It's a tough call to make.
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While hosting a wedding can be expensive, being a wedding guest can quickly add up, too: A guest can expect to spend hundreds of dollars between buying presents for the wedding and its associated parties—think: bridal showers and bachelorette bashes—as well as any travel costs. It can be so costly, in fact, there may come a time when you can't afford to attend a wedding. "Everyone has a budget, and it's important to take your finances in consideration before making a large monetary commitment of any kind," says Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. "This often includes a wedding, even when it's a close friend or family members special occasion. It might be uncomfortable or awkward to reveal private information about one's finances, and it's not necessary when declining a wedding invitation."

If you decide you can't attend a wedding because of budget concerns, Gottsman says there's no need to do anything more than send an RSVP card, with one exception: "If it's a close family member, obviously you do what you have to do to be a part of the day, especially when it's a sibling or even your own child," she says. "But when it's a distant cousin or a not-so-close friend, simply respond with a decline on the RSVP card. No lengthy explanation is necessary." You may be asked why you can't attend. In that case, "You can simply say, 'It sounds like your wedding will be beautiful in Hawaii. Unfortunately, I have several travel commitments already planned this fall and I'll be with you in spirit, but I won't be able to attend in person,'" she says.

Remember, you're not on the hook to divulge your financial situation unless you want to. "It's not necessary to share every detail of your financial predicament," Gottsman says. "If it's a close friend, you can give a little information, such as, 'It's a stretch for me to get off work—plus, there's the fact I'm still paying off debt.' Keep in mind, it's not necessary to say anything at all." And, Gottsman adds, "a good friend probably already knows your situation and will be empathetic. Family members will do the same, and might even step up to help when possible."

When you can't attend a wedding, you can find other, less costly ways to support the couple. For example, "You might invite the bride, or the bride and groom, over to dinner and give them a gift from their registry," says Gottsman. "Or take the bride to lunch along with a couple of her other girlfriends—and then everyone pays their own ways, and you all pitch in to pay for the bride."

Whatever you do, Gottsman warns, don't fall into the trap of apologizing over and over again. "You have done nothing wrong. People often fall into an emotional sense of guilt when it comes to wedding invitations. It's not necessary to attend every single wedding, unless you have a very close bond with that person. In that case, you would want to confidentially share your circumstances within reason and do what you can to support her," the pro says. "Address invitations, continue to show your support by asking questions, and make sure you show your enthusiasm for her special day."


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