Hosting People for the Holidays? 5 Ways to Save Money

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  • Meal planning is absolutely your friend if you're having a crowd over for holiday meals.
  • Borrow dining chairs or kitchen appliances from friends or neighbors if you don't have everything you need on hand.
  • Compile a list of local events and cool businesses for your guests to check out, as eventually you will need a break (and they'll want something fun to do besides hang out in your living room).

Here comes the cavalry.

The winter holidays are upon us, and for a lot of people, visiting family and friends is a big part of the season. Of course, someone has to host those people -- and this year, it might be you. Personally, I love having houseguests, but if I'm not careful, I end up spending a lot more money than I intend to, and inevitably get stressed out about feeding and entertaining everyone.

Thankfully, there are ways to celebrate the holidays with houseguests, have a great time, and not completely drain your checking account.

1. Plan and shop for meals in advance

Meal planning may not come naturally to you, but it is absolutely crucial if you've got impending houseguests. You will definitely spend more money if you decide to just wing it and figure out meals on a daily basis -- you'll either have to battle crowds at the grocery store or you'll order takeout, which can be expensive.

To that end, sit down with pen and paper, or even the notes app on your phone, and make a solid plan for every meal you'll have guests for. This is not to say you must cook for all of those meals -- I'm sure your city has some unique and wonderful restaurants that your guests will surely enjoy (plus, restaurants deserve to have a happy holiday too, and end the year in the black). So figure out when you want to make reservations or order takeout.

Once you've got a solid meal plan in place, go through your refrigerator/freezer/pantry and see what you'll need to buy to make it happen. Remember to scale up recipes so you can feed everyone, and if you end up with leftovers, stock your freezer or send people home with extra food.

Also, don't forget to buy snacks! You can turn to your local Aldi for a great selection of holiday treats. Trader Joe's is another excellent place to find festive food for your guests (and yourself).

2. Borrow items as needed

If you're slated to host the family gathering this year, but are lacking in dining chairs, an air mattress for guests to sleep on, or a helpful kitchen appliance that could make cooking or baking easier, don't panic. And don't run to the store and whip out a credit card either. Instead, consider asking friends and neighbors if they're willing to let you borrow these items for the duration of your holiday gathering.

3. Create a list of cheap activities around town

Sooner or later (I'm betting sooner), having extra people in your home is going to get on your nerves and you're going to want a break and some solitude (perhaps so you can get your holiday dinner prep out of the way).

You can plan ahead for this, too. Spend some time browsing your local newspaper's website or your city's social media pages, and see what events are happening over the holiday. There might be a parade, ice skating, or a special program at the local museum. A lot of local events are free or at least low cost, and they're a great way to introduce your family and friends to your area if they haven't spent much time there. You can also recommend they check out your favorite coffee shop or bookstore, thereby supporting local small businesses in the process.

4. Buy necessary items in bulk

Going back to your shopping list -- having people over is the perfect excuse to buy in bulk. You're going to go through a lot more of certain items (such as toilet paper, hand soap, and drinks) if you have houseguests, and if you've got a Sam's Club or Costco membership, now is the time to use it. If you don't, but you have a friend who's a member, ask if you can tag along with them on their next trip so you can stock up on bulk essentials.

5. If your guests offer to chip in, LET THEM

Finally, remember that you don't have to pay for absolutely everything your guests consume and use while they're visiting. In fact, hosting everyone should get you off the hook for at least one restaurant meal that your guests can treat you to. You might also have friends and family offering to bring food, wine, or other items, and you should let them. If there's something specific you know you'll need and won't have time to pick up ahead of time, you might even ask your guests to bring it along. I recommend extra containers for leftovers, so it's easier to send them home with people, and also dish towels -- you can never have too many when you're cooking up a storm.

The holidays are approaching fast, and if you're looking at your hosting to-do list and starting to wonder why you volunteered, take a deep breath and remember this is your opportunity to spend some quality time with the people you care about most. And thankfully, you don't have to overspend to do it if you rely on these tips.

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