The poor of purse look askance at some bridal-registry gifts


June 12, 1994|By Lisa Wiseman

It is Saturday morning, and as on many Saturdays mornings, I find myself once again in the bridal registry department of Woodies. No, I'm not planning my own wedding. I'm here to buy a gift for someone else. I'm 25 now, and it seems that this is the year when all my friends are getting married.

You've got to admire department stores these days. They've made shopping for a wedding gift so convenient. It's all computerized. Just walk up to the perky young woman at the counter, call out the bride's name, and out comes a printout of her gift wish list. No longer do you have to wonder, "Should I get them towels for the bathroom? Has someone else gotten them towels?"

Now you know. Once an item on the list is purchased, the item disappears from the computerized list. That's helpful.

Oh, and by the way, the happy couple is doing their bathroom in salmon and sea foam -- that's pale peach and light green for the color-impaired -- and they'd like you to only purchase Ralph Lauren towels, not some discount brand. Only the best will do for their future love nest.

I don't like to be told that I must buy Ralph Lauren home furnishings, and Laura Ashley sheets, and Lenox china, and Waterford crystal. Who can afford all this stuff? Certainly not the bride and groom. That's why they're asking for all these expensive items.

Like most people in my generation, I have no money for luxury items. But that doesn't stop lots of engaged couples from asking for high-priced gifts.

Anyone who says Generation X does not want to be like yuppie baby boomers, is wrong. We aspire to the same American dream of owning a nice home filled with pretty things. We want to start out our adult lives with the best of everything. Who can blame us? We just want what we imagine everybody else has. We just want what our parents have. Hey, I may get married just to get a good food processor, a new VCR and some quality flatware.

I'm not cheap. I'd love to be able shower my friends with the best of everything. Give them everything on the list. Show them how much I care by getting them that set of genuine gold-plated corn holders they're dying to have. But it's just not possible. I need to jTC pay next month's gas and electric bill.

Want to know how much I, and most of my economically challenged (read: broke) friends, typically spend on a gift?

If it's a co-worker or someone I only casually know -- 20 bucks. If it's a dear friend, $40 to $50. I'll make the sacrifice. If it's someone who used to be a close friend, but whom I have not heard from in a long time, I will reluctantly spend $35. If it's an ex-boyfriend, I spend more than normal. Not on him, but on the dress I wear to the wedding.

Getting back to that registry list. What to buy? Looks like everybody else got here before me and most of the things in the $20-$30 range, like the gravy boat, bread basket and water pitcher, are no longer on the list. What's left? China? Silver? What's this? A silver chafing dish? Get real. I know these people. The groom is the kind of guy who once thought a decent meal was a microwaved burrito eaten while standing over the kitchen sink. What's he going to use a silver chafing dish for? What kind of food chafes?

The helpful and still perky young woman explains that a chafing dish is used for entertaining. Entertaining whom? Is the ambassador from Peru going to stop by? The newlyweds will most likely be entertaining their friends, people like me. And I can almost guarantee you that I won't get to eat off the good china. I'll be eating off of the Chinette plates.

I recently went to a bridal shower where the bride received nothing but fancy items for the kitchen. There's nothing wrong with that, but I think someone should have gotten her a cordless drill instead of a hand mixer. Or a good set of screwdrivers instead of the expensive knife set. Or even a plunger for the bathroom instead of those pretty little wash cloths that were for "show."

My point is, there's nothing wrong with wanting nice things. We all do. But it's best to be practical about these things. As a young bride, my mother used her good china for everyday use. She broke every single dish. Now she wishes someone would have gotten her some plates from the dime store.

I've known people who had the latest expensive kitchen gadgets, but no money for food. People who bought homes with formal living rooms but kept them empty because they couldn't afford furniture. People who had huge, sprawling yards, but no lawn mower.

A few months ago, I helped move a friend out of the house she shared with her husband, 10 months after their marriage and three months after their relationship turned sour. Packing up her things, I noticed that she had a lot of really nice wedding gifts, some of them still in their boxes.

Matching towels, pretty plates and a cappuccino machine won't save a broken marriage. I hate to sound like my parents, but marriage isn't about having pretty things. It's about love, support and togetherness, and being able to cope in good times and bad, in sickness and in health.

I want wish my engaged friends all the best in the world, and a lifetime of love and happiness. And I want to give them this little piece of advice.

You're still young. You have time to acquire all the things you desire. Right now, you have each other. That's the best gift of all.

But I guess I can afford those candlesticks.

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