Dear New Shrink,

A friend of mine recently got engaged and I just received an invitation to their engagement party. This is the first engagement party I have been invited to and I’m not sure what the proper etiquette is. Is it required that I bring a gift? If so, what type of gift is appropriate? The invitation does not have any details and simply lists the time and the location. I do not want to show up without a gift if that is expected but given my financial situation, I am not really in a place to buy this couple multiple gifts.

Signed,

Confused Invitee

Dear Confused Invitee,

Gift giving etiquette can be a difficult thing to balance especially given the individual nature of such decisions. While ultimately you will have to come to your own conclusion based on your relationship with the couple and financial limitations, I hope to provide you with a few suggestions to help you solve your gift-giving situation.

First off it is rarely required that you bring a gift. In fact it is far more common for a couple to print “no gifts” on their invitation than to require gifts for a celebration. Gift giving is intended to be a voluntary gesture of kindness and should not be a required element of attending a party. The ultimate purpose of the engagement party is for family and friends of the newly engaged couple to celebrate and acknowledge the new stage the couple has reached. Further, the engagement celebration is typically the first of many events scheduled to celebrate the couple so rest assured there will be plenty of other opportunities to give gifts.

The actual location and details of the party may help you to make your decision. For instance, if the party is at a restaurant or bar where you are expected to pay for your own meal or drinks then you are already contributing to the celebration. If the party is a surprise for the couple it is unlikely that they will be expecting gifts and will simply be thrilled with the shock of having all their friends and family in one location celebrating with them. Further, giving large gifts or cash may be out of place for public locations given the chance that they may be misplaced or inappropriate for a confined setting. In many situations you may know others who have been invited to the engagement party. Consulting with them might help you determine whether it is appropriate to bring a gift and if so, to gain their advice on what you should give.

If you do decide that a gift is appropriate the cost and type of gift would depend a lot on the couple and your relationship with them. There are a number of things you might consider that can symbolize your friendship without breaking the bank. Many couples register with department and specialty stores soon after announcing their engagement and setting the date. It may be helpful to review their registry as these are pre-selected by the couple and you are sure to provide something they can use. You might also consider a gift that will help the couple plan for their wedding night, giving you an avenue to be more creative in your gift-giving. For instance, a gift-card to a local bakery so they could test out cakes or wedding magazines to get their planning off to a quick start. These gifts will show that you’re thinking about their current situation and providing ways to connect with the couple during the coming months of their engagement. Also consider giving tools that will help the couple further organize wedding planning like a date book or organizer. Another idea is to give the couple time together by giving a gift certificate for dinner, dance lessons, or tickets to a local show.

If money is tight, you might consider just writing a personal card to the couple congratulating them on their engagement. This card will symbolize your friendship and warm wishes for their future together. Another suggestion might be to do some wedding planning research for the couple based on your own experience or the advice of recently married friends. For instance, providing the couple with information on local wedding photographers, bakers, florists, wedding planners and venues will be welcome assistance for the busy couple. Finally, when in doubt, a bottle of wine serves as an easy symbol celebrating the newly engaged couple.

Finally, remember that the couple invited you to their engagement party for your presence, not your presents. Whether you attend with a gift in hand or not, the purpose of the event is for you to have a good time and to celebrate what’s really important — the newly engaged couple.

Katrina Davy is a professional career counselor holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities. Got something on your mind? Send your questions to newshrink@gmail.com. All questions will be kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!