Ask The Audience: How Do You Handle Invitations You Can’t Afford?

Ivy says:

Here’s something I struggle with that I bet our fabulous readers have ideas about! I get invited to go out a lot with my various local friends. The problem? I can’t really afford to go out as much as I’m invited out. I know I’m lucky to have that many friends that want to invite me places, but it’s tough- I have been declining a whole lot of invitations and I’m afraid they’ll stop asking me to go out places with them.

I used to decline invitations by simply explaining that I didn’t have the money to go out, but to please invite me some other time- eventually, I’ll find the extra in the budget. The problem with this is that often, my friends will offer to pay my way which opens up a whole ‘nother issue- I don’t want to be beholden to my friends and I know they often are about as broke as I am.

So I finally just stopped giving a reason as to why I couldn’t come, but I’m afraid they’ll think it’s them I don’t want to hang out with, when it’s really just that I don’t have the money to go out. I’ve tried to temper a lot of this expensive going out by inviting people to come over to my house instead, but that brings up another issue.

See, I live in a way-out-of-the-way part of town. So not a lot of people want to drive all the way out there- even though I’m driving all the way out there to see them. So not only am I paying out money to go out to eat, but I’m also paying a lot of gas money to get there. Sigh.

So, Home Eccers, what do you do when faced with this problem?


  1. Leah Ingram on April 30, 2008 at 9:50 am

    The fact that you live in an out-of-the-way areas shouldn’t preclude your friends from coming to your home. If you invite them and they decline, but they expect that you’ll travel a great distance to see them, well, then, are they really your friends? I have this happen all the time with my family. We moved three hours away, and we are always expected to drive that six-hour round-trip on holidays and whatnot, yet whenever we’ve invited our family out to our house for a celebration, no one can make the trip, because it’s too far.

    As far as a budgets go, I would suggest that perhaps you meet at a time of day that is less expensive than drinks out. Could you meet for coffee on a weekend morning? What about if you all got together one evening to go for a walk instead?

    By the way, I have a website called Gifts and Etiquette at where I answer real people’s protocol dilemmas, much like yours. May I include this question on it?

    Hope this advice helps.


  2. Mrs. Micah on April 29, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Perhaps setting up some regular date times with your friends with the understanding that you may not be available or may not be able to afford it other times? And as people have said, periodically inviting them over for coffee instead could work.

    I’m still new in my area, so I don’t have many friends to go out with yet.

  3. JRae on April 28, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Flasks full of booze that we brought, I should clarify…

  4. JRae on April 28, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    Haha, this reminds me of when me and my boyfriend wanted to go to our friend’s birthday dinner but were dead broke. But he’s a really good friend, who’d always been super reliable about presents and birthdays and stuff like that, and we’re not so reliable… so we wanted to actually give him a good present (a $50 gift card to his favorite comic book store) this time around.

    But we couldn’t get that and afford to eat dinner… so we ate before we went out, and then ordered 1 Diet Coke each for dinner, and kept refilling our cups with the flasks full of booze. We made them last the whole dinner! 😉

    That’s my style of frugalness for ya… lol. Get drunk at home before you go out a little too, that way you waste less money on booze when you’re out. 😉

  5. Blossomteacher on April 28, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    I’m in this exact situation. A sorta friend of mine is getting married about 4 hours away. I’m really better friends with his mom (we worked together), and I just can’t afford gas for the drive, the hotel room, and the wedding gift. So instead, I’ve already e-mailed his mom to get an address where I can send a gift card (from Mypoints!!), and asked if she wants to get together for lunch after school is out (or after the wedding is over). That way I still get to talk to her and see the wedding pictures, without spending nearly $300 to go to a wedding of a guy I only sorta know!

  6. Pam on April 28, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    I have found that this answer works for a variety of invitations. “I’m sorry that won’t work for me this time but keep me in mind” or I’m sorry I have other plans (that is not a lie… plan is to stay within my budget—- or my plan is to spend time with my family). I have found that when I say “that won’t work for me this time……it is accepted without explanation.
    Along the same lines if someone asks a clearly personal question I can say “I’ll forgive you for asking, but you’ll have to forgive me for NOT answering”. Pam, South Bend

  7. Elizabeth on April 28, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    This isn’t often an issue for me in terms of regular get-togethers, because our social life is mostly in family groups…three families meeting for a potluck dinner at one house, for instance. Also because most of our friends are just as frugal/poor as we are!

    The buying parties, though, became a problem I had to deal with a few years back. I finally had to just make a personal policy not to attend *any* of them, even if I really liked the hostess or the product. So, that’s what I say when I’m asked “Oh, I am SO sorry, I had to make a decision for the sake of my budget to not go to any buying parties. Oh, I know you would never force me to buy anything, I just know the Brand-X stuff is so cute that I wouldn’t have the self-control to pass it up!”

    Only once has this strategy failed me, and that was a woman who was hosting the party on behalf of a relative of hers who needed money. She worked on me from a guilt angle until I finally just said, “I am sorry, I feel very bad that Friend A is in financial trouble, and you may be sure that I am praying for her and will do anything practical I can to help. But I cannot help by spending money I don’t have for things I don’t need.”

    It may also help that I’m in my forties and have developed rather a thick skin about this kind of thing. 🙂

  8. Meredith on April 28, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    I am great at ordering the cheapest thing on the menu : ) I also feel guilty going out and having dinner with friends when my husband is home eating leftovers with the kids.

    Seriously, though, I understand. Especially not having a car the last few weeks, I have had to turn down so many fun chances to see people.

    We try to meet halfway when possible, at the park or zoo. It’s not an adult dinner out, but it’s better than playing in the yard with the kids–alone.

  9. Amy on April 28, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    I think it would only be fair that your friends return the favor and travel to your neck of the woods. Invite them over for coffee and make a special treat. Meet places where you could take a lunch or go during those in between times where you can have a tea together without a meal. Delcine to every other event so they don’t get suscipicous 😉

    I usually end up inviting people over and blame it on my kids, “Oh, I wish I could meet up with you, but Ethan’s preschool schedule is so tight. Do you want to come over for coffee instead?” This usually works in a pinch. I hope that helps!

  10. Sarah on April 28, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    We just have people over to our house. Usually they’ll bring their own drinks, but we have a few in stock, also.

    I’m also on Weight Watchers, so I usually order water with a meal anyway (which can save anywhere from $1-$3), and I’m never tempted for appetizers and desserts.

  11. jag on April 28, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I get such crappy gas mileage, I’ve given up trying to control that. Beyond that, if I’m invited to a group outing with food but am not budgeted for a full meal out, I’ll eat something before I go, and then maybe get an appetizer, or eat the chips and dip or bread or whatever’s available. Then I get the company without the bill, and since I’ve eaten already I don’t spend the time at the table drooling over other people’s food and feeling pathetic. Bonus: usually people want you to be as drunk as they are, so somebody’ll be happy to spot you a beer or two.

    Great to see you Saturday – thanks for making the drive! Betting that table looks fierce in your house.

  12. Momala on April 28, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    I have a few friends that I make a point of going out with every month or so and I budget for that, but my issue lately has been invitations to “Home Parties.” I usually don’t have the money to spend on whatever it is they’re selling, or else I’m just not interested in the overpriced stuff. People always say to come to the party anyway and just don’t buy anything, but I feel bad doing that because the reason they’re having the party is to earn free stuff.

  13. John I. Carney on April 28, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    A friend of mine in Louisville, Peter, had a different, but related, problem. Soon after he and his wife Holly moved to Louisville, while both of them were still working for the newspaper, they were taken out to dinner and a show by Mr. and Mrs. B.

    Holly’s mother and Mrs. B had been college classmates, if I remember correctly. Mr. B. had been the publisher of the newspaper in Louisville before some family squabbles which led his parents to sell the family’s media empire. The Bs were still incredibly wealthy and powerful people in Louisville.

    I talked to Peter afterward, and he praised the Bs hospitality, but he said something along the lines of, “What are we supposed to do now? It’s not like we can call them up and take them to the Olive Garden.”

    Sadly, Mr. B. had a relapse of his cancer soon after that, and so Peter and Holly never figured out the answer to what was expected.

  14. Jeffraham Prestonian on April 28, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    My good friend, Senator Bob Corker, sent me an invitation to a $1000-a-plate dinner with him. Heh! File 13, ASAP.

  15. Mrs. M on April 28, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    I formed a bunco group. It’s 12 ladies and we meet once per month. Therefore you only host and prepare food once per month. Have a potluck at your house and make it worth the drive. Do a picnic day and meet at the park with a bring your own lunch. My town as a free music festival every Thursday night for a couple of months in the spring/summer. Eat dinner at home and meet up with friends there.

    These are all things I do to keep costs down because I was in the same boat.

  16. Lark on April 28, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    I can understand your dilemma. Usually, I make it a point to go out with the friends who WILL come out to my house when invited. I live 16 miles out of town and really try to limit my trips and to pack as many errands as I can when I do go. If friends want to/are available to get together when I am in town then I am more than willing to take some time to hang out.

  17. Jen on April 28, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Like you, I had adopted a policy of just saying no, which was great for my budget, but I worried that my friends would never ask me out again as well. So, I’ve started putting enough in the budget for one afternoon outing a month. Going to lunch is less expensive than dinner or shopping dates, we get plenty of time to chat and catch up, and now, when they call on short notice and I don’t have any extra in the entertainment budget, I can say “sorry, I can’t, but I’ll see you in two weeks!”
    I also live “out of the way,” so I usually take the train into the city to meet the girls for lunch, but the round trip train ride is about $5, and even if we go somewhere upscale, I can always get lunch and leave a tip for $30 or less. By moving some things around in our budget and using some of the frugal tips I’ve found here, I haven’t had any trouble setting aside $35 every month to see my friends, and with a standing date, I actually get to see all of them together more often because everyone just always plans to be there.