How to Entertain Houseguests on a Budget

by Tracy · 14 comments

Having friends and family visit from out of town is a joy, but the costs can add up quick. Between having more mouths to feed and the costs of visiting local attractions and taking time off work, you can find yourself going far beyond your normal budget.

But with a little advance planning, you can keep costs under control and enjoy your guests. Instead of worrying about your bank balance, you can use that time to figure out when you should invite everybody again. Here are a few suggestions on how you can do just that.

Start Saving Ahead of Time

As soon as you know you’ll have guests, start putting aside a little extra each week to cover the extra costs. Perhaps you could save a portion of your eating out or entertainment budget. Don’t look at it as a sacrifice; look at it as delayed gratification because you’ll be able to enjoy the money later, when your guests are here.

Try to Borrow, Not Buy

If you’ll need things like air mattresses or extra dining room chairs for your guests, don’t rush out to buy these things. Reach out to your network to see if anyone would be willing to let you borrow these items. If that doesn’t pan out, check Craigslist, yard sales and thrift stores.

I would buy new pillows and possibly new bedding if I could not borrow it from a trusted source, because of the ick factor. Car seats, cribs and other baby gear should also only be borrowed from reliable sources.

Keep the Food and Drink Simple

This will save you money, time and stress. A triple win! Of course, there is nothing wrong with splurging on gourmet food or making fancy meals if you can afford it and it is something you enjoy, just remember that anyone worth knowing would not mind at all if you served simpler choices.

Think big pots of chili, hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, tacos, spaghetti, anything that can easily be made for a crowd. Warehouse stores are good sources for buying in bulk, if you don’t have a membership, see if the one near you offers a day pass or ask to see if one of your friends has a membership and will let you shop with them.

Do ask your guests about any allergies or preferences ahead of time so that you can accommodate them as much as possible. If they require an expensive diet for whatever reason, chances are good that they will bring some of their own food or plan on shopping once they get to town.

Look for Coupons and Promotional Passes

Start looking now for coupons and special offers for local attractions. The annual Entertainment Book that is often sold as a fundraiser might be one source, but also check out the websites of each attraction you want to visit.

Some companies offer their employees discount tickets or passes to local attractions and entertainment venues. For example, my husband’s employer sometimes offers extra NBA and MLB tickets to employees and my former employer had half off tickets to several amusement parks. It can’t hurt to ask your HR rep if your company has any similar deals for employees.

Don’t forget free attractions! A picnic at a local park or a hike through the woods might be right up your guests’ alley. Fun doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

Don’t try to schedule too much! Not only is it expensive, it’s also exhausting! Make sure to include plenty of downtime.

Accept Being Treated Graciously

If your guests offer to treat you, accept graciously. Most people do enjoy treating others and showing their appreciation, so don’t deny them that opportunity. You can return the favor when you’re visiting them.

Sometimes, guests will offer to chip in for groceries and gas. Whether you accept is up to you, but there is nothing wrong with accepting if it would help you out.

It Can be Okay to Ask for Help, Too

If you’re close enough to your guests to invite them to stay at your home, it’s most likely okay to be upfront with them about how much you can afford to do. If you will need help with expenses while they are here, tell them.

It’s better to be open and honest about the situation, than to put yourself under serious financial strain and start feeling resentment towards your guests.

Communication can solve a lot of problems. It can be awkward to talk about money, especially since most of our social rules want us to pretend like it’s never an issue, but as long as you have a generous attitude and don’t try to nickel and dime people, most won’t mind helping out at all, and some will even feel more comfortable paying for themselves.

How do you handle the extra expense of house guests? Do you try to contribute to the expenses when you visit others?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Trish says:

    Hunter..I heard it was a 3 day guest/fish stinks rule.

    Anyway, it’s going to be an ‘expense’ to host no matter what, so budgeting, even a small amount, does help eliminate some of the stress. If there isn’t time to budget, then stocking the fridge with basic items is important. Cold cuts, cheeses, crackers, chips, fruit and fresh breads are good basic standbys. Soda, Iced Tea, Wine and Beer..nothing has to be elaborate, these are pretty basic items that most people like and will keep 2-3 days
    Bowls of M&M’s, peanuts (around in bowls), are good, especially for college age guests.

    I agree with buying a couple of new pillows and try to buy a couple of new throws too. I run to either Marshalls or TJ Maxx for these items. We’ve had lots of spontaneous visits from when (friends of my son) college kids visit on layovers from the airport..and I’ve had literally no time to prepare.
    Breakfast can be an egg type of casserole or muffins (prepared the night before)
    and baked in the morning. Bagels with a couple of different cream cheeses are good. Try to keep bacon or sausages in the freezer to have on hand too. Coffee, orange juice and milk (again basic).

    All of what you do will depend on who your guest or guests are, of course.

  • Vancouver WA Preschool says:

    My wife and I don’t do much entertaining these days unless it involves kids birthdays, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. Good point by Randy about talking more and doing less eating and drinking.

  • Randy Addison says:

    Spend more time talking and entertaining your guests instead of giving them food and drinks. The food and the beverages don’t matter if your guests are happy with your company. Watch a movie, play games or even talk about your lives to get the time running.

  • garage says:

    These are useful tips when entertaining guests within your budget. It is really stressful to handle expenses of your guests but you can also ask for help from them in paying. Coupons and special offers are also available to lessen the cost of your expenses on local attractions.

  • Christine says:

    My house guests have increased in number since I moved back to Florida. Three 20-somethings are visiting with my daughter next month and I got up the guts to tell my daughter I want/need the girls to chip in for groceries. She agreed. Having more company has made me a better guest. I always bring my own coffee, snacks, homemade bread… something to share with the people hosting me.

  • First Gen American says:

    I’ve never had a house guest that didn’t offer “what can I bring?” Most house guests do want to reciprocate. I love cooking so it’s a good opportunity to make fun food.

    When I stay somewhere I always offer to take the house guests to dinner as well.

  • Monroe on a Budget says:

    We always suggest local restaurants if we’re going out, asking the guests first what kind of menu they are interested in. The point being: You can eat at a national chain anywhere, but you’ve never been to this Mexican restaurant or that sports bar.

  • Beth says:

    My mother would keep a folder of fliers and brochures for local attractions as well as a list of what guest passes were available from the local library. This made it so much easier to find affordable (and unusual) activities.

    I am working on slowing building up a folder like that for myself.

  • Hunter says:

    Angie: twelve days. I love having friends and family stay with us. I prefer the spring or fall so it’s comfortable for people to be outside, it helps people have their space if they need it. Also, we have a 4 day rule. House guests are like fish, after 4 days, they stink 🙂

  • angie says:

    Good tips. I love being around people but sometimes get a little stressed when guests come. I have some coming this weekend for 12 days and needed this refresher. Thanks.

  • Jenna says:

    Invest in board games. Something that is fun to do both with or without guests. That keeps the entertainment budget down too.

  • MoneyNing says:

    When somebody visits, I usually handle the expenses without asking. If I stay at someone else’s house, I usually don’t try to pay for stuff like incidentals or figure out a room charge either, though I will try to treat the hosts to dinner or buy them a gift when I meet them.

    The value won’t be exact, as I think trying to be too fair is missing the point.

  • Dani @ OK, Dani says:

    Great tips.
    I buy groceries when I’m a house guest and offer to cook (luckily they value their digestive systems and never take me up on the cooking offer)


  • marci357 says:

    The joy more than compensates for any minor expense…. usually it is just feeding them – no big deal.
    When visiting, I do offer to buy and cook a dinner – just to give them a break, or take them out or order pizza in, or just help cook all along and make sure to do the dishes.

    My Aunt once told me that I should leave the place I visit in better shape than when I arrived – that is the sign of a good house guest… meaning pick up after yourself, clean the bathroom up before you leave, do the laundry and remake the beds, etc… and always be considerate of their work schedule.

    And of course, when back home, write your bread and butter thank you note – by hand, in the snail mail . It’s the polite thing to do. 🙂

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