My fabulous, and fairly frugal, parents visited us here on the homestead last month and, while they were here, I put them to work brainstorming ideas to share on Frugalwoods. A few topics that did not make the cut:
- Why you should/should not water down your hand-soap. Very polarizing. Possibly marriage-ending. People have wildly divergent views about whether or not this leads to more soap use/more water use. For the sake of family unity, best to leave this topic alone.
- Whether or not cream cheese is frugal and if you can/should make your own. Not sure how we got on this topic, but it ranged for awhile.
- Types of toilet paper. If you use thin, you’re going to use more; conversely, with thick, you might spend more at the outset but use fewer squares per sitting (of course since we’re on septic here on the homestead, we use thin, septic-safe TP). Just be glad this isn’t yet another post devoted to this topic…
- Should you buy a full set of permanent markers in order to color in scratches on your used furniture? On one hand, you’re looking at a cash outlay for markers, but on the other hand, you’re increasing the longevity of your used home decor. Discuss amongst yourselves.
After these circuitous jaunts, aided by a bottle of wine, we rolled around to the concept of entertaining and hosting guests on the cheap. As longtime devotees of entertaining-at-home, my parents agreed to divulge their tips for frugal-taining. Apropos enough, frugal friendship navigation was an oft-requested topic in my recent Facebook query on what you all would like to read.
Hosting Like A Boss
Pursuant to our recent discussion here on Frugalwoods about the liberating power of feeling confident and secure in your frugality is the desire to incorporate frugal tenets into every aspect of life. And socializing is most certainly an aspect of a happy, full life. When Mr. Frugalwoods and I first decided to pursue extreme frugality, we recognized that our stand-by of going out for dinner with friends would need to assume a more budget-friendly iteration.
Our solution? Counter invitations out to dinner with invitations over to our house. And every single time, our friends took us up on the offer and were delighted to return the favor. Who wouldn’t enjoy a free homecooked meal? We’ve also discovered that once you start trading at-home hosting, it becomes de rigueur.
Now that we’re parents (as are many of our friends), socializing at home is even more preferable for everyone involved. It now yields a quadruple bonus: 1) no one has to hire a babysitter, 2) no one has to wrangle a baby in a restaurant, 3) we don’t have to pay for our meal, 4) flying food is not an issue. As for going out, doing it occasionally is fun; but if it’s constant, it becomes a product of hedonic adaptation, the rarity pleasure is gone and of course, it drains the budget.
Restructuring our social life such that most of our friendly interactions take place at home required a bit of tweaking to our thinking. Although going out is the default socialization mode in our culture, there’s no law asserting its primacy. We all fall back on the trope of dinner and drinks out, but it’s entirely possible to create just as festive an atmosphere in one’s abode. See? I made it more festive already by calling it an “abode.” You can use that on your next party invite. You’re welcome.
Furthermore, there’s a spate of activities one can partake of on the cheap–hosting at home is but one example in the vast array of frugal friendship-builders. Since readers query me on this topic with massive regularity (I’m not surprised that Frugalwoods readers are popular! I mean, come on! Who wouldn’t want to hang out with us, what with our sweet home haircuts and hand-me-down dogs?), I have several posts devoted to the art of maintaining friendships in parallel with your frugality:
- Maintaining Friendships And Frugality (one of my more straightforward titles, no? I do have my less-obtuse moments)
- Frugal Friends and Where to Find Them (written by my real-life frugal friend, Mr. 1500)
- Holiday Gifts for Frugal Weirdos To Give and Receive (gift giving: a thing friends do!)
- Why Frugal Friends Are The Best Friends (a follow-up to his first post, another zinger by my buddy Mr. 1500)
- How We Broke Our Eating Out Habit in 9 Steps (another obvious title)
Ok, ok, so now we all understand this pat frugal advice to “entertain at home” and it sounds easy enough; but, if you’re a first-time frugal hostess, it can feel overwhelming to helm a soiree. Fear not, for the combined power of Mama and Papa Frugalwoods along with me and Mr. FW are here to help! Frugal Hound too (although not really because, honestly, she’s kind of a dog).
The Six Steps To Putting The Fabulous In Your Frugal Event
1) Fix fine food.
Food: the cornerstone of any successful gathering. Thus, it behooves us to start in the kitchen for this particular exercise (of course, when doesn’t it behoove us to start in the kitchen?). Cooking from scratch is ‘natch the thriftiest means of victual consumption, but you may not harbor a secret desire to slave away over a stove for 79 hours in preparation for hosting. To alleviate the cooking burden, we make a large batch recipe ahead of time because: 1) we’re not scurrying around the kitchen when our guests arrive; 2) we usually have leftovers to freeze or enjoy later in the week.
A few dishes we like:
- Focaccia Bread: this stuff is seriously easy to make and looks impressive–I love recipes like that. Furthermore, you can slice up some cheese, toss olives on a plate, and call it a meal. Delicious, simple, yum. Alternately, this bread can serve as an alluring side dish.
- Homemade hummus with lemon and garam masala. Mr. FW combines the following in our food processor: garbanzo beans, fresh garlic, Chinese chili paste, lemon, garam masala, salt, and olive oil.
- Chana Masala
- Grilled chicken on a bed a greens with sliced peppers and capers
- Chicken Tikka Masala (ok this one isn’t so simple, but it is delicious)
The theme with all of these recipes is that the base ingredients are inexpensive and then we fancy them up with interesting flavor combos.
2) Don’t do dinner.
Still not feeling the cooking vibe? No problem. Invite folks over for a low-impact meal such as afternoon coffee/tea or evening cocktails. Not every at-home shindig is required to be a full banquet. For these off-hour gatherings, I usually bake treats to serve. Frugal protip: triple or quadruple a baking recipe so that you can freeze the extras. Time-saving and tasty!
As a general rule, I love King Arthur Flour recipes as they hit that desirable (by me, anyway) mark betwixt super complicated (uh, looking at you Epicurious) and banal (looking at you, AllRecipes). I do use those sites and plenty of others depending on what I’m making, but King Arthur is generally, well, king.
Here are some of my faves:
- Pound cake with a homemade compote
- Applesauce oatmeal bread
- Brownies (this is a somewhat complicated recipe, but the end product is worth the hassle)
- Sugar cookies
- Spiced pumpkin oatmeal cookies
3) Host a cheap wine tasting.
Unlike cheap beer, cheap wine can be rather palatable. I should know, I’ve sampled quite a bit of it. Especially now that I have a kid. Pretty sure most of the white wine sales in this country are supported by parents. Just saying. More to the point, there are so many delectable inexpensive wines available that I love, love, love (super love) the idea of hosting a cheap wine tasting. I haven’t personally done this, but my parents have, and they report it’s hilarious.
Recommended cheap wines: anything from Trader Joe’s south of $5/bottle, the Wal-Mart Oak Leaf brand at circa $3/ bottle (do NOT judge until you sample, I am not even kidding, it’s excellent), and of course, the boxed varietals (Black Box, Big House, and Bota Box are my top).
Take this as an opportunity to dust off all of your fancy glassware–which, if you’re me, came from either: 1) the side of the road (kudos to Mr. FW for picking up an entire box of stemware while on his way to work one day–of course he then took it into his office and had to explain that he’d found free glassware in the trash for his wife; or 2) when my office cleaned out a storage closet last year and unearthed a ton of wine glasses that no one wanted. No one except, naturally, Mrs. Frugalwoods.
Devise pretentious things to say about the wines, pretend that you’re not going to drink each “taste,” deign to be aghast at some flavors, and swish the wine around for a sniff. You know, everything you’d do at an actual wine tasting. Keep notes on the winners and report back here in the comments!
4) Bring back board games.
Many a fine night we’ve had circling the table with a board game in full force. We used to do frozen pizzas, popcorn, and beer with our friends L and R back when we lived in Washington, DC, accompanied by fierce competition. Our favorites include: Ticket To Ride, Settlers of Cataan, Scrabble, Monopoly (although sometimes that one gets on my nerves on account of its length and also the weirdly worded “chance” cards–why are we forever going to jail??), Risk, Pictionary (nearly broke our kitchen cabinet in Cambridge on account of “excessive celebration” with that game), and Taboo.
And for the not-at-all-daunted among you, there’s the Frugalwoods family game, played in epic, wide-ranging tournaments by both my and Mr. FW’s families: the card game Canasta.
5) Have a theme!
I love theme parties! Especially if costumes are involved! My parents and their friends (who, by the way, are in their 70s) are absolute experts in this department–you need a theme? They’ve got themes. From ’20’s to leprechauns (???) to disco, they have costumes for just about any iteration of theme night.
But even minus the costumes, a theme portends great fun. A favorite of mine is “tacky Midwestern food” night. Anyone who has lived in the Midwest will absolutely understand this one. Think: crispy shell beef tacos, cheese dip, corn chips, and brownies. Oh yes, tacky Midwestern food is the best.
Per usual, the frugal route is often vastly more creative (and dare I say hilarious) than the typical consumer trope of going to a restaurant.
6) Plan a potluck.
A fabulous way to circumvent the cooking conundrum. I find that there’s no need to assign dishes in advance–somehow, everyone brings something different and it always comes together in a harmonious meld.
But What If My Friends Aren’t Frugal?
This is, by far, the most common parry against the entertaining-at-home option. And you know what? Your friends don’t have to be frugal in order to support your financial goals, respect your savings-oriented agenda, and enjoy hanging at your house. It’s totally unnecessary (and impossible) to convert everyone over to the frugal side, so don’t try! Fostering a less-expensive entertainment plan doesn’t require frugal evangelization. It only requires creativity and a whimsical embrace of novel experiences.