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We asked 1,000 people how much they spend on gifts. Here’s what we found out.

What we'll cover

  • How much people typically spend on gifts

  • Gift preferences by occasion

  • How your budget factors in

Have you ever been at a wedding or anniversary party and found yourself whispering to a trusted confidant, “How much did you spend on the happy couple?”

If so, join the club. According to findings from a recent gift-giving survey by Ally, more than 60% of people say they consult friends and family on how much to give.

Our loved ones’ lives are filled with special moments that should be celebrated, and you want to commemorate them by giving the perfect gift right, but you also need to consider your own financial situation. To help you find the sweet spot, we asked 1,000 people about their gift-giving habits. Here’s what we unwrapped.

How much is typically spent on gifts?

The amount put toward a gift varies from person to person and the celebratory event being commemorated.

How much is typically spent on gifts?
Occasion How much do most people spend? If you want to spend more than most...
Wedding $100 $200
Birthday $50 $100
Housewarming $50 $80
Retirement $50 $100
Graduation $50 $100
Baby Shower $50 $100

*Dollar amounts are rounded up to the nearest $5.

Cash or gift: Which is preferred?  

Ahead of everything, you’ll want to figure out whether cash or a gift is appropriate for the person and the event you’re celebrating. Our survey uncovered that people prefer to receive money for wedding, retirement and graduations but would rather have an actual present as a baby shower or housewarming gift.

Cash or gift?
Occasion Most prefer to receive
Wedding Cash
Birthday Either cash or gift
Housewarming Gift
Retirement Cash
Graduation Cash
Baby Shower Gift

In some cultures, it is customary to gift cash for only very special occasions, like a baby shower or graduations. In others, it’s sacrilege.

For example, Albanian culture is known for its selfless generosity, especially when it comes to inviting people to dinner. Yet it’s frowned upon to gift cash at a home celebration as it’s presumed you are using it as a bribe.

Conversely, it is commonplace in Nigerian culture to shower a recently married couple with money at their wedding ceremony as a symbolic gesture of wishing them good fortune and prosperity.

Teens and millennials in the U.S. generally prefer receiving cash over gift cards, according to a 2020 marketing survey.

Generosity within your budget  

When celebrating major life milestones, whether graduations or retirement , not only do you want your loved one to be wowed by your gift, you also need to take your own financial situation into account.

Looking at your budget and how much you can allocate to gift giving should be the first step in striking the right balance. If a gift of cash will significantly impact your ability to pay for your monthly necessities, stick to giving a dollar amount that makes sense for you.

One smart way to plan for gifts is to save ahead of time, especially during those heavy gift giving months. You can save for special occasions by using Ally Bank’s  Online Savings Account  and creating a specific  bucket  for gifts in order to build up a stash so you have it handy when needed. You can also use Ally Bank’s Online Savings Account  Surprise Savings  booster to uncover money that can be transferred automatically from checking to savings (and then later used for gifts).

Next, it’s important to evaluate how close you are to the recipient. Are they someone you speak with on a regular basis, via text or at book club? Or is this a person who has shared in your special moments (think: by your side at your college graduation, the godmother to your first born)?

The closer you are to someone, the larger your cash gift can be (of course, if it works for your financial situation). But if your relationship is less defined, it may be best to opt for a more conservative amount when gifting cash.

Occasion Amount spent on a family member... Amount spent on a close friend... Amount spent on a coworker... Amount spent on an acquaintance...
Wedding $185 $155 $70 $50
Birthday $85 $70 $35 $25
Housewarming $75 $70 $40 $25
Retirement $90 $80 $60 $30
Graduation $130 $90 $40 $25
Baby Shower $85 $85 $50 $30

*Dollar amounts are rounded up to the nearest $5.

The secret’s out

Remember, most people enjoy receiving gifts they can put to good use. Whether you fill an envelope with several bills, offer a donation toward a financial goal your loved one sets for themselves, or pick something off their registry, the recipient is bound to appreciate it.

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