Affording your summer house guests

Summer is a great time for entertaining, but it gets expensive. Bruce Sellery says you can still have fun without ending up underwater. Here’s how.

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Question

My husband and I love to entertain, but are concerned about the cost of having house guests. Do you have any suggestions on how we can keep a lid on it?

Answer

We love to entertain, too, especially in the summer when we have a steady stream of visitors to our little cottage. We love the extended conversations, wacky board games and fantastic food that we just wouldn’t have if we were on our own.

While it is hard to put a price on the revelry, it certainly isn’t free. So, to your question: How much for house guests?

Happy house guests: What is important to you?

For us, good food, simply prepared, is the way to go when we have people over. For others, having guests for the weekend is the chance to visit the organic butcher for a prime cut of beef and to splurge on a few fine wines. So the first question to ask yourself is, what is important to you? There is no sense spending $300 and three hours in the kitchen performing a Martha Stewart miracle, if what is really important to you is going for a hike in the woods.

I often hear people overspending because they think they should. And that can really spoil a perfectly good, spontaneous and fun weekend with friends and family.

Have a clear answer to “What can I bring?”

Most guests know the drill. They receive an invitation, and know that right underneath the “yes” in their reply, they should add the phrase, “what can I bring?” For a dinner party, a bottle of wine or two will suffice. But if you are staying the weekend with someone, your overnight bag should contain a few more supplies.

I find that most guests are generally pretty good at responding to clear directions. (And if they aren’t, do you really want them occupying your chaise lounge for two days?) I will not only tell people what to bring, but lately, I have been asking them to bring an entire meal. This isn’t motivated by cost, but rather simplicity. That means I only need to plan one dinner and a few breakfast and lunches. It also ensures I’m not in the kitchen the entire time.

So when they offer to help, respond with something like this: “It would be great if you brought wine for the weekend. We’re a big crowd, so a few bottles would be great.” Sub that wine for beer, pies or steak and you’ve cut your costs dramatically.

Simplify your way to savings

Aside from beverages, the big cost you face having house guests in the summer is the protein that goes on your grill. Have a simple burger/veggie burger meal one night, and a fancier mixed grill the next. Shop in bulk for sinful snack food and get a pancake mix and some eggs for brunch. Convince your guests that a house party will be better than dinner out followed by a pub-crawl. Unless smoked salmon eggs Benedict is really important to you, keep it simple and then get back to your book/golf game/tanning session.

My favourite low cost house guest tradition is to buy five brand new magazines. Think about what your guests would like—People, Vanity Fair, Cosmo, The Economist, or MoneySense! Whatever it is, they will appreciate the effort. And to be extra twee, put their favourite publication on their bed on top of their towel. It is practically the Four Seasons treatment and only cost you six bucks.

Balance frugality and fun

The reason you have house guests—aside from familial obligation—is because it is fun. So find your own balance between frugality and fun. Having house guests doesn’t happen every weekend all year long. And no one wants to feel like they are a burden. If money is tight, simplify the menu, have guests bring more, or trim a little in other areas so that you can hang out with your friends and family and not worry about what things cost.

Last word: What goes around comes around

Host one weekend and be hosted on another. It won’t necessarily be in the same year, by the same people, or in the same way, but I’m a big believer that what goes around comes around and so the actual cost of having house guests will be offset, somewhat, by the benefit of having them return the favour down the line.

ask@moneysense.ca

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