How to Gracefully Turn Down an Invite to an Event You Can't Afford

Thanks, but no thanks.

When you get invited to an event like a wedding, holiday party, or another social occasion, your financial situation can become a big factor in your decision to attend or decline. While it may seem easier (and less socially awkward) to just say "yes" and worry about the expenses later, it's a good idea to check your budget first—especially if the event requires travel.

So, if you are invited to an affair like a destination wedding, for example, and you can’t justify or afford the thousands of dollars that it will cost, you will probably need to decline the invite. Saying "no" to an invite can be a daunting task, especially if you're close with the host and worry about letting them down—but it's well within your right to do so. To make the process feel a bit less intimidating, we asked experts exactly what to say and how to turn down an invite with grace.

Take a tally of the whole cost

When deciding on the feasibility of your attendance, Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast and author of the book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, suggests you be realistic about how much an event is going to cost you: your airline ticket, your outfit, dining out, hotel expenses, and all the other ancillary costs which can add up fast. “Make sure you have a clear idea of how much the event is going to cost before you make a decision,” she says. Once you know these costs, you can see if they fit into your budget—and if they don't, you can consider whether the event is worth it for you to adjust your budget to attend.


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Be honest with your host

If you decide you can't afford to attend an event, it's best to let your host know via the phone and speak to them personally. Don’t send an email or text. “If money is tight, be up front with the host,” says Morin. “Let them know that while you’d love to attend, it doesn’t fit into your budget. Most hosts are likely to understand your situation.”

Morin also recommends you try to stick to “I” statements. Instead of saying, “You picked too pricy of a venue,” say, “I am working hard to stick to my budget.” Morin explains it might feel uncomfortable to hold the conversation, but it could spare the other person’s feelings from being hurt. For example, if you're clear that you wanted to go, but unfortunately can't afford it, that'll leave less room for them to wonder if you're declining just because you weren't interested.

“It’ll take some courage to make the call, but you’ll feel relieved once you’ve done it,” Morin says. “You might find the other person is more understanding than you expect, and they may not be as offended or upset as you predict.”

Should you tell them all the details?

It’s your decision whether or not you’re going to get into the details of your finances. “Reminding them that you just purchased a new car or telling them about your struggles getting back on your feet after the pandemic might help them to better understand your situation,” suggests Morin. “But you aren’t obligated to explain the details of your financial situation if you don’t want to.”

If you’re not very close to the person, you don’t necessarily need to say anything about your finances at all. “Instead, just let them know you can’t be there without a specific reason,” Morin adds. Say something like, “Unfortunately, we won’t be able to attend.” Then, wish them well and send a gift, if appropriate.

Does your relationship to the host change things?

Declining an invite from a friend of a friend can be easier than saying no to, say, your best friend since college. “The closer your relationship is to the person, the more likely you are to feel pressure to attend their event,” says Morin. She says you should keep your relationship in mind when making the decision. “If it’s a close friend or dear family member, you might decide it’s worth it to spend the money so you can enjoy the experience alongside your loved ones,” continues Morin. “If, however, you know the event will create more stress than joy for you, give yourself permission to opt out.”

Morin also recommends not thinking of your RSVP as transactional. For example, even if the person inviting you to something has spent money or traveled for an event that you hosted in the past, that doesn't mean you're obligated to do the same. “Their willingness to travel for you was a gift and they shouldn’t expect anything in return,” she explains. “But keep that in mind if you travel too—you’re not obligating the person to travel to a future event for you just because you traveled for them.”

Everyone's financial situation is different and subject to change, so your decision to accept or decline an invite should be based on what makes sense for you in the present.

Practice top-notch social graces

When you turn down an invitation to a wedding, Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert with The Protocol School of Texas, says to make sure and follow up with a wedding gift from the registry after you decline the invite. Then, shortly after the wedding, give the host a call to touch base and hear how the wedding went. The same can be applied to any holiday party or other social event that you choose not to attend. “Stay in touch and don’t feel bad for sticking to your budget,” she says. “Starting off the New Year with less debt is a good feeling.”

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