9, 2013 at 2:48 am

“It costs $50 for me to touch my sewing machine, and it goes up from there.” I learned to deliver that one in 2005 with a nice smile and an unflappable poise. That has usually gotten the attention of whoever is trying to either get me to be their slave; or expect me to do something for ‘free’.

IF I volunteer, that is another matter. I have and that was very clear it was my gift. And that has happened a few times. (once a sister of the B2B paid materials, preagreed, other time the G2B (sewed his outfit) paid the materials. My labor was the gift)
It seems M had something akin to the first one happen to her except it a) wasn’t clear at the start-fumbled along the way and b) bride didn’t seem to realize the way it came across

I learned a very very LONG time ago, not to get roped into slaving for free.


NostalgicGal September 9, 2013 at 2:51 am

Should’ve mentioned, M, the first case was on the order of $4k, the second, $2k (first one also included doing all the silk flowers… it took about 8 months before the words ‘silk flowers’ weren’t swear words, heh) I am also amending my line now to $100 if I have to use it again, it’s been awhile and I am less inclined to work for another than a decade ago….

Sarah September 9, 2013 at 9:34 am

Thank you M for replying – I think you handled it really well! You have kept a friend and limited the damage by not allowing yourself to get into the same situation again. I know that someone, somewhere, sometime is going to repay you for your work. Be it some luck or a wish come true because you deserve it. You have been gracious about two people who have a blind spot when it comes to money – and goodness knows those kind of people can try the patience of saints! Instead of making the mother with money problems cough up more or insisting that the bride be “suitably grateful” you have retired gracefully and that is to be admired! Sorry that this is in the wrong place but there was no reply icon under the last post. Good wishes to you, you are a great friend and may your grace be repayed a thousand times in your lifetime!


just4kicks September 5, 2013 at 10:10 am

When my DH and I married, I worked in a very small office with five other ladies. We would talk often about the upcoming event during work. I invited all of the ladies, and noticed one of the gals would look upset whenever the topic came up. One day it was just her and I and she said to me, my husband and I can’t come to your wedding. Before I could say anything in reply, she said her hubby was recently laid off and they couldn’t afford a gift for us. I told her I really wanted her there, and her joining in our special day with us was all the present I could ask for. Well, after the wedding, we open the presents and lo and behold, there is a card and a beautifully wrapped present. The gift? She had taken our wedding invitation and pressed beautiful flowers all around the border and put it in a lovely frame!!! That beautiful gift proudly hangs in our home, and 17 years later, still means the world to me. Presents don’t have to be expensive to be very touching and meaningful.


Marozia September 5, 2013 at 7:47 pm

You can give a gift if you and your spouse want to, but really, you are not obligated to.
A gift would be a nice gesture.


M. Sun September 5, 2013 at 9:41 pm

While I think the dame’s answer is correct, I felt her tone was overly harsh. In part, because I don’t see what the OP did wrong other than associate with the “wrong” people. I think she did a great job of shooting the messenger here. Specifically these sentences: “Dear OP, it sounds to me as though this conversation did not happen between you and the happy couple otherwise there would be no confusion as to what an appropriate wedding gift would be.” and ” Traveling out of state AND officiating? As if that was not enough, your husband wants to throw more money at them in form of a tangible gift?”. Keep in mind this is after the OP said, “But my spouse disagrees and feels that we need to have a gift at the wedding as well.

I’m pretty sure I’m right on this? Help me eHellions, you’re my only hope!”

I’m also unclear how the same knows the OP is female.


NostalgicGal September 6, 2013 at 1:59 am

IF *I* have offered to wed the couple for free, I have already indicated that this IS my gift. That’s what they’re getting. I do have some nice marriage certificates that are not legal but something nice to frame for the wall; and I usually will take one of these, my good calligraphy pen, and pen in the details and gift them with that as well. My cost, about $1.50 if I buy a whole package of them, each.

If I am ‘volunteered’ to wed someone, then we start talking, and I am not above discussing fees up front. (I am registered in three states and five counties; so, as long as it’s in one of these locations). If I have to ‘register and fee’ for the area, I expect that to be taken care of, and other things related, I expect to be recompensed as well. (my classic best so far is late November, at full moonrise, in an alpine clearing at 10k feet, and the couple had their four wolves as part of the gathered. They paid lots for me to stand in snow past my knees and driving up there and back, and I made sure that I seen the wolves get their supper before dark. To me a full wolf is a happy wolf…)

To the OP, if I was in the situation; I’d default to giving them the nice certificate, my blessings, and since I paid to come and do; that’s the present.


AngePange September 6, 2013 at 4:54 am

Maybe the OP’s name gave away her gender – something Admin would have been privy to that the rest of us can’t see? I know that my email address contains my name. Just hazarding a guess here!


OP September 6, 2013 at 10:10 am

Hi OP here, just wanted to clarify a couple of points:

When this was first discussed, my friends and I lived in the same state. We moved suddenly at the end of last year when a job opportunity came up that we could not pass on. We’d been 30 years in the same place, no one expected us to move like that, including ourselves! So it wasn’t as though they asked us to travel out of the blue.

I think our confusion mainly stemmed from the fact that I assumed performing a wedding service was a gift-equivalent, and my spouse did not. There was not a discussion for that reason. We were both operating off different assumptions. And part of me would still like to give them a tangible gift – I’m really good at choosing gifts for people and we’ve been friends a long time. I feel weird going to a wedding without one. I guess I wanted reassurance that my time was all the gift anyone could want. 🙂


gellchom September 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm

This issue has come up in varying situations, and my husband — who is a clergyman — and I have a guideline that we use that I think might be helpful to others. The best advice I can give is to ask yourself why you were invited; would you have been included anyway? Would you have attended and traveled anyway? Would you have bought a gift anyway? (Sub-question: are others participating in comparable roles, too? If so, then you are a guest, and you are being honored, not exploited, by being included, even if you are a professional and even if it does take some effort on your part, so you should usually give a gift as well just as you would otherwise.

I would probably make an exception for something like making a wedding gown or cake or composing and scoring original music or other major task like that — that to me does seem like a very generous gift in itself. But the “major-ness” refers to the extraordinary time and work involved, NOT your talent, training, or credentials (it takes a lot longer to sew a dress than to write remarks or rehearse a song). My husband has performed many weddings for friends and relatives, and even I have sung at one. Neither of us ever considered it our gift, notwithstanding the time and effort involved.

Part of this comes from my husband’s conversations with colleagues asking each other whether they should give wedding and bar/bat mitzvah gifts like any other guests, or whether their services should be their gift. I thought his response was very wise: Do you want to be considered (and treated like, and paid like) a social equal, or like the hired help? If the former, then you do what a social equal does, and you buy a gift.

Here are a couple of examples that show what I mean — as you see, the question goes beyond weddings and gifts:

1) When my husband performs a wedding for a friend or relative out of town, it’s never been that we were invited just for that purpose, but that we would have been invited anyway. If there is a fee for a one-time license to perform the ceremony, the host family usually pays it. And he never considers it our gift; rather, he considers it an honor to be asked. One very generous family who happen to be members of our congregation had a daughter marry across the country, and they wanted him to officiate. They are very good friends (the husband and I were law partners, too), and I am pretty sure we would have been invited in any case, although it was pretty small. They insisted on paying for our airfare and hotel (and it was a fancy one), although we protested that it was totally unnecessary. Far from considering his services our gift, if anything, I probably spent even more on that gift.

2) At our wedding, one of his classmates co-officiated with my family’s rabbi. He did not give us a gift, evidently considering his participation his gift. My parents paid for his airfare and I think hotel (and I don’t think he ever thanked them). Maybe he felt like this made him look like a valued professional. But frankly it just made him look cheap and self-important, especially because in those days and in our 20-somethings circle, wedding gifts from the HC’s friends were always something small anyway.

3) Different situation, but similar principle: I am part of a wonderful group that has a reunion every few years. A highlight is a “talent show” the last evening that ends with singing and dancing together far into the night. We are fortunate to include in our ranks several very talented musicians and performers (not me!), including several professionals, and even a couple of quite famous ones . Everyone just performs as equals, just as we did Back Then. Same for the prominent professors and rabbis who lead services, discussions, and so forth. Last time, when the planning committee sent out requests to various members to lead break out sessions and ask whether they wanted a slot in the talent show and so forth, one professional musician — kind of famous, but by no means the most so — sent back a contract form or something like that. Everyone was embarrassed for her. She knew perfectly well that no one was being hired for anything (she’d been there last time), and she was included as an alum like the rest of us.

It’s very nice for the hosts to do something nice for you, perhaps give you a gift, too, when you participate in a wedding. We gave gifts to all the friends who helped with anything at all with our son’s wedding. But that didn’t turn them into employees. Their participation was an extra gift to our family, precisely because they are so close — the same as we all do for each other.

The point is, consider your role overall in the event and, even more important, in the group. Are you a guest who would have been invited anyway, or are you only included for your labor/talent/limo/salon etc.? When you answer that, you will know the answer to the rest.


sv September 10, 2013 at 10:27 am

This is the most perfect example of whether or not time and skill should be considered a gift that I have ever read. Excellent advice 🙂


Pam September 9, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Pick out something meaningful and affordable – your officiating is definitely sufficient, but if you have a doubt then err on the side of generosity if these are special friends. 🙂


Dutch1981 September 20, 2013 at 7:32 am

Yesterday I heard something on friendship: True friendship(or love) is when you stop keeping score.

Do you want to give a gift and can you afford it? Then do. If you don’t want to give a gift because you feel it would be superfluous, then don’t.

But for your own peace of mind; please don’t try to keep score.


Bibianne September 26, 2013 at 10:11 am

When we were planning our wedding (23 yrs ago, in Quebec) we were looking into making it more intimate. I asked my uncle (who is a judge) if he could officiate, since we were going for a civil ceremony. He told me he would look into the matter (he needed permission to perform a wedding). My DH and I offered to pay whatever license fees. His (and my aunt’s) reply was: “this is part of our wedding gift”. I found out afterwards that not only did they pay for the license… they also upgraded our city hall courtroom for the ceremony (we went from the “bland” room to the completely renovated wood paneled room), and on top of that, a generous gift. Were we expecting anything else? No, we were so happy he said “yes” to marrying us. And he was pleased: ours was his one and only wedding ceremony (he was also decked out in ceremonial court clothes: he looked dashing!). And Miss Jane will be happy to know: 10 days later: all thank you cards (with personal message) were signed AND mailed.


Nate October 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm

This answers a question I had about a destination wedding. I went to a friend’s wedding in Key West, which required a significant amount of money for the flights and hotel. I brought along my good camera and took quite a few photos, even though they had a photographer for the ceremony. I spent hours editing the photos. I decided that being at their wedding and taking photos the of the entire trip was a gift and did not get them anything else. I was always wondering if I should have given them a card or something.


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