What Do Engaged Couples Want for Wedding Gifts?

Spring marks the start of wedding season. With millennials placing a greater emphasis on experiences, wedding gifts and registries are responding by offering up high-tech nuptial gifts.

Nowadays, brides and grooms are not only asking for blenders and bath towels on their registries, but also for experience-worthy gifts to entertain them, or even to fund future plans.

Kristen Maxwell-Cooper, executive editor for The Knot, told CNBC that having a cash- or honeymoon-focused registry, in addition to a traditional one, is a more elegant way for couples to ask for cash from their family and friends.

Maxwell-Cooper noted that couples are getting married later in life, and the majority of those looking to get married are already living together. The average age of a bride is 29 while the groom is 31, she said.w

“We’ve found that couples love registering for things like cooking classes or even scuba diving lessons, because sometimes those memories end up being more valuable than physical gifts,” Ma told CNBC.

Zola offers a wide range of products and experiences for soon-to-be married couples to select. Ma says some of the most popular include meal delivery service Blue Apron and SoulCycle spin classes. Stays at Airbnb properties are the second most popular item added to registries this year, right behind the KitchenAid Stand Mixer, Ma added.

High-tech registries do not mean that cash has fallen out of favor as a gift. A recent Bankrate survey found that cash and checks are still the most popular wedding gifts given in the Northeast and Midwest. For guests in the South and West, gifts on the registry are more popular.

“Millennials are spending more on travel relative to the spending on consumer goods, compared to previous generations,” said Sara Margulis, CEO of Honeyfund.com, a wedding registry platform. “They are delaying the purchase of homes and marriage to have these experiences.”

Honeyfund.com was started by Margulis and her husband to help them raise money for their own honeymoon. They took the idea to “Shark Tank,” and the company took off after a deal with Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary.

Margulis said couples have used Honeyfund to raise money for everything from marathons to fertility treatments. She said wedding guests are enthusiastic about giving an experience over traditional items, and that people are looking for something modern to give, outside the literal gift box.

For couples focused on their financial future, Feather The Nest allows them to set up a crowdfunding platform to send to family and friends, focused only on real estate and home improvement needs. Patti Frese, Feather the Nest’s vice president of marketing, said there is an increasing attraction for registries specific for funding real estate, like a down payment on a home.

Victoria Shtainer, a broker at real estate company Compass, said many first-time homebuyers need help with a down payment, and this is just another creative way to reach that goal.

With all the talk about experiences versus traditional gifts, how much should consumers expect to spend? Studies suggest it depends on the location, and whom the gift is for.

Bankrate said that wedding gift trends vary by region, and people in the Northeast are the biggest spenders: They are more than twice as likely to spend big on a gift for a close family member or friend. Thirty percent of Northeasterners gave a gift valued around at least $200, compared with just 13 percent of everyone else. Wedding guests who live in the West and Midwest are most likely to spend less than $50 on a close friend or family member, according to Bankrate.

For gifts to a colleague, acquaintance or distant relatives, Bankrate said 46 percent of Northeasterners spend at least $100, compared with 24 percent of the rest of the country. Overall, the average amount a guest spends on a gift is $118, according to The Knot’s 2016 Wedding Guest Study.

The expense of attending a wedding can be a financial strain in itself. In fact, 21 percent of people Bankrate surveyed said they have declined a wedding invitation over fears they couldn’t afford to attend.

“Invitations usually go out months before the big day, so start budgeting early,” said Sarah Berger, “The Cashlorette” at Bankrate. “However, if you simply can’t afford to go, be financially responsible and skip the event.”

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