How to Turn Down a Friends Trip If You Can’t Afford It 

A financial therapist offers her best (least-awkward) advice.
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A reader writes:

Hello Lindsay, 

My friends and I try to go on an annual girls’ trip and this year we decided a relaxing long weekend was in order. The organizer, I’ll call her Patrice, planned a luxurious getaway—including a huge rental home, a private yoga class, and a fancy dinner out. We’re a mixed group of middle- and high-income earners, and while I’m okay financially (I’m a vice principal at an elementary school), the vacation ended up being way out of my budget. Patrice shared the estimated per-person cost in the e-vite and I just can’t swing it this year. It’s been so long since we’ve all been able to get away, though, and I’d love to go, but I know I shouldn’t put this expense on my credit card. How do I politely decline the invitation without sounding cheap?


Go broke or go home?

First, let me say, what a beautiful invitation! A curated staycation with good friends sounds lovely. The older we get, the harder it can be to carve out time to nurture our relationships with friends, but it’s so important. Some studies have found that maintaining friendships can help lower anxiety levels, decrease stress, and give your immune system a boost. So not only does a weekend like this sound like a lot of fun, it’s also probably good for your health. That said, financial stress can also affect your physical and mental well-being, and this is a tricky spot to be in. But it’s not all bad news! Here are some potential solutions to consider as you work through this (very common) issue:

See if you can find a compromise. 

For many people navigating the costs of a trip with friends, their biggest fear is bringing up the finances. If someone gets a bigger room at the rental home, should they pay more? If someone with a food allergy brings their own food, do they have to split the grocery bill equally? 

Though discussing personal finances can be awkward, it sounds like the organizer of this trip, Patrice, has made it clear she’s comfortable talking about money, since she spelled out the expected costs in her invitation. When you review the itinerary, are there any activities you can safely afford (in other words, is there an expense you wouldn’t have to finance on a credit card)? If so, you could let Patrice know you can’t join for the entire weekend, say, and see if it’d work out for you to join for dinner and/or yoga. 

You also shared that not everyone in your friend group is all high roller. If you’re feeling a little nervous about the trip’s cost, can you check in with a couple of the others who might be more wallet-conscious? A few of you could chat through some potential financial compromises. If you think a three-star getaway instead of a five-star one is a possibility, you could try saying something like, “I know a few of us are on a budget. If you’re open to it, I found a couple of rental homes in the area that are more affordable!” Another option would be to see if you can help dial down the extra expenses by busting out your best Top Chef skills and cooking a meal together instead of the fancy dinner out, and/or you could stream a yoga class instead of hiring a private teacher. 

If you can’t go this time, be honest about the reason.

If this year’s trip is out of your price range, make sure you’re explicit about wanting to join next time. You could say, “My budget’s a bit tight right now, but I plan on saving up for next year’s event, so make sure to send me an invite!” A problem I see happen a lot in friend groups with varied incomes is that the person who isn’t able to pay for extravagant trips, restaurants, and shopping sprees quietly ghosts or makes up an excuse instead of just saying, “I’d love to, but it’s out of my price range.” After several unanswered invitations, the host might assume you aren’t interested, and those texts and calls could stop coming. Instead, be really clear that you’d love to celebrate with them and your other friends but you just can’t swing the cost. 

This type of honest communication can also serve as an opening to let them know that you’d be down for activities that aren’t as pricey. You might be pleasantly surprised by your friend’s reaction when you get real about your budget concerns. For example, some of my clients have shared that their friends have responded with relief (as in, “Me too! Those hangouts were adding up!”) and empathy (“Thanks for sharing that with me. I’m glad you trusted me with that info”). Plus speaking up can also allow for more creative ways to hang out with friends, such as visiting museums on their free-entry days or meeting up for a walk at a scenic local park. 

If you’d like to save up for next year, think about starting now. For example, if the estimated cost for a yearly weekend getaway is $1,000, you could set aside about $80 each month to have enough to splurge the next time the trip rolls around. Putting aside whatever you can each month might be less painful than paying up all at once. And if that’s still not practical for your budget, that’s totally fine and understandable.

Suggest or host a “pay what you can” event in the future.

I recently read an article that recommended “pay what you can” hen parties (the UK’s version of a bachelorette party) and I’m obsessed with the concept! Emma Edwards, a finance writer and founder of the financial platform The Broke Generation, says it can be hard to determine how to divvy the costs of increasingly expensive bachelorette parties. As a solution, she advises the host to tally up the party’s estimated cost and invite people to pay a low, medium, or high price for the activities and accommodations. (For example: The “low” price might be $100, the medium price $250, and the high price $500.) To make things as anonymous as possible, the host could collect payments via Venmo and honor keeping each person’s contributions private—so no one will feel super awkward if they choose the lower price. Aside from bachelorette parties, this is also a great strategy for birthday parties, other milestone events, and, yep, friends trips.

Once everyone has contributed their portion, if there’s enough money to celebrate the bachelorette (or the birthday boy, or the best group of friends you could ask for) as planned, great! If there’s a shortfall, the host can trim an activity or two. If there’s a surplus, your group can definitely bring in that yoga instructor for a private lesson—or be treated to a round of mimosas. “Pay what you can” might not work for your upcoming trip, but it’s something to consider suggesting to your friends in the future either way. 

Offer an alternative way to bond with your friends. 

If the host ultimately turns down your requests to dial down the lavishness and they want everything to be high-end, you can politely say no, as planned, and text to meet up for a coffee or brunch to catch up instead. Since you asked how to say no “without sounding cheap,” I also want to offer you this reminder: A good friend will understand where you’re at and won’t pressure you into doing something that puts you in a financially precarious situation. On top of that, you already know that charging this trip to your credit card won’t feel good—not now and especially not when your bill is due. Honoring your financial reality and being honest with your friends is an act of self-care, and that’s worth celebrating too. 

Financial therapist Lindsay Bryan-Povdin, LMSW, helps people keep their money and minds in balance. Have a question for Lindsay? Fill out this form and she may give you advice in an upcoming article.