I am taking a little different bent on this post. For wedding and baby gifts I really like to give people what they ask for :) so I usually use the registry. This might be boring but I figure it is something they really wanted. To keep things inexpensive, I usually go in on gifts with other friends.
I will share one tip about throwing showers that people seem to have liked. When hosting a baby or wedding shower you can decorate with items that would coordinate with the friends colors and home decor. Like for one friend we used fun serving dishes that matched her dinnerware, table cloths that were inexpensive but matched, napkins, candles, etc. Instead of going crazy with plastic why not buy things your friend can take home and use?? You can get really creative with this and be a little kinder to the environment in the process :) At the end of the shower you get to send your friend away with some fun bonus items.