No matter how diligent we usually are about sticking to our budget, there are certain areas where we simply freefall into the spending abyss. I find these areas are usually ones that involve trying to please others — whether it be our kids, friends or relatives. We splurge on eating out over the weekend, go overboard on a child’s party, or buying holiday gifts for coworkers.
Whether you go out to a nice restaurant, order takeout or make a big dinner at home, it can be very tempting to use ‘having guests’ as an excuse to spend more than you planned. For some reason, we don’t budget entertaining well. We often try to show our love and friendship by spending more on people.
Who are You Trying to Impress?
I thought about this as I prepared for a visit from my family this week. I used to get stressed out over trying to make my home look perfect, having the perfect meal or great place to go eat. Why did I feel I needed to impress them? This time, I tried just being relaxed about the visit, and letting them share in what would be a normal evening meal for our family.
They weren’t here to be ‘entertained.’ They were here to spend some time together. I noticed that by my being more relaxed, the cooking went more smoothly, the ambiance was peaceful, and I was able to focus better on the conversation (instead of being distracted by anxious thoughts about the meal, the state of the house). It was a lovely visit.
Set Priorities, but Be Realistic
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t show a little extra care when we have guests. I made sure the bathrooms were freshly cleaned, the cat litter boxes changed, and the fur vacuumed off of the couch. It is effective to use a deadline like guests arriving to propel yourself into action and get a lot done quickly. But set limits to the madness. People like to see that you have made some effort to have the home and meal pleasant for them. They may feel guilty if you tell them that you have been up since dawn cleaning and fussing over every detail.
Approach feeding your guests the same way, whether you dine in or out:
- If you go out to eat, choose a place you would normally go as a family. This will mean more to them then trying out the latest local hotspot.
- Choose a restaurant or take-out place that is affordable, so no one feels awkward about the expense.
- Cook a ‘family favorite’ meal and share the recipe.
- Get kids involved by serving top-your-own personal pizzas or a taco bar.
- If guests like to cook and live close enough, have each family bring a part of the meal to share.
Make a comfortable and relaxed evening for your guests, and the visit will likely be more enjoyable than if you ‘go all out’ on venue or expense. Making it fun for kids also contributes to everyone’s good mood. There’s nothing so miserable as being in a fancy, expensive restaurant with a whiny, restless child.
Need Something to Do?
So the guests are fed, but what about activities? Do you need to pay to take everyone out somewhere? Not when there are so many inexpensive activities! With or without kids in the mix, you can:
- Play games
- Get outside and take a walk around your neighborhood
- Take a hike or throw a Frisbee at a local park
- Rent or stream a funny movie
- Make homemade ice cream and let guests make their own sundaes
- Have kids put on an impromptu talent show or skit
- Check out local art or music at a gallery walk or concert in the park.
Remember to keep the focus on people, not the activity. Let everyone talk and share stories. Make time to interact with children. Don’t rush through activities, but take your time so the atmosphere stays relaxed.
First posted on Letters from Sunnybrook
About the Author: Ever since she was a child, Rebecca has been fascinated by numbers and how to work with money. She started her first ‘envelope system’ using plastic containers and change found on the ground. As a teen, she asked for subscriptions to financial reports instead of fashion magazines. Today, she likes to share ideas on saving money, budgeting, making healthy meals, pet care and parenting, and living a joyfully frugal lifestyle on her Blog www.LettersFromSunnybrook.com