Etiquette on Returning Gifts for Cancelled Weddings

While Jordan and I are honeymooning in Vegas, I've asked a few of my favorite bloggers to help me out by writing a few guests posts.  The first comes to us from Obsessive Compulsive Daniela, a 20 something Canadian blogger.

This past spring I received two wedding invitations from girlfriends. I used to be super tight with both of them, but due to physical distance, busy schedules, and a bit of laziness, we're not as close as we used to be. But they're both still the type of friend I can catch up with over a two hour phone chat. The weddings were less than one week apart – one on a Saturday and the other on the following Friday.

Weddings = wedding showers. One of my girlfriends had two wedding showers and a bachelorette (of which I could only attend one wedding shower) and my other friend had one shower. I’m not a huge wedding shower fan – I find them kind of boring – but sometimes you do what you gotta do, right?

I find it challenging to figure out how much to give, and how often to give, if you are invited to multiple events. I made a rule for myself that I would give the same total amount to each couple, regardless of the number of events each had. Since each of them had a shower, I decided to give $50 as a gift. I think this is relatively standard, as least for the showers I attended. They were both held at parental homes, so nothing hardcore fancy. I planned on giving another $200 to each couple for the wedding on behalf of myself and my guest.

Fast forward to five days before the first wedding. I received an email from my girlfriend explaining that the wedding was cancelled. I was totally shocked. I’m not going to get into the details around why it was called off, but suffice it to say, it was not an amicable break up.

I’m not proud of what I’m about to admit. My motives were totally selfish and self serving (and maybe a little bit human). Within a couple days of receiving the email, I thought to myself, so I’m going to get my fifty bucks back, right? I’d like to think that this was the pragmatic side of me coming out, my logical self that focuses on the numbers. Of course I was concerned about my friend. I wanted to know that she was okay, regardless of what had occurred, and we made plans to catch up with a couple of weeks. But that didn’t mean I stopped thinking about the $50.

Two months have gone by since the cancelled wedding. I have yet to receive a thank-you note or a refund (for lack of a better term). I’m normally a blunt person, and I’m comfortable asking somewhat uncomfortable questions, but this is one area I’m a little unsure of. It’s partially about the money, but it’s also the principle – I gave you X for a major life event, and then the event didn’t happen. 

What do you think is proper etiquette in this sort of situation? Do I shut up and leave it be, or do I voice my concerns? If I don't get the money back, do I not give a future gift? What would you do?  


  1. This is a tough one...I think if *we* had cancelled our wedding, we would have definitely returned the gifts. I think if you ask about if you risk losing a friend who might not react in the most reasonable manner due to the situation..but I'd probably be annoyed about the $50 too. If you really value the friendship you might want to consider just letting the $50 go and putting it out of your head. Since it's only been two months, this friend may not have completely thought everything out.

    However, if this friend gets married again I'd probably give a much smaller gift.

  2. @ Laura - thanks for the advice, I definitely do not want to lose this friendship. At least I know I'm not alone with my thoughts!

  3. To be fair the $50 you spent was on a shower gift and she had the shower. If your reasoning is that the gift is only theirs' for the keeping if they have the event then she gets to keep the shower gift, no?
    You said you were intending to give another $200 for the wedding since you don't mention it, I assume you didn't, so really you never gave a wedding gift.
    Ultimately I think you need to get over it, and maybe spend some time acting as a friend and making sure that the couple are doing ok as cancelling a wedding is a huge deal, one or both may be quite emotionally upset and your $50 is probably the last thing on their mind.

  4. @ Anonymous - thanks for the comment, you are correct I did not give a wedding gift since there was no wedding to attend. I agree that the friendship completely outweighs the $50. However I also think it's important to talk about societal "norms" around weddings and to learn from the experiences of others.

  5. I think because the wedding didn't come off you should have gotten the money back but since you didn't I would just leave it be. I believe your friend is going through a tough time and money is always a touchy subject. Other than that I don't know what is the proper etiquette. I don't know if next time you should give a gift.

  6. Fair enough, my experience of "societal norms" is that gifts are not dependent on what I receive in return.
    I don't only give birthday gifts to friends who have parties that I think mean they have spend $x on me so their gift should be worth that. So I don't understand why weddings/ showers work that way.
    Only in North America have I seen people base the value of their wedding gift on what they think the couple has spent on their meal. I imagine that any etiquette guide would tell you that you should never give conditional gifts and expect a return on your investment for gifts. I imagine that these same guides might suggest to the couple that they should return wedding gifts if it was cancelled but as I pointed out you never gave a wedding gift.
    I think this is the very definition of a "Put up or shut up" situation.

  7. You sound awfully high and mighty 'Anonymous'.

    The entire premise of a 'wedding shower' is that your close friends wants to give you and your fiance some necessary 'start up' gifts with the idea they are about to begin a life together from scratch.

    Now fast forward and said 'life together' is no longer occurring and I have given a $50 gift - as have 25 others and suddenly that is a significant amount of money spent on someone, who will not be using these gifts for the purpose in which they were given.

    Enough of this 'think about about the friendship' and 'time of need' bs - you're muddling emotion with a very real cost and whether it's $50 or $1 - I would be offended if my friend assumed my gift for my failed wedding was mine to keep - it's downright selfish and shows a lack of character on the former bride's perspective than me for simply scratching my head and wondering why this woman is walking away with over $1000 in gifts and no wedding to speak of.

  8. I'm with you John. I don't plan on saying anything to a friend of ours that recently called off her wedding, nor do I want the additional drama that would occur if I did. Two of my daughters were in the wedding. First there is the cost of bridesmaid's dresses, and for the shower we all went in on a gift that totaled about $200. One of my daughters also contributed a significant amount to her bachelorette party. Even if we don't expect anything back, and yes I do feel this will put a wedge in this friendship, what bothers me is we also like the groom very much, and why shouldn't he get the gift we purchased them? I'm pretty sure he probably didn't take anything and she's the one that called off the wedding. I feel so bad for him. I'm commenting on here just to vent and maybe that will help me move on.

  9. I agree with you John. At least offer to return the gifts. I had two daughters in a friends wedding. The bride cancelled. The cost of dresses, bachelorette party, and shower gift probably total about $600. Not a word. Even if she doesn't return the gift, what if we prefer the groom to have the gift. I know it's not our business, but I think it has created a wedge never to be the same again.

  10. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

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