Wedding registries serve an important purpose. They help to ensure that the newlyweds will wind up with gifts they'll actually use instead of relegating them to long-term storage in the attic. That said, there is no rule against buying gifts off-registry. They just take a little more time and thought to choose.
Why Guests Sometimes Stray From Wedding Registries
There are plenty of compelling reasons to buy gifts off-registry. Some are practical, while others are more principled. If you've checked the registry and there's not a single thing left on it that's within your budget, for example, you'll have little choice but to look elsewhere for perfect gift ideas.
On the other end of the spectrum, some guests stray from wedding registries because they already have unique ideas in mind. Maybe there's something crucial missing from the registry and you want to fill in that gap, or perhaps you've just known the couple for long enough that it feels more appropriate to give a more personal gift. Either way, know that it's OK to stray.
Filling In the Gaps
Finding the right gift takes some extra leg work when guests go off-registry, but it can be worth the extra effort. That said, the search should still start with giving the list a quick review. You might notice that something essential is missing. Here are a few things to look for:
One good example is giving dinnerware for a wedding gift. There is almost always someone in the family who wants to pass down fine china or purchase expensive dinnerware and flatware for the newlyweds so that they can host dinners in style. While fine china has its place, though, it's not the best option for daily use or hosting informal parties. You may want to fill in the gap by purchasing a high-quality melamine dinnerware set.
Newlywed couples will need high-quality luggage to bring on their honeymoons, yet it's one of the most frequently forgotten gifts. If you don't have it in the budget to go all-out and purchase larger pieces for checked luggage, think a little smaller. Carry-on and accessory bags are less expensive but still make for thoughtful gifts.
Not everyone is handy around the house, and that's perfectly fine. However, every couple needs a high-quality set of basic tools for handling minor issues around the home. People who aren't into DIY culture aren't as likely to remember items like basic tool sets and drills when they create their registries, but they're the ones who need them most. Just keep in mind the fact that someone will most likely need to show them the ropes when it comes to using the tools, and the first person on the call list very well might be the gift-giver.
Couples often forget to list seasonal items, which can be a problem when it comes time for entertaining guests for the holidays. Most people remember things like barbecue grills but forget the grill tools, for example, which can be a problem when that first Fourth of July celebration rolls around. Not all seasonal gifts focus on entertaining, either. If the couple loves winter sports, you could look into gear and accessories that they could take with them when the next ski season rolls around. Don't be afraid to think outside the box if you know the couple well.
Same or Similar Gifts From Different Stores
If you know the couple but not well enough to feel comfortable straying too far from the comfort zone of the wedding registry, buying similar gifts from different stores is always an option. There are two primary reasons that people take this approach to gift-giving:
- The same item is available at a different store at a lower price.
- There's a better model available than what the couple has listed.
Either way, you should let the couple know that you've purchased the gift from a different store so that they can remove it from the registry. That way, other well-meaning guests won't wind up purchasing the same item.
Highly Personalized Gifts
When couples put together wedding registries, they do so with the knowledge that all of their guests will see them. As a result, they tend to include only certain types of generally traditional gifts. If you know the couple well, straying from the registry to offer something more personalized can be a thoughtful and appreciated practice.
Try to think of the gift as a reflection of how you feel about the couple and choose something that will bring them joy for years to come. Personalized gifts given by best friends or close family members need to be well-thought-out, so don't use the closeness of your relationship as an excuse to buy something quirky and cute that will just wind up collecting dust. There's nothing wrong with buying artwork or home decor as gifts, but be sure it fits not just your relationship and the occasion but also the couple's style.
Giving the Gift of Shared Experiences
When couples create wedding registries, they tend to focus on practical items that they'll need to start a new life together. If you're certain that other guests have already covered the basics and purchased everything from the registry that the couple truly needs, a good alternative is to buy the couple a shared experience, instead.
Knowing where the couple will go on their honeymoon can help you come up with a thoughtful, experience-based gift. You could purchase a gift card to a local restaurant online or book the newlyweds massages at a local spa, to offer just two examples that will be sure to please just about anyone.
The other direction to go with experience-based gifts is to find something closer to home that relates to the couple's shared interests. Here are a few general ideas to get you started brainstorming:
- A National Park pass for lovers of the great outdoors.
- A virtual cooking lesson for self-proclaimed foodies.
- An AirBnB gift card for couples that love to travel.
- An annual museum membership for art lovers.
- A MasterClass subscription for couples that enjoy learning new things.
Dance classes, wine tastings, and spa days are all common experience gifts, as well. As with any other off-registry gift, the key is to pick something that appeals to the couple's shared interests and personality.
Best Practices for Going Off-Registry
Regardless of why you've chosen to go off-registry when buying a couple a gift, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. If you want your gift to come off as being thoughtful rather than cheap, inappropriate, or just plain odd, you'll definitely want to follow them.
Don't Make It Look Cheap
While it's fine if you decide to go off-registry instead of purchasing excessively expensive items best left for groups instead of individuals or couples, don't make your gift look cheap. Picking a gift that's similar to a registry item from a more affordable store is acceptable, but only if it's of comparable quality. For highly personalized gifts, it's fine to focus on sentimental value, but not at the expense of actual quality.
Avoid Cliche Gifts
Unless they're on the wedding registry, guests shouldn't give cliche gifts like photo frames or glass vases. They're neither thoughtful nor useful and are more likely to leave the couple feeling resentful rather than grateful. Giving gift certificates, or even cash is more thoughtful than a present that will not just go unused but will demonstrate a serious lack of creativity.
Include a Gift Receipt
When buying off-registry, always include a gift receipt. Even if you feel certain that the couple will like your strange, obscure present, there's no guarantee that's true. Including a receipt at least gives the couple the option of exchanging the gift for something else instead of leaving it to collect dust in storage.
Vet the Gift Idea
Want to be sure that the couple really will love an off-registry gift? The best way to know is to ask. You could reach out to family or close friends to confirm whether the gift will be useful to the couple, or even ask directly. There's no need to be specific about brands and features. Just find out if the engaged couple already has a similar or the same item first.
Send the Gift A Few Weeks in Advance
Going off-registry doesn't mean you should throw all conventions out the window. Be sure to send your gift to the couple a few weeks in advance, even if it's an experiential gift rather than something tangible. After all, the couple will want to know if they should plan for a free spa day on their honeymoon or a dinner out in town.
Start the Search Early
Giving a couple an off-registry gift is perfectly fine, as long as the item is thoughtful, useful, and something that both people will enjoy having. You should, however, still start the search for the perfect gift well in advance so that you can vet your choice with family or close friends and follow proper wedding etiquette by sending it early.