Updated on 09.06.10

A Frugal Weekend with Lots of Houseguests

Trent Hamm

Over the past few days, we’ve had a few houseguests. Wait, scratch that – a lot of houseguests. We had so many people visiting that people ate meals in shifts. Every bed was full, as was much of the available floor space.

Amazingly, though, we managed to get through all meals here at our house – we didn’t eat out or have our guests eat out for any meal. We entertained at home as well, and our total cost was surprisingly low.

How did we pull this off? We used a bunch of different tactics in tandem to make all of this work.

We relied on a lot of food that was in season. Sweet corn and tomatoes were both served, and tomatoes were also used as components in multiple meals. Since these are easily found in abundance and at a low price right now, having them on hand saved a great deal of money.

We also relied on food prepared earlier and frozen. Elements along these lines included barbecued shredded chicken, seasoned ground beef, and bread. Each of these elements were prepared early in the week and frozen in advance of guests arriving.

The key, of course, was detailed advance meal planning. Make a meal plan as early as you can and determine which elements of those meals you can prepare in advance and freeze. This enables you to prepare great meals at home, even for large groups, within a reasonable time, instead of leaving people to spend all day in the kitchen when everyone wants to socialize with family and friends (which often leaves to people deciding to eat out).

Most of our meals were modular and served buffet-style. Tacos. A wide variety of items grilled all at once. Barbecued shredded chicken sandwiches. Each of these meals were served in a buffet-style, with lots of options to allow each person flexibility on what they had for their meal. Vegetarians? Check. Big eaters? Check. Picky eaters? Check. “A little bit of everything” eaters? Check.

We asked for – and received – some early help. My mother arrived two days early and was charged with a simple task that made everything so much easier. She simply spent two days going to local parks and other activities with her grandchildren, enabling Sarah and I to spend those two days getting ready for the onslaught of guests. If you’re planning a big weekend and need such help, don’t be afraid to ask.

Warehouse clubs were our friend. We needed an abundance of lettuce, milk, wine, salsa, wheat bread, and other staples. Since we were buying for a large group, it made a lot of sense to head directly to our local warehouse club and stock up on these items. We estimate that, based on comparable items at other local groceries, we paid for our club membership this weekend alone. If you’ve got a big group coming and you don’t have a club membership, the savings for the coming weekend might pay for your annual membership.

Bookend such events with plenty of sleep. How exactly does that save money? Well, for starters, you’re much more on top of things mentally and able to deal with the inevitable requests from a lot of guests if you’re well-rested. It also enables you to (inevitably) stay up late with all of the guests and still be able to rise early enough to get things going in the mornings. Thus, sleep in advance of the arrivals is a very good idea. Instead of staying up all night the night before people begin to arrive, plan ahead for the things you need to do and get a long night of sleep before people arrive. You’ll be much more ready to handle requests without emergency runs to the store if you’re in full mental order, plus you’ll be able to stay up late without being in a tired stupor. Sleep trumps all.

And, with that, I’m leaving to take a nap.

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  1. Chris H says:

    Sounds like a great weekend Trent! Enjoy the nap!

  2. Kevin says:

    Sweet corn is still in season in Iowa, one week into September??

  3. Michele says:

    One other strategy is to watch sales and freeze produce that freezes well- for example, when chicken was 79 cents a pound and pork spare ribs were 99 cents a pound a couple of months ago I bought up a LOT and stored it in the freezer. Now that my garden is producing amazing amounts of zucchini, the grate wheel on my food processor is my best friend! I’m also making lots of frozen tomato sauce. In a couple of weeks, during potato harvest, we will be able to get potatoes for 39 cents for a 10 pound bag and the food processor and freezer will once again get a workout. At that same time, I’ll be harvesting 55 (yes, you read that right!) spaghetti squashes, and 14 kabocha squashes that should last most of the winter.
    When we have a ton of company for the week of Thanksgiving, of course, we will have turkey, but we will also have zucchini pancakes, Gwam’s cheesy potatoes, kabocha squash soup ( like butternut squash) spaghetti squash with home made tomato sauce, baked chicken, BBQ ribs, zucchini chocolate cake and hash browns to round out meals.

  4. Catherine says:

    I would love to hear some meal planning solutions (for guests and otherwise) that don’t involve having a freezer. We live in a condo in the city and only have the freezer which is part of our fridge, and fits only a certain amount of food.

    Just throwing the idea out there for those of us with limited space and resources…

  5. sewingirl says:

    Great Planning! I would also hope that some of your guests offered to supply a meal. My favorite take-along is canned stew and brown-n-serve rolls. Yea, I know that homemade would be better, but this way I don’t have to worry about refrigeration during that long drive. Besides, we’re all having so much fun that no one really minds.

  6. mary m says:

    sounds really fun! nice that such good planning can reduce stress and allow you to ENJOY you guests.

  7. All I can say is Wow!

    It just goes to show the power of planning.

    Great tip on the “sleeping” part. I’d imagine you remembered a lot of last minute things that probably would have slipped your mind amidst all the hustle and bustle.

    Kudos on a job, and weekend, well done.

  8. michael bash says:

    Dr. Frasier Crane’s father once said, “You take something simple, and you analyze it to death.” What’s next? the morning bm?

  9. Roberta says:

    Great post but . . .

    Please, please, please–“I” is a subject pronoun, not an object pronoun.

    “. . . enabling Sarah and I to spend those two days getting ready for the onslaught of guests” should read “Sarah and ME” (not in all caps–I did that for emphasis).

    If you can’t remember which pronoun is correct here, use the drop test; you wouldn’t say “enabling I,” for example.

  10. GayleRN says:

    I would be interested in also knowing how you handled beverages frugally. Soft drinks, bottled water, beer and even milk can be a significant expense. What did you do about clean up? Did you use some disposables or spend a lot of time loading and unloading the dishwasher? With that number of people how did you handle bathroom time and the number of towels that must have been in use? Which brings up laundry. This all must have been a significant strain on your hot water heater.

    It would be interesting to know if you came up with some ways to save money in those areas too, or did you opt to save some time. Both are legitimate concerns while entertaining.

    Thank you Sara. That is one of my grammar pet peeves.

  11. Leah says:

    re: GayleRN, I don’t know if this goes for everyone, but both my boyfriend and myself don’t shower every day. unless we went for a run while visiting friends for the weekend, we typically don’t shower. We’ll show Friday sometime before we leave and then again Sunday evening or Monday morning before we get home. Even if Trent’s guests shower some during the weekend, I imagine they didn’t all shower 1-2x a day. Especially if a lot of guests are kids, it’s totally possible to have some additional load but not too much.

    Trent did address milk, which he bought at a warehouse store. If you give the options of milk or water, that cuts out a lot of expense. If people want something else, that’s something easy enough to bring. If I recall correctly, Trent doesn’t drink too much soda anyway. And I’d be seriously shocked if Trent ever wasted money on bottled water — why buy bottles when it comes right out of the tap? (for those in areas with clean, safe water — and if it tastes strange, get a water filter rather than buying bottled)

  12. valleycat1 says:

    All the large group stay-over events we’re involved in are set up so that each unit of people attending (divide it up however you want – couples, families, siblings, grandkids if old enough, cousins, generation, etc.) is responsible for one evening meal or cleanup. Sometimes we have the general outline for menus ahead of time, sometimes it’s chef’s choice the whole time. Breakfast & lunch are do it yourself (leftovers, sandwiches, eggs or cereal). If you use a cooler to hold ice & iced drinks, you have the whole fridge to store food – useful if you don’t have much freezer space. We plan the last meal to be a clean out the fridge smorgasbord.

  13. deRuiter says:

    “enabling Sarah and I to spend” People who don”t use good grammar often use “I” instead of “me” where “me” is correct because they think it sounds stylish. Correct grammar is preferable, and a good editor would catch that mistake. Of course the President of the United States hasn’t a clue of which is correct and he uses the clumsy “myself” to prove he doesn”t know correct English grammar. “Well look at myself.” he will say, which proves that being exposed to a fancy education doesn’t mean that one benefits from it.

  14. Peggy says:

    You are correcting his English,well, he should correct you on proper manners and etiquette.You are being very rude

    So you know what they say….. 2 wrongs…..

  15. Katie says:

    “Well look at myself.” he will say, which proves that being exposed to a fancy education doesn’t mean that one benefits from it.

    You’re right; making a grammar slip-up means you got no benefit from your education. Glad you’re here to inform us as such! (Of course, you also don’t use a period to end a quoted sentence when you continue the sentence after that point, so I guess you didn’t benefit from any education you received either.)

  16. Courtney says:

    @deRuiter: You mean to tell me that when Obama said, “Everybody in Washington gets all wee-weed up!” – that wasn’t the King’s English?!

  17. almost there says:

    # 16, No Courtney, it was p*ss-poor English.

  18. jennifer says:

    You could use your slow cooker, too. You can make great soups to put over rice and then make some bread, very frugal.

  19. littlepitcher says:

    Purchasing salsa, with tomatoes in the garden???
    Aww, Trent, how could you miss all of the great, cheap, easy salsa recipes online? Haven’t you ever made salsa cruda, which doesn’t even require cooking?
    Down here below the Mason-Dixon, we have cheese grits or shrimp and grits for breakfast for those huge gatherings. The French, btw, consider grits gourmet fare and pay huge prices for them.

  20. marcia says:

    Enabling Sarah and me would be correct, not Sarah and I – you wouldn’t say enabling I to ….. Otherwise enjoy The Simple Dollar very much.

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