According to TheKnot.com, the average couple getting married this year will register for 151 items, with baking goods and other kitchen and cooking supplies leading the list of most requested items. Who needs this many items... and who has time to bake?!
It's likely this same couple already owns a baking pan, and possibly more than one. The United States' brides and grooms are older than ever, 26.5 years for women, and 28.5 years for men. They are not, unlike the happy couples of the 1950s, coming straight from the houses of their parents to wedded life. Today's bridal couples already have homes and, presumably, their own kitchen and other household supplies. In fact, they are more likely to have duplicate televisions, laundry hampers, sets of silverware, and baking pans than none at all.
So why do we register for wedding gifts? I recently got married myself, and I can suggest one reason. My future bride and I feared if we didn't give our guests some guidelines, they'd buy us gifts we really, really didn't need, instead of items we only sort of didn't need. Better a new baking pan that you might use, than a crystal gravy boat destined for Storage Wars.
While giving gifts to new couples is a long tradition, bridal registries are relatively new. The first official registry was set up by Marshall Field's department store in 1924. But, as Rebecca Mead pointed out in her 2007 look at the wedding industry "One Fine Day: The Selling of the American Wedding," store owners did not view the registry as an end in and of itself, but as one of the entry points in the non-stop battle for brand awareness and lifetime customer loyalty. Savvy retailers know we often buy stuff as much out of habit as need.
As the founder and CEO of Betterment.com, an online investment product dedicated to helping people reach their goals, I think automating savings and investment strategies is a habit we should inculcate. After all, more Americans than ever are struggling to save the funds they need for a better future.
And at some point in all this wedding planning, it occurred to me: who said a registry had to consist of things? Especially when nothing kills romance like monetary troubles. So we set up a registry here at Betterment, called Betterment Gifts, with my wife and I as the beta testers. Enabling people to contribute toward the long-term goals of their family and friends creates a gift more useful and precious than a baking pan -- even if you prepare cookies and cakes as often as Francois Payard.
Instead of buying kitchen goods, wedding guests can express their affection for the new couple by giving them the gift of an investment -- for the purchase of a home, a trip, college savings for children, retirement monies or other goals, no matter how serious or frivolous. For example, if you are saving up for a trip to Copenhagen, your friends can contribute toward dinner at noma, recently deemed the world's best restaurant. Or if you're saving for a down payment on a house, a friend might purchase a coat of paint for you.
If you're the sentimental type attached to the idea of giving a physical gift, view it this way: that $100 worth of baking supplies could earn the happy couple an average annual return of eight percent. That's $466 in twenty years, or a nice anniversary dinner at a time when all other wedding gifts are likely long forgotten.
That beats filling the drawers with bakeware.