Feeding house guests on a budget

My in-laws Tony’s parents arrived yesterday, and they’re staying with us until Wednesday morning. (I hate the term “in-laws,” don’t you? It just sounds so cold.)

I don’t know about you, but whenever people come to visit I struggle to avoid falling back into my old spendthrift habits. For some reason, I still feel like the only way to be a good hostess is to spend a ton of money on food to keep my guests happy. Of course, I know that’s not the case (for the most part). But when you’re entertaining, you have extra people in the house to feed and care for. Inevitably, it’s going to cost a little extra money. The important thing is to avoid going overboard.

As always, I like to find a balance. We’re feeding twice as many people, so our grocery costs will automatically be a little higher for the week. We’re also making some special meals that we probably wouldn’t make if it was just us (like blueberry pancakes for breakfast). The trick is to balance it out.

Here are some tips I’m using to keep costs down while being good hosts:

Plan ahead.

Weeks ago we saw a great deal on steaks at the grocery store. Since we knew Tony’s parents were coming to visit this month, we picked them up and threw them into the freezer. This week we just had to pick up some potatoes and greens to go on the side. Now we have an extra special steak dinner for four, and it cost a fraction of the normal price. We would have paid twice as much for those steaks if we picked them up this week. Whenever we’re expecting company, I always keep an extra close watch on fancy foods to find a deal.

Cook in bulk.

We don’t like to make meals that serve more than four. We don’t usually enjoy leftovers more than once, and we don’t want to waste. When visitors come, we pull out our recipes that serve 6 or 8. We’re making a lasagna for Tony’s parents. It’s one of our favorite recipes, but we rarely make it because it’s just too much food for two people. Now that we’ll be cooking for four, it’ll be just right.

Don’t be afraid to cook frugal meals.

We planned special meals for three of the four nights they’re here. For lunch we just picked up some deli meat for sandwiches, and one of the nights we’re making a homemade pizza. We think they’ll enjoy trying our homemade pizza, and it’s the most economical thing we make. Why not share it with our guests?

Keep dessert simple.

Dessert can become a meal on its own — and double your meal costs if you let it. So keep it simple. We love to make fresh baked cookies and serve them with a scoop of ice cream. We’ve also made milkshakes or homemade ice cream with our KitchenAid stand mixer ice cream attachment. It’s tempting to make an elaborate cake or specialty dessert, but it only adds to your costs and stress to prepare it. Why make things harder when simple desserts are just as delicious?

Remember: it’s not about what you spend.

I don’t know why I still feel the urge to take our guests out for fancy restaurant meals. We rarely go out to dinner ourselves. For some reason, there’s a voice in the back of my head telling me that we need to treat them to extra luxury.

Since I started living frugally, I’ve been able to quiet the voice by reminding myself that we are treating our guests; we’re just doing it within our means. We’re making special meals, and putting in the extra effort to cook for them.

As long as you’re providing guests with plenty of good food to eat, being frugal doesn’t make you a bad hostess. After all, your guests are coming to see you. If you’re frugal every other day, you should continue to be yourself during their visit.

5 thoughts on “Feeding house guests on a budget

  1. Mominem

    This is a timely post for me. My parents are coming to visit this weekend. I’m cooking ahead some now and planning meals. It’s tempting just to go out to eat and keeps my mom out of my kitchen (I’m very territorial in that respect!) I think I will add my homemade pizza to my menu…it’s really tasty and it’s fun to top your own pizza!

    Thanks for the tips!


  2. razz2u

    Try changing the meal plans around, for instance, perhaps one day you could have a brunch and then make afternoon tea (tea sandwiches/scones) and then serve a regular dinner. You can make some great quiches/frittatas or even casseroles for the brunch at a fraction of the cost for breakfast and lunch. Besides a brunch and afternoon tea seem more festive.

  3. Newyorker

    I agree totally about keeping the budget down. My husband and I live in New York and with a non stop stream of guests, it gets too expensive to be constantly taking people out to eat. I have tried to explain to my husband that guests would appreciate the time and effort I have put into making a home cooked meal and that we don’t have to take them to fancy restaurants to have a good time. Reading your post helped re-inforce my belief.

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