At a Glance

In an ideal world, celebrating your friends’ life milestones wouldn’t compromise your finances. But that’s just not reality. Within the same friend group, some people may earn more than others. Some people may be on a strict budget to pay off credit card debt. So when a birthday dinner invite rolls around, it can put you in an awkward spot. What if you can’t afford the restaurant your friend chose for their birthday? Should you just give an excuse to miss the event? Be honest and ask your friend to consider another restaurant? Here’s how to navigate the situation in a way that will protect both your friendship and wallet.

How close of a friend is it?

If you’re wondering whether to disclose that you can’t afford the dinner or not, it depends on the nature of the friendship.

“With a close friend, you should always be honest. That honesty will benefit your friendship for years. With an acquaintance, you may want to balance your privacy,” says Claire Hunsaker, ChFC®, a Chartered Financial Consultant who shares free financial planning advice for single women on the AskFlossie community.

If you’re dealing with an acquaintance, a white lie is not the end of the world. You can apologize, say that you’re not feeling well, and send a gift or a card or make up for it some other time.

Choosing to be honest

If you decide to be honest about your predicament but are dreading the conversation, remember that you’re probably not the only one on a budget. Speaking up may actually end up benefiting others, and your friend is likely to understand and even offer to change the plan. If not, it’s a red flag–a good friend would not want to put you in a bad spot financially.

“A good friend will understand why you can’t make it and respect your budget. If they don’t get it, it’s an opportunity to help them gain some empathy and understanding, or to reconsider the friendship,” says Hunsaker.

If your friend doesn’t get it or guilt-trips you, it may be awkward, but it’s better to stick to your guns. “Don’t compromise your finances just because someone is out of touch. Ultimately, your financial stability and the health of your friendship are what matter, not a fancy dinner or weekend getaway.”

Offering alternatives you can afford

There is a third option that doesn’t involve disclosing the state of your finances, but also doesn’t require you to completely miss out on your friend’s celebration: skipping the dinner but offering to do something you can afford. “If they are having a big night out, offer to make them pancakes the next morning. If they are planning a getaway, offer to meet them for a drink,” suggests Hunsaker. If you show your friend that you care about celebrating their birthday, missing the dinner will be less of a big deal, and you probably won’t need to over-explain your reasons for doing so.

Related: Love & Debt Survey: Men Will Go Into Debt To Woo a Love Interest, but Won’t Date Someone in Debt