Editor’s Note: (3 April 2015) With the Easter and Passover holidays upon us, BBC Capital brings back this helpful insight on hosting without breaking the bank.
For Angela Hood and her husband, who moved to England from the US in 2012, entertaining guests for the holidays is the norm, particularly because their American friends and family want to visit them abroad.
Hood is happy to host, but there are occasional hiccups. For instance, people often expect her to pick them up at the airport — a common arrangement in the US, but an impractical hassle when you live 90 minutes north of London’s congested airports.
“We can easily spend six hours driving to and from, plus about £50 ($78) in fuel costs, and the parking situation at Heathrow is appalling,” said Hood, 47. Now the Hoods send instructions for taking the London Underground and commuter railway before guests book their flights “so they understand we won’t be picking them up.”
Having guests in your home can try your patience — and your budget — at an already expensive time of year. In the US, the average person celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa will spend more than $800, according to the National Retail Federation. In the UK, British households plan to spend £821 ($1,287) on Christmas, on average, according to YouGov. In Australia, Christmas adds an extra AUD$1,079 ($901) to the average person’s spending, according to a Commonwealth Bank survey.
Then there’s the added pressure and expense of hosting. In fact, more than two-thirds of Americans say having out-of-town guests or relatives stay at a hotel would be preferable, according to a survey from travel site Priceline.com.
But having houseguests doesn’t have to be painfully expensive.
What it will take: Successfully hosting in your home requires good communication skills, honesty (with your guests and with yourself), and some advance planning.
How long you need to prepare: As soon as you know you will be hosting guests, you can start making arrangements — although you probably don’t need more than a month or two in most situations.
Do it now: Solidify your numbers. Can you actually afford houseguests? You don’t have to go into debt just because your family wants to come stay with you.
“It is essential that you become very clear on what you can afford,” said Kathy Calabrese, PhD, a family therapist in New York in the US. “And understand how that number breaks down and fits into your budget. You also have to talk it over with your partner or spouse because this is a shared household expense and the holidays often just carry us away.”
Set firm limits. If your family wants to come for a week and you can only handle three days, don’t feel guilty about discussing a shorter visit. Be clear regarding how long you’re willing to have people in your home — and stick to it.
“Even if you love these people, your frustration is going to turn into resentment and guests will pick up on that,” Calabrese said. “Everybody has a limit and that limit has to be respected and honoured.”
Make a list. Once you have a headcount, figure out exactly what you need — not want — and write it down. Consider the essentials first, such as appropriate food, drinks and travel-sized toiletries. “It’s easy to start browsing and want to buy everything in sight,” said Erin Condon, vice president of cash-back website Upromise. “All your guests truly need is to feel comfortable and welcome. Stick to the basics.”
Borrow the extras. More visitors than sleeping surfaces? Borrow air mattresses from friends and neighbours before you buy one you might only use a few times. The same goes for extra silverware, plates, and even extra sheets — if you don’t have enough linens to go around, ask guests to bring a set with them.
Let your guests help. Are you having a big dinner while your guests are in town? Task someone with bringing some wine and someone else with making dessert or a favourite dish. You don’t have to whip up every delicacy yourself or foot the entire bar tab just because it’s your house.
“A lot of times guests feel kind of guilty that the host is going to shoulder the burden of the entire event,” Calabrese said. “Everybody typically is thankful when a host or hostess asks for help and support.”
Stick to simple décor. Sure, it would be lovely for your guests to walk into your beautifully adorned home, but festive ornaments add up fast. “I’ll decorate with paper snowflakes, LED candles, and other homemade crafts that brighten my home,” said Kelly Whalen, founder of TheCentsibleLife.com in the US. “I also check local yard sale groups, Craigslist, and consignment shops for great deals before the holidays or shop clearance the day after the holidays for next year’s decor.”
Buy in bulk. Alcohol can get expensive. Look for sales, and ask about wholesale pricing for your favourite holiday tipple. “Some liquor stores will give you a discount if you buy six or 12 bottles of wine,” said Barbara Reich, a professional organizer in the US and author of Secrets of an Organized Mom.
You can also shop for food at a warehouse store such as Sam’s Club or Costco in the US. You’ll save on what you buy and you can freeze extras for your next event.
Look for free entertainment. The holidays are a great time to have guests, because many areas have special events throughout the season — at no charge. “Maybe it’s a holiday market, a tree lighting event, or a free concert,” said Matthew Robinson, a chef and author based in Amsterdam. “Whatever it is, pack up a few snacks and some hot chocolate, and go enjoy it.”
There’s also no need for you to schedule every second with your company. Plan a few things but give guests time to explore on their own or to relax.
Do it smarter: Be uber-prepared. Don’t plan to run out for things while guests are in town, if you can help it.
“Scrambling costs money,” said Lauri Flaquer, a US author and speaker who regularly hosts retreats for her clients. “The more you plan ahead, the more you save. I have all my serving dishes ready, and I have a list taped inside the kitchen cabinet with the entire menu planned.”
Spend once, use forever. Springing for plastic plates and cups whenever you host a group of people will eat into your budget in the end.
“I don’t buy disposable anything,” Flaquer said. “Twenty-five years ago I purchased flatware, glasses and plates for 30 and I’m still using them. They look great and have paid for themselves over and over.”