If you’re… friends, but not BFFs

This category is the biggest catch-all, and it’s probably the one that will most often apply to a thanks-but-no-thanks reply to a wedding invitation. With coworkers, college friends, high-school buds you haven’t seen in years and childhood pals all entering “marriage age” around the same time as you, it’s no wonder your mailbox seems to sprout a new invitation every few weeks right now (plus, you’re wildly popular. Obviously.)

But the invitation isn’t a binding contract to attend, and it’s possible that – gasp! – you might have even been a second or third-round invitee to the event. So if you’re holding yet another invite in your hand, trying to figure out if this means ramen for the rest of the month, and you’d really rather decline? Here’s how to tell your friends you won’t make it to their special day.

And before you let the guilt monster get the better of you, remember that you’ll likely see the couple for all of five minutes, if that, at their wedding.

RSVP promptly

This seems like a given, and while RSVP-ing quickly is common courtesy for all types of wedding invites, it’s even more important if you’ll be checking the “Regretfully declines” box. Whether you’re a first-round invitee or a third-round guest, the sooner your friends know you won’t be making it, the easier it’ll be for them to manage their headcount and update their seating charts.

Send a gift

Since you won’t be able to make it to this admittedly big-deal life event, the best practice is to send a gift anyways. I know, it sounds like a much less budget-friendly option than simply replying on time with a “no thanks” but it’ll soften the blow, acknowledge their special day and still cost less than a new outfit, that cash bar, and a wedding gift.

You can likely aim for about half of what you would have spent on a gift as a guest, and if they have a registry, that’s your safest bet at this point.

If you’re… close friends

Here’s where things get tricky: You absolutely adore the couple, and you desperately would love to attend, but you just straight up cannot afford it in time for their big day. This isn’t a situation where you’re choosing other weddings to attend, or where you could make it work with a bit of effort – this is when you really, legitimately don’t have the money and are really bummed you won’t be able to make it.

Plus, you’re probably nervous as heck to tell your friends you won’t be there.

So first step, take a deep breath. Done? OK. Here’s what to do next.

RSVP personally

Instead of popping that RSVP card back in the mail, take the time to send a personal message – or better yet, just pick up the phone and give them a call like it’s 1998. Yes, it’s likely that you never really talk on the phone, but you’ve got some disappointing news for them, and I bet you they’ll appreciate hearing it from you in person.

Be upfront about why

When your friends inevitably inquire about why you have to miss their special day, don’t be afraid to dish the real reason: Cost. Whether their event involves a cross-country plane ticket or unpaid time off work, if they’re really that close to you, you can tell them that money is why you need to bow out of their celebrations. It’ll also save you their attempts to “fix” the reason you can’t make it because if the only real fix is money, it’s better they know that upfront.

They’re planning a wedding – if they don’t understand that things are expensive, they haven’t had to put a deposit on anything yet.

Suggest alternative celebrations

To soften the blow, and to make sure your friends know that your absence has nothing to do with how much you want to be there and celebrate their union, set up an alternate celebration that you can afford. Maybe it’s a special dinner the next time you’re in their town, or an all-out party when they come to visit you, but whatever it is, make sure you follow through on the plans if you offer them.

Plus, what’s more intimate and special: A drive-by hello at their wedding, or a special dinner for just a few close friends at your place? I’m just saying.

Send a gift

Lastly, if you won’t see them for a very long time and an alternative in-person celebration is out of the question, make sure to send a gift at the same level you would have brought to the in-person celebrations.

More: How to ask for money instead of wedding gifts (tactfully)

If you’re… family (but not immediate family)

Your cousin you haven’t seen in a few years extends an invite to their out-of-town wedding, and your budget can’t quite swing it? Here’s how to deal.

RSVP promptly

Are you sensing a theme here? RSVP quickly any time you can’t make it to a wedding. It’s rare that any other event is quite so dependent on headcounts for everything from snacks to dinners to desserts, and if you can’t make it, I guarantee you that your hosts will use that information to either invite someone else or scale down their budget accordingly.

Call them, or the hosts

Since it’s family, a phone call in addition to your RSVP card is warranted, either to the people whose wedding it is or to the hosts. Since you probably know them both, use your judgement as to who would be best to notify – like if it’s your cousin’s wedding, but you know your aunt is bankrolling the event and you’re closer to her? That might be the first call to make.

Send a gift

You’ll probably see this couple at family gatherings for the foreseeable future, so you’ll want to make sure your absence at the event isn’t seen as a total snub – so pop open their registry and pick something out that won’t break the bank. Send it, along with a nice card, and you’re covered.

What about immediate family?

If you’re wondering where the section is for immediate family, I left it out because if it’s a sibling, a parent or a grandparent tying the knot, you probably can’t bow out. Sorry friends, but your strategy here is a bit different: Talk to your family about what you can afford. It’s entirely possible that someone, be it a parent or a grandparent, can help make sure you’re able to attend this family event.

It’s a little awkward, but start with something like “Hey mom, can we talk about my jerk older brother asking us to fly to Hawaii for his wedding, and the amount of student debt I still pay every month?” (I’m joking. Mostly. Talk to your family in a way that makes sense based on your relationships.)

And hey, if you’re thinking that your entire clan really is cool with you missing the event? Head back to the family and the close-friends sections, and choose the one that works best for your unique situation.

The bottom line: it’s an invitation, not an obligation

Maybe this is going to make me seem cold and heartless, but at the end of the day, it’s an invitation to a party.

Yes, an important one to celebrate a giant life milestone, but if you can’t make it for any reason, that’s OK – and while you can be as gracious in your refusal to attend as you want, a good host will accept your reasoning and be equally gracious back.

Take my word for it as someone who’s planning a wedding herself. If you need to RSVP no thanks to me, and you handle it well? There will be zero hard feelings. Maybe it’s a millennial thing (I feel like all of our grandparents would take it really personally if someone missed their wedding?) but the sense I get is that anyone our age would let it go as long as it was well-handled, too.

Desirae Odjick Freelance Contributor

Desirae Odjick was formerly a freelance contributor to Money.ca. Odjick realized years ago that in order to afford the life she wanted, she'd have to get serious about money—but she wanted to get serious about it in a fun way. Since then, she's been writing about her personal finance journey in an approachable way, helping others demystify dense financial topics.

Explore the latest articles

Dave Ramsey: 4 tips to become a millionaire

Dave Ramsey offers simple advice on how to get rich — and for anyone looking to become a millionaire, these Ramsey solutions may be the key

Hannah Logan Freelance Contributor


The content provided on Money.ca is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter. Advertisers are not responsible for the content of this site, including any editorials or reviews that may appear on this site. For complete and current information on any advertiser product, please visit their website.