(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)
By Mitch Lipka
BOSTON, May 14 (Reuters) - When you go to as many weddings as Stephanie Wong does, you need to come up with some guidelines for gift-giving. During the past two years, Wong, 32, who works in marketing for a book publisher in San Francisco, has been to about a half-dozen weddings. She expects to attend three more this year.
The amount Wong spends is all about her relationship to the people getting married, how fancy the wedding is going to be and whether she brings a date.
At a recent wedding of a close friend where she did a reading and went alone, Wong gave the couple $300. At another wedding in her social circle, she skipped the reception and gave $75.
As the wedding season gets into full swing, guests from coast to coast are confronted with the same question: How much should you spend and how should you give it?
Wedding experts agree on a couple of things: the closer you are to the bride or groom, the more you are expected to give, and do not give more than you can afford just because of the expectations.
Defying the "cost-of-the-meal" school of gift-giving, where guests give a gift roughly equivalent to what it cost to host them, Kristen Maxwell Cooper, deputy editor of the wedding-focused website TheKnot.com, says location and cost of the reception should not be the burden of the guest.
She offers these guidelines to wedding-goers wherever they might be: A distant relative or co-worker should give $75-$100; a friend or relative, $100-$125; a closer relative, up to $150.
If you are wealthy, are you expected to inflate the gift? No, Cooper says. "If they do, it's because they're just generous people."
Meghan Ely, who has been in the wedding industry for a dozen years, says it is reasonable to give on the lower end if you had to spend a lot to get there.
And, she and Cooper agree, buying items off a registry, where there is one, is a good idea.
"These days, couples are statistically older and more established in their lives so when they register, they are truly asking for things that they need," Ely says. "It really takes the guesswork out of it for the guests."
That's about how it worked out for Melinda Parrish, a 30-year-old model from Washington, D.C. who got married last year in Annapolis, Maryland. Her guests spent an average of $115 off her registry, and most of her friends gave $50-$100. Some who had financial obstacles made gifts or framed photos. One made a charitable donation in their name.
Most of all, she was surprised that about 40 of the 200 guests who attended gave nothing.
Some experts note a trend of couples registering for various elements of their honeymoon, including a night at a hotel, a dinner or an evening of drinks.
It's a request that runs afoul of some, including Peggy Newfield, founder of the American School of Protocol in Atlanta, who recently attended a wedding where the bride and groom solicited unusual presents. "You could check whether you wanted your gift to cover champagne on the plane or in their suite at the hotel, their limo service, dinner in the evening, or whatever," she says.
Her way of responding to the request: "We sent just a congratulation card. There is no etiquette today that defines how crass our society has become."
Cash has even taken a more modern twist - you can send a monetary gift with your credit card. Websites like Tendr.com facilitate the process (for a 5 percent cut of each gift).
The 4,000 gifts given in Tendr's just-completed first year in business averaged $125 nationwide, the company says. Connecticut wedding-goers were the most generous, with an average cash gift of $230.
Editing by Lauren Young, Beth Pinsker and Andrew Hay