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Don't let houseguests bust your budget

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Francis Dean / Dean Pictures / Newscom / File

(Read caption) George Dennler grills food for a family reunion in Lewiston, Idaho in July. With careful planning, you can entertain lots of guests without blowing your budget. One trick: Don't eat out.

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Over the past few days, we’ve had a few houseguests. Wait, scratch that – a lot of houseguests. We had so many people visiting that people ate meals in shifts. Every bed was full, as was much of the available floor space.

Amazingly, though, we managed to get through all meals here at our house – we didn’t eat out or have our guests eat out for any meal. We entertained at home as well, and our total cost was surprisingly low.

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How did we pull this off? We used a bunch of different tactics in tandem to make all of this work.

We relied on a lot of food that was in season. Sweet corn and tomatoes were both served, and tomatoes were also used as components in multiple meals. Since these are easily found in abundance and at a low price right now, having them on hand saved a great deal of money.

We also relied on food prepared earlier and frozen. Elements along these lines included barbecued shredded chicken, seasoned ground beef, and bread. Each of these elements were prepared early in the week and frozen in advance of guests arriving.

The key, of course, was detailed advance meal planning. Make a meal plan as early as you can and determine which elements of those meals you can prepare in advance and freeze. This enables you to prepare great meals at home, even for large groups, within a reasonable time, instead of leaving people to spend all day in the kitchen when everyone wants to socialize with family and friends (which often leaves to people deciding to eat out).

Most of our meals were modular and served buffet-style. Tacos. A wide variety of items grilled all at once. Barbecued shredded chicken sandwiches. Each of these meals were served in a buffet-style, with lots of options to allow each person flexibility on what they had for their meal. Vegetarians? Check. Big eaters? Check. Picky eaters? Check. “A little bit of everything” eaters? Check.

We asked for – and received – some early help. My mother arrived two days early and was charged with a simple task that made everything so much easier. She simply spent two days going to local parks and other activities with her grandchildren, enabling Sarah and I to spend those two days getting ready for the onslaught of guests. If you’re planning a big weekend and need such help, don’t be afraid to ask.

Warehouse clubs were our friend. We needed an abundance of lettuce, milk, wine, salsa, wheat bread, and other staples. Since we were buying for a large group, it made a lot of sense to head directly to our local warehouse club and stock up on these items. We estimate that, based on comparable items at other local groceries, we paid for our club membership this weekend alone. If you’ve got a big group coming and you don’t have a club membership, the savings for the coming weekend might pay for your annual membership.

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Bookend such events with plenty of sleep. How exactly does that save money? Well, for starters, you’re much more on top of things mentally and able to deal with the inevitable requests from a lot of guests if you’re well-rested. It also enables you to (inevitably) stay up late with all of the guests and still be able to rise early enough to get things going in the mornings. Thus, sleep in advance of the arrivals is a very good idea. Instead of staying up all night the night before people begin to arrive, plan ahead for the things you need to do and get a long night of sleep before people arrive. You’ll be much more ready to handle requests without emergency runs to the store if you’re in full mental order, plus you’ll be able to stay up late without being in a tired stupor. Sleep trumps all.

And, with that, I’m leaving to take a nap.

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