Handling Ungrateful House Guests
Opening Your Home for the Holidays
Letter to My Not-So-Frugal House Guest
Love the Company, But...
A couple of times a year, extended family comes to visit. We have sleeping room for all of them, but feeding and entertaining a crew can get expensive. How do I keep expenses down while entertaining houseguests? Thanks.
Share the Work and Fun
When my family members join for the holidays, each unit prepares at least one dinner. It is fun and shares the expense. I have a friend who turned this into a competition. The parents were the hosts and the 3 adult children with spouses prepared 3 gourmet meals, which were judged by the parents. It became an annual tradition, with a trophy, which gets passed to the new winner.
Each meal usually has leftovers, which will take care of lunches, or a "leftover night". Also, everyone pitches in to help clean up. When it is my turn to host, I make two or three meals ahead and freeze them. A main dish, salad, and bread make a meal then ice cream and fruit for dessert. I usually will make chili for one night, stew for one night, and spaghetti for one night. It doesn't have to be expensive for everyone to have a nice time. Other nice meals that don't cost too much are Mexican meals - cheese enchilada or chicken enchilada casserole with beans and salad, sherbet for dessert. Enjoy your next gathering!
Preparing Early Saves Time and Money
Every other year my husband's family comes from all over the U.S. to our home in Dallas (we are most centrally located) to celebrate Christmas. Actually it is more of a family reunion sort of thing as we do not all exchange gifts - the emphasis is on family and getting together.
This year we had 25 people. It was a challenge finding spots for everyone to sit and eat. Next time I may have to use our church's fellowship hall or see about renting a facility. So I understand where JS is coming from.
I would suggest looking into bulk cooking - Frozen Assets, Once-A-Month Cooking, and the 30 Day Gourmet. There are tons of books and several egroups that you can join with great information. Experiment a little when you have the time (in order to fix foods that you and yours will eat). And then plan, plan, plan your meals (all of them, including snacks!)
Buy the aluminum pans when on sale and then do some bulk cooking - cookie doughs freeze great, snacks such as eggrolls and burritos are easy to do, pies (either the crusts or complete) pizzas - there really isn't much you can't freeze - just look at the grocery store freezer aisles.
Depending upon the time of year and when you are expecting your guests will determine your menu and what you can cook ahead and/or freeze. Homemade lasagna is always a treat. We do several kinds - some meat, some veggie, one with diced chicken and four cheeses. Soups, stews, chili are also great. If you just aren't sure, try planning your meals and then prepping some of the foods. For instance, slow-cook or stew a few chickens and then dice up the cooked meat, season, and freeze in appropriate portions. You can do the same with ground meat like season, cook with onions, garlic, whatever your preference is, and then freeze in whatever quantity your recipes call for. Slow-cook a chunk of beef or pork and shred it for BBQ sandwiches.
Breakfast dishes freeze well, esp. the egg and meat casseroles as well as quiches. Fix a few, wrap well and freeze. Muffins and breakfast breads are easy to make and freeze very well and reheat very well too! Wrap them individually or in small portions and people can just pull out what they want. Even cooking bacon and sausage patties ahead of time can really help beat that last minute time crunch - esp. if you have a microwave.
The key is to **plan everything as much as possible** so no matter what comes up, you are prepared. Then you can pull out that casserole, toss a salad, use your breadmaker to crank out a loaf of fresh bread and sit back and enjoy your company while the machines in your kitchen are doing the work.
Most of all, have fun and don't forget the paper plates!
Planning Ahead is the Trick
When we had extended family coming, I tried to make menus ahead and watch for super sales on what I would need. We did lots of grill or slow-cooker meals to keep me from having to be in the kitchen all the time. By planning ahead, I didn't have to shop while they were here and I was able to spend much less. I also stocked up when the stores would double coupons to $1.
For entertainment, I purchased a couple Entertainment Books that had many buy one get one free bowling, miniature golf, swimming, etc coupons. I also had the free oil changes and saved nearly 100 times more than I spent on the book. Some of the books have just plain "free" coupons. Call local places you are interested in visiting and see if they have group discounts. One of the dinner theaters near us has great discounts for groups of 20 or more. Usually we don't have the 20, but call friends that also go there and arrange our trips to be at the same time and usually get buy one or get one free or very close to it. They also have matinee discounts. We recently rented the local skating rink----$100 per two hours. We control who comes and what music is played and what we did was have 9 other families that wanted to come all pitch in $10 and we had about 120 people skating and having lots of fun.
In the winter, living in the Midwest, we built snowmen, igloos and went sledding for those that wanted to be outside. Cheap and lots of fun.
Keep It Simple and Share
I come from a large family, as does my husband so I know how expensive family gatherings can get. Here are some tips I've used over the years:
- Pasta is cheap, versatile, easy, and tasty. I always cook at least one meal with pasta as the main dish.
- Before company comes, I bake a lot of goodies so I don't feel empty handed with the kids (or sweet toothed adults) in between meals.
- We have games on hand that sometimes just need dusting when company arrives. At nighttime, rather than going out or renting movies, we play games. Usually everyone plays and we all have a lot of fun!
- Go shopping. Now, I know that may sound like an expensive outing, BUT if you can restrain yourself from buying, the mall can be a great place for indoor fun.
If the trip lasts a couple of days, we take an adult trip to the grocery store and we all purchase food items equally. That way, I, the host, don't feel like I am spending a fortune for the family. Plus, everyone feels 'invested' in the time together and no one is offended (we all do it at everyone's house so it basically turns out equal).
Start Big and Wind Down
Because we live pretty far away from any relative, we get company that tends to stay a while. What usually happens is that we put on the whole big show for a couple of days, and then start to back off a bit on the meals, libations, entertainment, etc.
For example, day # 1 might be all 3 meals prepared for them and a great activity, day # 2 might be bagels for breakfast, make your own lunch, and a good dinner with a pretty good activity. Then on day 3 comes the cereal, pizza, pasta, etc with more normal family type activities.
The key is to wind down gradually until your guests feel welcome but not overwhelmed with everything you're doing for them. They come to see you, not to be pampered (I hope!). Like my Mom says, "fish and company start to stink after 3 days," unless you save some energy for yourself and can relax enough to enjoy your company!.
Go with Pot Meals and Fun Games
I come from a big family that loves to get together. I don't like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen so I cook easy things that go a long way. Like a big pot of chili and serve it over rice, this makes it go farther and we love it. Or a big pot of chicken and sausage gumbo again served over rice. Or a big pot-roast with potatoes and carrots. Also a big ham, potato salad and baked beans are good and then you can have ham sandwiches. These are all easy to prepare and don't require a lot of time in the kitchen.
I always make several deserts ahead of time, again easy, quick and good ones! We have family favorites. One 'fix ahead' is Fruit Fluff.
- 1 large Cool Whip
- 2 small Jell-O (orange or lime) I use orange.
- 1 large crushed pineapple - well drained
- medium can of mandarin oranges - well drained
- 16 oz. carton large curd cottage cheese.
Mix in large bowl and serve or it will keep for days.
Next we love to play games. I grew up in a game playing family. One of our favorites now is "Chicken Foot". Any number can play and any age from 6 up. It's played with a double nine set of dominoes. The directions come in the double nine set of dominoes. Another good game for ages 6 and up is Rummy Rub, a board game for 2 to 4 players.
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This year we had a crowd for Christmas (my husband's parents, sister-in-law, my mom, and my brother) in addition to myself, my husband and son. Even if we had wanted to go out, it would have been necessary to take two or possibly three cars.
There were several activities that we used that were inexpensive. We played Cranium Command, also Christmas Trivia and a few others. I got silly prizes for these (Happy Meal toys, give away items, odds and ends that we all seem to have little use for but instead of throwing them away I wrapped them up). The way we play, the winner of each game gets a prize and then can trade it for anything that other people have. Thus if I got a date book but my mom won the next game and got a happy meal toy she could then give me the toy and take the date book. It is sometimes amusing to see which toy or item gets traded back and forth. We also like Charades and so I write up ideas through out the year to make it easier.
We watched "It's a Wonderful Life" and other Christmas classics. It doesn't hurt that one of the games we have is "It's a Wonderful Life." We also went caroling at our church. Some Chambers of Commerce put out lists of activities and events going on in the area. We have a free planetarium that does a show on the Christmas Star that we all enjoy.
Get your guests to come up with a plan for an afternoon. Tell them to bring their favorite game or activity. This lets you off the hook, introduces you to something new and should be something that they like. Don't overschedule things. People on vacation or at Christmas probably need quiet time just as much as you do. Give them the opportunity to relax in front of a fire with soft background music or time to read.
Plan menus in advance, buy with coupons and on sale, and freeze. One way that I disguise inexpensive meals are to have some special touch like garnish, table decoration or party favor that fits. Party hats and horns on New Year's Eve dinner for example.
Take the Next Step
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We're still paying off last Christmas and worry how we'll afford the holidays this year without charging it again! Tell us: Yes, we could use help getting out of the debt trap we're in! or No, debt is not a problem for us but I'm always looking for ways to trim my family's expenses further!
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