But the first time a couple walks into a store to register for their wedding gifts can be overwhelming. Myriad appliances, gadgets, pots, dishes and sheets seem to loom large, and the choices are dizzying.
When the bride's eye spots a cream-colored coffee serving set, she has no idea if it's a good brand or if it will fit on the top of the buffet. She just knows it's really pretty and that she can't live without it.
She calls to her fiancé to ask his opinion and finds that he has left for points unknown -- and he has the scanning gun. When she finally tracks him down, she finds that the registry now contains 12 beer glasses, a creme brule torch, a lava lamp and a leopard-print sheet set.
Make a plan or prepare for some tears (and no one wants to see the groom cry). A little advance planning is all you need before you set foot in the store or sit down in front of the computer. Sharing expectations with each other is crucial, and getting advice from family and friends can help provide you with a realistic idea of what you'll need as you begin your life together.
When to Register
Most couples register six to eight months before the wedding (while most brides unofficially register at the age of 7). Some prefer to register before their engagement party, while others sign up just prior to a bridal shower. Those hoping for cash, checks or gift cards might prolong registering -- or skip it altogether.
Once you register, make sure to check and update your lists periodically; getting baking pans from Linens 'N' Things means you probably can remove the ones you registered for at Bloomingdales. Also, some stores carry seasonal items (Crate & Barrel is renowned for its constantly shifting stock), so the napkins you put on the list in December might be gone by March.
What You Want
Almost all stores offer some sort of checklist of must-not-forget items. You can also print out similar lists from a wedding Web site like TheKnot.com or weddingchannel.com.
From there, go through what you already own. Just because the checklist says you need an iron doesn't mean you have to replace the one you are using now if you love it. On the flip side, this is the time when you will be able to upgrade.
Next, consider your new digs. If there is no room for the margarita maker on your counter, will it fit on a shelf in the cabinet? What colors are the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen? If the appliances are chrome, will the yellow towels you want work?
Another great tip is to talk to parents, grandparents, friends and co-workers to see what they recommend. If your uncle is a whiz in the kitchen, ask what brands and types of pots and pans to select. If your grandmother has everyday dishes that have been around since "I Love Lucy" was in first-run episodes, you might want to look up the company and see if they're still in business today.
And don't feel you need to pick what is "traditional." If music and movies are more your passion than Merlot, why not put some DVDs or an iPod on the list?
Also, some department stores now sell Judaica. But if you don't find what you want, spread the word that you need a Havdalah set, mezuzot or a menorah.
Where to Register
A standard wedding registry usually breaks down into six categories, according to TheKnot.com: Kitchen Must-Haves (appliances), Setting the Table (dishes), Cookware and Cutlery (pots and pans), Bar and Entertaining (glassware), Bed and Bath (sheets and towels) and Accents and Essentials (luggage and vases). There are some stores that sell all of the above (like Macy's or Bed, Bath and Beyond), and others that specialize in one or two (Williams-Sonoma or Restoration Hardware). In order to give guests enough items to choose from, the rule of thumb is three or four stores, with one gift per invited guest. That number goes up once you factor in showers and engagement parties.
In addition to giving guests a choice of stores, offer a choice of prices. If everything on your list is more than $200, odds are you won't get a lot of it. Also, don't sell yourself short by not splurging on a few things -- like that Kate Spade flatware you always wanted.
Some stores offer special bridal events. Crate & Barrel's Engagement Sundays and Bloomingdales' Sunday Brunch give couples the chance to have fun by coming into the store early (before the crowds descend), enjoying some samples, getting questions answered and testing out products like juicers and panini makers. Some might even toss in perks, like wine glasses, to anyone attending that morning. And the best part -- it's all free!
The registry process can be complicated (and emotional), but online registries have simplified the process by giving a couple the chance to add, delete or alter items from the comfort of home.
Something important to keep in mind with online registries: If you add something from a Web site, check to see whether it's an online-only item or something that can be purchased in the store.
If tikkun olam is a priority, weddingchannel.com, working with the I Do Foundation, lets its couples link their registries to various charities. When an item is purchased via that site, a donation will be made to one of 100 charities, such as the American Cancer Society or the World Wildlife Fund; the more gifts, the greater the donation.
You've got your list, downed your coffee, laced up your gym shoes and possibly picked up a helpful family member -- and now it is time to scan. The scanner will likely be the groom's favorite part of the entire pre-wedding experience. It's like Lazer Tag, but instead of taking out opponents you're getting a carafe. Use the buddy system -- one bride-to-be left her fiancé alone for five minutes and the registry ended up with an electronic beer opener and some really tacky dishes. And don't plan to get everything in one day, especially at larger stores. It might take two or more trips to a single location. And try not to hit more than one store in the same day. By the time you get to the third store, exhaustion could leave your list with an unwanted cuckoo clock or neon green placemats.
And Now for Something Completely Different
If you are among the couples who really don't need anything except money for a honeymoon, sites like www.honeymoonwishes.com have "honeymoon registries" where guests can sign up to give the couple dinners, spa treatments and even Jet Ski lessons at numerous locations around the world. Cruises Inc. operates honeymoonvoyages.com for cruising couples, which allows guests to give money toward such things as the price of the cabin, tips or shore excursions. The couple also gets a pre-wedding-day album containing the names of all gift givers. But be aware that a 5 percent service fee is added to each gift, and you can only register for free if you book your cruise with the company.
The Center for a New American Dream's Alternative Gift Registry (www.alternativegiftregistry.org) goes one step further, allowing a couple to register for nonmaterial items, recipes and environmentally friendly gifts.
The Web site justgive.org lets the couple select from 1 million charities where guests can donate in lieu of a gift. There are nearly 2,500 charities on the site involved with Israel and more than 8,000 Jewish-related ones, including L.A.-based MAZON, Jewish Family Service, The Jewish Federation, Hillel and Bet Tzedek.
Don't forget to have fun with your registry, and let the store reflect you: outdoor enthusiasts might want to look into R.E.I.; amazon.com's wedding registry lets couples choose from every department -- not just books, music and movies, and with a Target registry, you can get all the plasticware, paper goods and toiletries you could ever want.
Spreading the Word
There are many ways to let your guests know where you are registered: use word of mouth, put it on your wedding Web site or include it with the shower invitations. But adding a registry to a wedding invite is a major etiquette don't. It practically screams: "We're getting married. Buy us something."
Some guests prefer to give -- and many couples prefer to receive -- cash, checks or gift cards. If you are hoping for more money than material goods, let your families know in tactful, diplomatic ways.
Once that first item is on your list, the gifts will begin to arrive. Make sure that wherever you choose to have them sent is a secure place. If no one will be home all day, it might be safer to have the boxes delivered to your office.
If something arrives and it is broken -- or there's an error and you have a duplicate item -- take the gift and gift receipt to the store. Some shops have wonderful return polices: "No receipt? No problem." Others have a strict policy of only giving store credit for a specific department, as long as you've returned the gift within a specified time. Before registering at any store, ask about their return policy. It will save a lot of hassle and headaches in the long run.
Thank You Very Much
It's not fun, but writing thank-you notes is a necessary evil of weddings. People have sent you a present or check and they want to make sure you received it. Sit down and write a few every night (make sure you have a healthy supply of stamps and return-address labels). Try to get all the notes written as soon as possible, but you have about three to six months after the wedding to get them done (and it's something the bride and groom can do together). As for what to write, it can be very simple and heartfelt:
Dear Nathan and Doreen,
Thank you so much for the beautiful candlesticks. They look great on our dining room table. We're so glad you were able to be at the wedding and hope you had a good time.
Sara and Aaron
Many brides and grooms find registering to be a fun bonding experience. And since you aren't going to do this ever again -- you hope -- enjoy it now. And remember: The "perfect registry" won't necessarily make for a perfect wedding or a perfect marriage -- but it couldn't hurt.