Summer is the season of sun, fun, and expensive plans with friends. But what if you need to say no to expensive plans, for reasons from affordability to straight-up not wanting to attend?

Between festivals, patio drinks, brunches, camping trips, vacations and more, it’s understandable that your budget might be feeling a little bit stretched – especially if you’ve never figured out how to say no to the deluge of invites that accompanies the season.

But just because someone pops up in your text messages with an invite to another Saturday afternoon drink on another patio doesn’t mean you need to mentally account for a $50 budget line item if you’d rather spend that $50 on a class pass at your fave yoga studio.

You know that pit of your stomach feeling, where you know you’d rather not – or straight up can’t afford to – attend an event, but you don’t know how to get out of it? That doesn’t have to be the defining feature of receiving invites you can’t afford this summer.

Here’s a clear, easy, three-step process to stop committing to fun plans you can’t afford, and refocus your fun spending on things you want to do, without losing out on the actual fun parts of plans with friends.

Plus, handy scripts to use that are short enough to send in a text!

Step One: Do You Even Want to Go?

This seems obvious, but it’s a step most of us skip right over when an invite pops up in our inbox, our messages or in a disappearing video on all of the different platforms that offer that these days.

How to gracefully say no to plansDo you even want to do the thing these people are inviting you to do?

Sometimes, there will be factors that trump how much you want to go, like who the invite is coming from. Mom invites you to help move something giant from one spot in the basement to the other? You kind of have to go to that. But if it’s an invite from friends to get yet another round of drinks on a patio, your first step should be to check in with yourself.

A knee-jerk yes is too easy as a stock response, so before replying to an invite, ask yourself these questions if you’re on the fence about it.

  • Do I genuinely enjoy this activity?
  • Am I really excited to spend more time with these people?
  • Is this in line with my goals?
  • Will accepting the invite mean I can’t do something else? And will I be sad about missing that other thing?

I know, it seems basic, but when checking out that fancy new $10-ice-cream-cone place isn’t in line with your fitness goals, and it’s an hour out of your way by bus, somehow it’s still too easy to say yes by default.

If you’re facing an invite that you’ve realized you want to decline, here’s your easy out:

“Thanks for the invite, but I won’t make it this time!”

Literally that’s it.

You don’t need to offer elaborate excuses or justifications – you just won’t make it this time.

Step Two: Have Multiple Backup Plans

If you do wish you could participate in plans, but you know your budget just can’t handle it (you responsible money-haver, you!) you’ve still got options.

Actually, you’ve got a lot of options, because for every expensive dinner out and music festival, there are cheap-but-great brunches and having friends over to your place to listen to records.

To figure out a backup plan that you’ll be more than happy with, think about why you want to go to the expensive option in the first place.

Are you a total foodie and wish you had the funds to try out that fancy new restaurant? Hit up the library, check out a cookbook and buy the ingredients to make something fancy for your friends instead – it’ll be cheaper, and hit your “eat great food” criteria. (Well, I mean, probably. Are you a good cook? Whatever, you can learn.)

Do you love the conversations that happen on a lazy Saturday over patio beers with friends? You can recreate that on your balcony / porch / backyard / fire escape with a tiny bit of effort. A few snacks, some beers and you’re ready to rock – and you won’t need to tip 15-20% on the total bill.

Generate a list of the invites you typically get, and what you like about them. Then, brainstorm alternatives that will save you money, but still give you the parts you love about the experience.

Now, all that’s left to do is enlist your friends (who will secretly love that you’re saving them money at the same time, I guarantee you).

If this is you, here’s what to say:

“Would you be up for ________ instead?”

Or, if you want to be extra-clear that you’re not going to be up for the expensive version of the plans, try this one:

“I can’t do _______, but would you be up for ________?”

Step Three: Be Upfront

If you’ve decided you really want to go, and your friends aren’t taking no for an answer, it can put you in a bit of a tough place… But you haven’t broken out the big guns yet.

I’m talking about mentioning your budget.

Listen, these are friends of yours, right?

I know that most of us would rather do just about anything else than bring up money among friends, but if you need them to get it through their heads that no, you really are not going to buy a Coachella pass, or come to that yoga festival in Hawaii, being upfront about your money reasons can be a great way to shut down the peer pressure.

Plus, as a seasoned user of the I’m-on-a-budget excuse, let me reassure you: it is highly unlikely you’ll be met with anything other than understanding and kindness. These people are your friends for a reason, and I’ve only ever had one person react with anything less than total graciousness.

Which, by the way, is a great way to prune your friends list. I’m just saying.

If you’re ready to bring up your budget, here’s what to say:

“It’s just not in my budget this month – but I’d love to ________ instead!”

Or, if it’s a bigger expense and that phrasing isn’t in line with your reasoning – or if you really do just need to prioritize other things – try this.

“I’m focused on saving up for _______ right now, so I’ll have to pass – but it’d be great to ________ instead!”

The real trick here is that you’re not just dropping the I-can’t-afford-it bomb and running away – you’re giving your friends an easy, graceful out at the same time. Pick one of the other, cheaper activities you identified in step two, and end with an invite to do that.

You’re basically handing them a polite response on a silver platter, as opposed to leaving them open to try to hassle you into going over budget.

Which, again for emphasis, no one ever does!

Would you try to convince someone who just admitted they didn’t have room in their budget for an expensive plan? Of course not. You’d accept the invite to backyard beers with a smile, and so would any reasonable person.

If they’re that unreasonable, do you really want to go to Coachella with them in the first place? Exactly.

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