With the holiday season close at hand, many people will find themselves faced with the dilemma of hosting multiple houseguests from anywhere between a few days, to a few weeks. No matter how frugal your lifestyle may be, the obligation of being a gracious host can add up to some serious expenses. Here are six cost-effective tips that can help you save while hosting houseguests, without having to sacrifice comfort or convenience on their part. (To help you plan for the holidays, see Top Holiday Budget Busters.) TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
Start Preparing Meals Ahead of Schedule
Feeding overnight houseguests is probably one of the toughest tasks you, and your wallet, will face. Planning regular dinners for your family is hard enough, and adding a couple of extra dinner plates doesn't make life any easier. Often, at times, people will find themselves eating out in an effort to feed houseguests when ill-prepared, but that's an unnecessary expense. This year, try preparing some dishes ahead of schedule. For example, you can prepare some salmon fillets or pork chops a few days before your guests arrive, and then store them in the refrigerator or freezer. Then, all you have to do is pop these dishes in the oven, or cook them on the grill and you're ready to eat. By cooking some of the meals ahead of schedule, you'll be able to spend more time entertaining your houseguests while saving a few bucks on treating them to dinner.
Borrow Instead of Buy
You've just discovered that you'll be hosting six houseguests for a few days over Thanksgiving. Between the twin bed in the guest room and the sofa in the den, two people will have a place to sleep. So, what about the other four people? Before you run off to the store to buy a bigger bed for your guest room and a couple of inflatable mattresses, start asking friends, family or neighbors if you can borrow some of these items. There is no need to spend extra money on these items, especially during a time when that money can be used on Christmas shopping. Don't forget to borrow bedding, table settings and any other items that you don't have, but your guests might need. If your houseguests have kids, but you don't, it would be wise to ask a friend or neighbor for some DVDs, board games, video games and toys to keep the little ones entertained.
Look for Free Entertainment
Part of being the gracious host is entertaining your houseguests and taking them to see all the nearby sites and attractions. When coupled with the other expenses of transportation and dining, this can put a serious dent in your wallet. If you're strapped for cash, start doing some research on local events and entertainment options that are free of charge. During the holiday season, many cities sponsor local events that won't cost you a penny. Parades, pageants, open-air markets, festivals and local art exhibits are activities that are typically free. If you're having trouble finding events, get creative by suggesting a day at the park or a drive around town to view all the holiday décor on homes and commercial buildings. (If you have decided that spending is the only way to ensure your guest are enjoying themselves, see What Exceeding Your Holiday Budget Really Costs.)
Buy In Bulk
If you've never set foot in a warehouse club because it wasn't practical for your family of three, there isn't a better time than when you're hosting houseguests over the holidays. Experience the wonders and the glory of buying items stacked on pallets, stored in tubs and packaged in containers that resemble an oil drum. In other words, get ready to do a lot of shopping in bulk over the holiday season. Just make sure you plan around the duration of your guests' stay. You don't want to find yourself stuck with a gallon of grape jelly after your houseguests have returned home. Oh, and don't forget the coupons for more savings.
Make Your Own Ice
Whether you're hosting overnight guests, or a holiday dinner on a Saturday evening, start filling empty bags and containers with ice and store them in the freezer a few days in advance. This tip may not seem important enough to have its own section, but you'd be surprised at how much money you're throwing down the drain when you make a store run just to buy a few bags of ice for your guests. Plus, it's all about the principle of planning smart and planning ahead. Just ask yourself how many times you've gone out to buy big bags of ice for a party, when you have a freezer that can make its own. Remember, ever dollar counts around the holidays.
Give Your Houseguests Some Downtime
Don't feel obligated to smother your houseguests. You may be wasting your own time and money when all they want is a little time for themselves. If they need their own transportation for getting around town, start doing research on public transportation costs for visitors. If you plan on driving them around, be sure to gas up before their arrival, and have the car serviced to avoid emergency breakdowns that can be costly and inconvenient. If anything, check the tire pressure on your car and make adjustments for the weight of extra passengers you'll be transporting. This will allow for optimal gas mileage, and by the time your houseguests have returned home, your tires should have deflated to their regular air pressure.
The Bottom Line
Hosting houseguests can be very stressful, and doing so over the holidays only adds more pressure. Between family gatherings and holiday shopping, you already have a lot of things to worry about. Don't let extra expenditures on houseguests add more to your plate. Use these tips to help you save money when you need it most. All it really takes is some careful planning and a little cooperation from the rest of your family. (With everyone so busy during the holidays, your budget might need a little boost, for more read Last-Minute Holiday Budgeting Tips.)