6 Tips for Hosting Your Friends for a Weekend Without Spending a Million Dollars

Photo: Getty Images/Hinterhaus Productions
Once upon a time, I lived—with two roommates and three dogs—in a New York City one-bedroom apartment that we converted to a three-bedroom apartment. As I was new to town that year, everyone I'd ever met in Los Angeles, from where I had just relocated, and Texas, where I had grown up, used my new address as an excuse to visit Manhattan. My couch literally welcomed a guest every single weekend for an entire year—and, for once in my life, I am using the word "literally" properly rather than colloquially. In other words, I'm not exaggerating, and was in dire need of some budget-friendly hosting tips.

I was 22 at the time, which meant I wasn't exactly rolling in dough. My millennial post-grad funds (read: excessive debt) posed a problem when it came to entertaining these guests, as every single one of them wanted to experience NYC to the hilt. They were on vacation and spending money like they were on vacation, and I was expected to join them on these bill-burning expeditions even though I was not so much on holiday as just trying to survive everyday life in one of the world's priciest cities. As a result, despite having made a decent amount of tax-free cash as a bartender that year, I left the East Coast 12 months later without a single cent saved.

The route I took is an unnecessary one, and I wouldn't recommend it; you absolutely do not have to break the bank to successfully host out-of-town friends and family. Nor need you scrimp on fun or be a killjoy in order to preserve your hard-earned cash. How? Some simple planning along with open communication with your guests—and a sprinkling of imagination. Below, experts share ideas for being the host with the most...money left in the bank after your guests leave.

Follow these 6 hosting tips for having fun with out-of-towners without blowing your own vacation fund in the process.

1. Set expectations

First and foremost, don't be a martyr. If someone is close enough to you to invade your home, you should feel comfortable getting real with them regarding any limitations you may have as a host. "Share your financial situation at a high level with your guests to set expectations," advises Dana Marineau, VP of brand, creative and communications for personal finance company Credit Karma.

Use this conversation to get a read on what they're visualizing for the trip, too. "Ask how they would like to spend their time," Marineau says. "If there are things they want to do or things they require for their stay that you can’t afford, have a convo with them to see what they can cover on their own." So, if they're planning on hitting up every Michelin-starred restaurant in town and you're definitely not going to be able to afford to join them, just let them know. "It's 100 percent okay to opt out of a pricey experience," says Seri Kertzner, chief party officer at Little Miss Party Planner.

2. When they ask you what they can bring, tell them

Ideally, says Marineau, your guest(s) will view your hospitality as a favor and offer to help out—and when they do, take them up on it. "To minimize expenses, you can ask your guests to help contribute things like wine, beer, dessert, snacks, etc.," says Kertzner.

3. Cook some meals

Your guests will likely want to check out the local restaurant scene while visiting, but that doesn't mean you need to eat out for every meal. "I always recommend finding a balance between cooking at home and going out to eat," says Marineau, who adds that there are benefits beyond the budget to DIY'ing a meal. Sure, it'll cost less, but it'll also provide an intimate bonding experience that's not necessarily available in a restaurant. After all, your guests are ideally there not just to see your city but also to spend time with you.

4. Get creative with restaurant recs

When you do dine out, keep in mind that most food scenes have trendy spots at every price point. And sometimes, as Marineau points out, "pricey doesn't always mean fun or delicious." Personally, I prefer to "eat where the locals eat" when I travel, which is never the most expensive place in town.

Another money-saving tip? Pregraming…seriously. "Alcohol can add up quickly, so consider having a glass of wine at home first and then getting a ride to the restaurant so you don’t overspend," says Marineau. (Homemade cocktails work, too.) If your group is large, Ketzner recommends calling the restaurant in advance to see if they can offer a prix-fixe menu. "This will give you an idea of the budget upfront and will help to avoid over-ordering, which can drive up your bill," she says.

5. Find the free stuff

Sporting events, shows, and other ticketed experiences can get costly, but you can balance out the itinerary with some freebies. "Are there parks around where you can play games and have a picnic? Are museums doing free exhibits? Can you get outdoors and go for a hike or a long walk? Look into community calendars and do a search around what free or inexpensive activities your area has to offer," suggests Marineau. Something like walking not only cuts back on transportation expenses, but it also allows guests to experience the city between activities—and efficiently.

At-home activities like board games are also great to have on call. "You should also plan for movie nights with popcorn [or popped lotus seeds], which is always great for downtime," Ketzner adds.

6. Make a budget, and stick to it

After creating a sketch of the trip utilizing the money-saving suggestions above, Marineau suggests setting a budget. "The more detail you can give yourself, the better. Account for every single thing that your out-of-town guests may need during their time there," she says. "This way, you have a number in your head that you’re prepared to spend and there shouldn’t be any unpleasant surprises down the road." And if desired activities drive up the numbers, pivot and suggest an alternative that won't stress your finances.

"Once you create a budget for the weekend, along with an itinerary, share that with your guests," she adds. "This way, you’re all on the same page before they arrive."

With the budget sorted, it might be time to whip your house into guest-friendly shape: First, some Marie Kondo-inspired quickies to tidy up. Then, a woo-woo makeover so your guests won't get (or leave) bad vibes. And finally, a 15-minute cleanup—because, procrastination.

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