Why not just give gifts of money? Prudence of Slate tells us that norms are changing, and that more people are finding cash gifts for weddings acceptable. The couple that posed the initial question put it as follows:
So they think it’s “tacky” to ask for money? Well, we think it’s worse to make people spend precious time getting gifts we don’t need or want.
Amen, says this economist, whose best wedding presents from this last May often were the gift certificates. I might add that co-blogger Alex and his wife gave us a very useful gift certificate for a framing shop.
One economic estimate suggested that Christmas gifts alone involve a “deadweight loss” of $4 billion. I’ve never been convinced by this number, gifts help people sort out how well their friends and loved ones understand them, and create new lines of communication, surely this is an offsetting benefit. And sometimes a surprise or show of affection, as embodied in a gift, is simply more fun. Nonetheless gifts are a form of signalling, and very often people invest too much effort in the signal, just to be higher in the pecking order. I hope Prudence is right about the change in norms.
Addendum: I read the following in the Weekend Financial Times: “In 1979, Karen Davis started a hickory-baked ham company in Marieta, Georgia, and on opening day her parents gave her a porcelain pig for good luck. Over the next two decades, she estimates that she got 400-500 pig gifts. “Pigs aren’t my thing,” she says, though she did warm to the piggy banks.” See the article for other examples of dubious gifts.