Updated on 08.09.07

Seven Ways To Save Money Preparing For Houseguests

Trent Hamm

For most of this week, a small invasion of my extended family is staying at our new house. This, of course, means that there’s a lot more mouths to feed at meal time and a lot more distractions. The end result is often a lot of unnecessary spending, simply because we didn’t think ahead a little bit. Here are seven tips to make sure that house guests don’t leave you dry.

Eat at home instead of eating out as much as possible Plan a big barbecue instead of sending everyone out to a restaurant one evening. My family is coming for five days and they wanted to eat out three evenings – we talked them into one. Why? Even with all these people, it’s still usually cheaper to feed them all at home than to go out to a nice restaurant. That’s even if they don’t pitch in a cent (not that I expect them to). It may make a mess, but in situations like this, guests will often help with the cleanup.

Prepare meals in advance We prepared a number of meals almost in full before their arrival and stored them in the freezer: lasagna, a breakfast casserole, prepared hamburger patties, and so forth.

Make a list of interesting, inexpensive activities in the area We also made up a big list of inexpensive activities and sights to see in the area. We printed off a page or two of information about each one, intending to pass them around among the guests and let them decide if they’re of interest. This not only saves them money, but also saves us money if we decide to go along with them.

Buy beverages well in advance If you know they’re coming, keep an eye out for sales on your beverages of choice, then really stock up. Keep the beverages in a closet until the guests are about to arrive, then get them out and put them on ice. Ice, you ask?

Store up some ice from your ice maker in the freezer My wife and I have been making ice and storing it in bags for weeks. We calculated that the ice, made this way, costs about a cent and a half per pound for energy and water use, far cheaper than buying it at the store. This allows us to fill coolers with beverages for when our house guests arrive, meaning lots of ice cold drinks for everyone.

Get the house a few degrees cooler (in summer) or warmer (in winter) than normal before they arrive This is a trick I learned from the neighbors. Set the temperature on the thermostat really low (in summer) or really high (in winter) several hours before the guests are set to arrive, then just as the first guests arrive, turn the thermostat back up to normal. Why? The added heat of the additional people and the doors opening and closing will cause the temperature in your house to rise (or drop) faster than normal, and the energy used in the regular “off and on” of the air conditioning or furnace will really cause your bill to rack up. So have it run steadily before they arrive for a while so that the “off and on” and that wasted energy use doesn’t happen.

Gas up and inflate the tires on your automobile before guests arrive We always find ourselves with a lot of reasons to go out and about when guests are here, so improving your gas mileage and cost per gallon is always good. Gas up at the place with the best prices before the guests arrive, and also be sure to properly inflate your tires so you get better gas mileage. Not only will this save money while guests are there, the savings continue after they leave thanks to the tire inflation.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Kenny says:

    I love the tip about putting the air in your tires.

    Lots of gas stations offer “free air,” so take advantage of those locations (where I live, the free ait is at Wawa and Exxon stations, probably others, too..).

    People frequently sleep on fuel economy, but driving is an area where little adjustments make a big difference in your wallet through improved fuel economy.

    And even though people recently are worried about “hot gas,” my experience indicates this is mostly just “hot air.”

  2. sir jorge says:

    this is definitely something that i’ve been using lately.

  3. David says:

    Good post, the price for bagged ice is ridiculous, if you fill a tray or two a day from your own freezer you will fill up a bag in no time, great tip.

  4. Laura says:

    Ah, my big question is how you succeeded in convincing everyone to stay in 2 out of the 3 nights you wanted to eat out! We struggle with this every time we have our friends come to stay with us, they want to eat out for every single meal for the whole weekend. We haven’t figured out how to talk them out of it without bluntly telling them “We think it’s a waste of money, it’s hard on the waistline, and we have perfectly good food at home. No.” The subtle approach doesn’t seem to work and we don’t want to resort to being rude and blunt.

  5. Jen says:

    I have the same problem as Laura.

    I plan meals and buy extra food, and then my house guest whine that they didn’t get to go out to our great restaurants. I live in Phoenix, there are no “great” restaurants. And I’m a really good cook, so that’s not the problem either.

  6. Daria says:

    Laura, I don’t know what methods Trent used, but I can suggest one that worked for us. We suggest fun and group cooking activities. For instance, everyone makes their own kebabs for grilling or everyone makes their pizza or half of a pizza. Another thing we’ve done is fondue. For us, making cooking and eating an “activity” makes it seems less than you are giving something up by not dining out.

  7. il duce says:

    yea, that’s kind of lame to force your guests to eat “breakfast casserole”.

  8. Laura says:

    Oh, fondue is a fantastic idea. Especially for these particular friends of mine. I’m so using that. Build your own pizza is good fun too… Thanks Daria!

  9. Javi0084 says:

    Hey Jen, have you tried Bill Johnson’s Big Apple? They have good food and cheap prices when compared to other similar restaurants.

  10. Jen says:

    Javi –
    Big Applehuh? That may be worth a try, but the nearest one to me appears to be Mesa, so it’s not really close. But it may be worth a try sometime. Thanks.

  11. Jen says:

    I have also tried make your own pizza, and fondue, but still there are hurt feelings if we do not go out most of the time. The problem is that people (at least ones related to me or my husband) view visiting as a vacation, and on vacation, they eat out. They can eat at home anytime. This annoys me and my husband because we are the type that find the nearest store on vacation and buy some staples (milk, cereal, bread, peanut butter, etc) so we don’t have to eat out the whole time.oh well.

  12. Mitch says:

    Maybe you could try something like asking some local friends over to dinner on one or two nights family is there? Depending on how comfortable everyone is, that might make it seem like more of a holiday: new people to talk to, putting faces to names, or even make an evening of it by playing games, dancing, singing songs, running through sprinklers, whatever your gang does for fun.

  13. devil says:

    What’s the problem with houseguests who want to eat out every evening? You’re supplying the accommodations, so they pay for meals, right?

    Otherwise, it’s just freeloading.

  14. Mitch says:

    Breakfast casserole sounds yummy! But possibly way too heavy to start the day with. Oh, and it looks like Wisebread has picked up the topic. http://www.wisebread.com/saving-money-while-hosting-guests

  15. Mitch says:

    If they’re coming for only five days they ostensibly want to “hang out” with the family, and in some families that means different things than in others.

    But I should have put in an anchor to Wisebread because they deserve it. Sorry, I was very distracted by a bizarre parody of “Part Of Your World.”

    (He says: “It’s by the Least I Could Do guy, remember his other comic, Looking for Group?” Cartoon villain proceeds to cut heads off things &c. “But I think you just need the Little Mermaid for that song.” Me: “Yeah, he really doesn’t have the vocal chops of a Jodi Benson.” Him: “But he could take them from her.” Laughing too hard to remember to hyperlink.)

  16. daria says:

    Assuming devil is incorrect and you are expected to pay for your portion, I would add a couple of additional suggestions. Don’t make it seem like an imposition to cook. Rather talk up your enjoyment of cooking and the quality of your food. For example, prior to my parent’s last trip, I talked about how good the pork tenderloin my husband just made was, how much I enjoyed the ice cream maker someone purchased us, and how we enjoy cooking whenever we get a chance, etc. (It’s not that odd, my family talks about food all the time!) They were excited to have us cook for them when they got here.

    If you have to eat out, try hole in the wall options, perhaps a popular lunch spot that is slow in the evening. They might be thrilled to have a group (especially if you warn them ahead of time) and the prices can be more reasonable than the standard popular weekend fare. Or brunch.

  17. Anna says:

    il duce, don’t knock breakfast casserole without knowing what’s in it or what it tastes like. For all you know it could be the best thing you ever ate.

  18. Karie says:


    I assume you aren’t from the South. If you have guests, you take care of them. It isn’t called southern hospitality for no reason.

  19. Margaret says:

    If you are spending all the rest of the time with your houseguests, why can’t they go out to eat and you continue to eat at home? That seems pretty normal to me, although of course you let the hosts know that you won’t be around for whatever meal. Of course, for me, I need some alone time every day if I am spending a lot of time with people outside my immediate family, as in the case of being or hosting houseguests.

  20. Laura says:

    @ devil: Maybe it’s my age and income level, but in our circle, it’s expected you pay for your share or else take turns paying the whole tab for the group. It’s actually worse if we go out to eat once and our friends take care of the tab, because then we know we “owe” them one, and we often didn’t want to go out to eat in the first place and certainly not twice.

    It’s not just about money for us anyway. I would gain 20 pounds a year if I ate out all the time!

  21. Michelle says:

    I make it fun for my family when they come to visit so they will want to eat in. I have the kids help decorate place cards with everyones name on them and create “menus” with what we will be having on the computer. We roll them up with some ribbon and place on the tables, so people feel like they are getting just as elegant a meal as if they were out. Plus hen they see how much trouble we went to they realize we actually enjoy doing this and they are more likely to oblige us.

  22. SwingCheese says:

    My relatives generally feel the same as I about eating out, so we plan a make at home menu before they arrive, and go from there. When visiting others who like to go out, however, I suggest at least one evening when I will make dinner as a “thank you”. I throw out some options, they choose which one they like best, and I buy the ingredients and cook an at home dinner. This really only works, though, if you like to cook. Otherwise, you might find yourself feeling very resentful :)

  23. wintersweet says:

    >>What’s the problem with houseguests who want to eat out every evening? You’re supplying the accommodations, so they pay for meals, right?

    That’s what I was going to say. When I stay with people, if we go out to dinner, I pay if at all possible. It’s one way of saying thanks for the hospitality. And in the part of the South I’m from, that’s considered polite.

  24. Laura W. says:

    Maybe I’m just older, but when I grew up it was polite for the houseguest to treat the host to dinner out as a way of thanking them, at least once during their stay.

  25. Another Southerner says:

    I was always taught that when you had guests you took care of everything, including meals, for them. The logic is that they had to pay, in money and travel time, to come visit you. Most meals were eaten at home and seen as a treat to have the hosts cook their local meals.

    I also had a lot of great-aunts and uncles from Greece, and they always made a point of giving us kids candy and cash (yep, good all greenbacks) when we walked in the door and gave them hugs. Sadly, that tradition died with them as my generation hasn’t started pumping out new family members. As soon as I have nieces and nephews I’ll start that one back up again. :)

  26. Derek Wong says:

    Great tips! I took a vacation a while ago and did some of this stuff while I was there (I was the one visiting). We ate in a lot, but it was great because we had things that were unique to where we were (Hawaii). It was relaxing and in the end it allowed us to have good food and even splurge at the end on a fancier restaurant.

    In any case, it’s a very practical list for those hosting guests. I also really like the tip about ice. It’s something so small, but I don’t think that I’ve ever heard it!

  27. infomancy says:

    Don’t forget about your local library!
    Check your local library to see if they have any museum or attraction passes that you can check out for a free or reduced admission. The local rural library has a “family pass” for for the 30 minute away city art gallery that offers a big savings as well as free admission for some local attractions.
    A quick search on Google reveals quite a few libraries that have a museum pass program.

  28. map says:

    You can tempt people into staying at home with you by claiming that you are preparing a special meal for them that they just HAVE to taste. Or planning stay-at-home activities like board games. Heck, you can even plan to go ‘out’ if the weather is nice by springing a picnic on them and already having a cooler full of food ready to go.

  29. When hubby and I travel, eating out is part of the fun and part of the way we experience a place. I don’t want to be forced to eat in every night, especially because we’re vegetarians and most people we stay with don’t know how to cook for us anyway.

    When our hosts eat out with us, we always pay (or at least offer to. . . sometimes we can’t wrestle the check away from them). But sometimes we just go out exploring on our own and we make sure our hosts know when we’re going to be off on our own so they don’t expect us for meals.

    On the flip side, as the host, I do like the idea of preparing meals in advance in case we are home at lunchtime or dinnertime. We eat out more than most of our guests, so we do plan to cook at home for several meals if everyone agrees.

  30. Kathy says:

    If your guests would like to go out to eat, then that is what you should do. You are the host so you should have food readily available but you should be able to go with the flow. If you don’t have the cash just explain that, if your friends/family can’t understand that they why are they visiting you? We have small children so when we go to grandma’s etc. she makes them dinner and my husband and I go out. When they come to visit I make food unless they want to go out or get take out. Sometimes we will all go grocery shopping together and that way everyone eats what they like. The last time my mom was here I made her Osso Bucco (one of my specialties) because she never had it. It is expensive so she volunteered to buy the groceries.

  31. stressed says:

    I just want to thank everyone for their posts. My husband and I live in an apartment with two bedrooms, and my sister in law, her husband and our two neices (ages 5 and 1) are coming to visit us for an entire month in june. I need all the help I can get with this. My sister-in-law wants us to get her everything for the kids, stroller, car seats, crib,ect. They are visiting from another country, and don’t want to travel with the little ones stuff. So we need to find these items to borrow from people we know and fit them all into our apartment. Being a household of 6 opposed to 2, will definately be a challenge. I need all the helpful tips I can get!
    I was always taught to be very appreciative to people putting you up at their place. We always buy meals out, groceries, clean up when we stay at someone’s place, and help out where ever we can. When we get back home, we send a gift to our hosts along with a card, (even though we already have left hidden notes and sweet messages all over the place for our hosts to find when we are gone).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *