How to Tell Your Friend You Can't Afford to Attend Their Destination Wedding

And some thoughtful ways to make it up to them

Updated 05/30/19

Aila Images / Stocksy United

Earlier this year, a save-the-date arrived in my mailbox, inviting my boyfriend and I to his friend's wedding in Australia. And, yes, I mean that continent on the other side of the world. Traveling to Australia is expensive, time-sucking (you can’t just go there for a weekend), and a lot to agree to, especially for a couple whom I’m not very close with.

After a series of conversations, a look at my budget and future saving goals, and a count of my vacation days, I came to the realization that going to this wedding would completely wipe me out.

Breaking the news to a friend—no matter how close you are to them—that you can’t afford to attend their destination wedding, whether it’s as far away as Australia or as close the beach town a train ride away, can be equal parts awkward, embarrassing, and tricky. You want to explain yourself without offending the couple or, essentially, putting a price tag on your friendship and how much you’re willing to spend celebrating them.

That’s why it’s important to have a game plan for how to break the news so that the friendship can remain intact and you can celebrate their love in a way that also works for your bank account and schedule.

Here are five tips to help you do just that.

1. Explain Yourself the Best You Can

Get your story straight. Explain what’s making you decline the invitation in the clearest way possible. Perhaps it’s your budget or your vacation days or your fear of flying. Make sure that you have your reason ready to go so that the couple can try to put themselves in your shoes and understand why you won’t make it to your big day. Most importantly: Don't lie! (AKA don't invent some life-threatening illness or family emergency as an excuse; You'll likely get caught in your lie and harm your friendship for the long run.)

2. Plan an Alternate Event to Celebrate

Since you can’t travel to the spot of their wedding, consider planning a special night out with the couple—if you live in the same town as them. If not, send them some type of gift card to them so they can have a fun night on your dime. That way you can show your intentions to be there for the couple to celebrate them even if you can’t be there in person.

3. Offer to Help However You Can

Another way of showing some love is offering to help with whatever you can. Even if you live states or countries away, you can offer to take one wedding task off their plates. This shows the couple that you’re still willing to get involved and help them out, even if you can’t be there to dance the night away with them.

4. Get 2019 About It

One way of being there without actually being there is to do it the virtual way. Ask the couple if they are okay with having someone Skype or FaceTime you into the wedding. That way you can watch the ceremony or even be there for a couple of minutes, via a screen, during the reception. If they are against this, ask if you can be one of the first ones to watch the wedding video (if they have one) or eyeball the photos from the day when they get their hands on those—they'll definitely feel special that you're eager to see what you missed out on.

5. Send Something Special

In addition to a gift, see if there’s something you can send to their hotel room on the wedding day. Perhaps it’s a local treat or flowers so that you can create the feeling of being there and spoiling them even when you’re not there. This is the kind of surprise that will reassure the couple that you’re truly sorry you can’t make it and that you still care deeply for them.

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