Who Takes the Wedding Money Gifts?

Dear Korean,

With all the monetary wedding gifts, who does that belong to? Does it go to the couple? Or does it go to the parents? Traditionally in the US, the money is suppose [sic] to go to the couple regardless who it came from and meant for them to pay off their wedding expenses and use for their future living or towards buying a house etc...


The Korean's first caveat would be that no Korean custom is as hard-and-fast as it seems. Instead, the application of a Korean custom depends heavily on the situation and the people involved. This should be an obvious point, but for a lot of people, it is not. Even though it is usually out of good intentions to be respectful of Korean culture, too many people treat Korean customs to be this monolithic, unchanging thing that must be strictly followed no matter what the circumstances. Relax! If you are not a Korean person, always remember the Foreigner Rule.

Standard envelope for
wedding gift money
Having said that, here is a quick recap. In Korea, giving cash for major occasions, including weddings, is perfectly fine. Therefore, it is not uncommon to have a large pile of cash after the wedding is over. Then a question could arise -- who takes the cash? Technically, the answer is:  the parents. But it is more important to understand why the parents take the money.

The parents take the money because in Korea, the parents of the newlyweds generally pay for the wedding. In fact, this question is rarely actually raised because, in most cases, even the huge pile of cash is still not quite enough to cover the wedding expenses. Even if the cash were somehow enough to cover the wedding expenses, Korean parents generally shoulder a much greater burden than wedding expenses -- the groom's family usually buys a house for the newlyweds, while the bride's family buys the furniture and electronics with which to fill the house. The two families exchange expensive gifts for the immediate and extended family as well, again usually out of the parents' dimes.

Another consideration is that the parents are essentially receiving a return on the many, many cash gifts that they have made throughout their adulthood. By the time they are marrying off their children, Korean parents have paid an untold sum of money to their families, relatives and friends for every major occasion. Those gifts are made with an implicit expectation that someday, they will get them back in some measure by the same families, relatives and friends.

But of course, like everything else in Korea, this custom is constantly in a state of flux. If the newlyweds ended up paying for the entire wedding themselves, there is some room to say that a portion of the cash gift belongs to the newlyweds. However, in most cases, the cash gifts will be gone by the time they were applied to the wedding expenses, making this a non-issue.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.