So far this month, we’ve advised people who are about to get married to reconsider  their choice to use a gift registry both in order to be more eco-friendly and in order to try to get out from under the thumb of the consumer marketing machine. But what if you’re on the other side of the equation? What if you are a guest attending a wedding (or other type of event) that has a gift registry and you’re opposed to using it? Your opposition to using the gift registry could stem from environmental reasons, a strong commitment to bucking the consumer media machine or perhaps you have ethical issues with the store or retailer that the celebrants selected. You don’t want to show up empty handed, but you don’t want to buy off of the registry. So what’s the proper thing to do to follow etiquette, make the couple happy and also feel good about yourself? Here are the dos and don’ts.

Don’t: Buy a Gift From Somewhere the Couple Isn’t Registered

Perhaps your issue with the gift registry is the merchandise and the store it’s from. That’s a valid concern for many Postconsumers. But that doesn’t mean that you can then just go and purchase something for your gift recipients from another store and another line of merchandise. Yes, we know that at the end of the day it’s the thought that counts. But if you’re trying to be a meaningful Postconsumer then your main goal is to avoid contributing to the unnecessary buying of and clinging to “stuff” – especially stuff that somebody may not need or want. Your recipient’s gift registry, for better or for worse, is merchandise that they want. When you go to an independent merchant or artisan and buy them a decorative vase, you truly risk their hating it and just stuffing it in a box in the basement. You’ve feed the consumer machine (even if it was more responsibly) and contributed to stuff accumulation and your item may not ever get used. Even if you think that you really know the recipients and their taste, you may just have done more consumer and eco-harm than good.

Grey Area: Making a Gift

At the base of all of this advice is that you know your gift recipients better than we do (though we again caution you to think that you know them too well). We advise making gifts in many situations at Postconsumers, particularly when the gift can be made from upcycled or recycled materials. However, the picture changes a bit when you decide to make a gift for a recipient or recipients who have posted a gift registry. Presumably an event that has a registry involved with it is a bigger event, possibly even a life landmark moment. Gifts that are made truly do come from that heart and are an investment of time and love. But again, be aware of whether your handmade gift is something that your recipients will use, appreciate or cherish. Just because you love and adore rustic looking quilts, it doesn’t mean that your gift recipients will proudly display your work or even ever remove it from a chest or storage container. Again, we love handmade gifts. Just be sure that when you opt to make something rather than buy from a registry you’re making something the recipients will adore.

Grey Area: Gift Cards

If you asked most people who are having an event that justifies a gift registry, they will tell you that they would adore gift cards not just to the host store of the registry but also to other useful places. And you’ll be able to choose a store or retailer whose business practices you support, ensure that the recipients are able to get something that they truly want and love and also give a gift that is more personal than money or cash. But you have to be careful with gift cards and be aware that the very reason they exist is to create a multi-billion dollar marketing tool. When you gift a gift card, your recipients are likely to do one of three things: forget they ever got the gift card (in which case the retailer gets the money with no overhead), use the gift card and then buy items that are more than the value of the gift card so that they’ve used the entire value (and spent more money) or use the gift card for slightly less than its entire value. The third is the most common, and while it doesn’t seem like a huge deal the total amount of all the twenty cent  or fifty cent balances left on gift cards add up to millions of dollars for retailers. A gift card can be a great option, but be aware of the consumer profit machine you’re supporting when you purchase one.

Do: Just Give the Gift of Cash

It may seem impersonal, which is why so many people avoid giving cash gifts, but the truth is that it’s likely what your recipients truly want the most and it’s also the most likely gift to be spent on something other than “stuff.” It also keeps you away from the consumer engine element of gift cards. The truth of the matter is that, if you want to avoid consumer traps and pressure and still want to give a gift that you can be sure the couple will appreciate, give cash.

Do: Make a Charitable Donation in the Recipient or Recipients Names

And if you want to avoid any possibility of stuff and be of service, it’s perfectly good etiquette to instead make a charitable donation in the name or names of the recipient or recipients. Just remember that the important thing is that you pick a cause or charity that is truly significant to the recipients, not one that is important to you. That means that you’ll either need to know the recipients fairly well or be willing to take the time to do some real research before making your donation. And, even if you do know of a cause near and dear to the recipients’ hearts, do a little research anyway. We’ve all learned enough to know that it’s donor beware when it comes to making sure that the money you donate truly goes to the cause that you care about.

Did we miss a do or don’t about buying gifts but skipping the registry that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.

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