How to Keep Visiting Family From Busting Your Food Budget

family eats too muchIf your house is like mine you have family visit and it looks like a barren, tornado-ravaged wasteland all rolled in to one. I love my family, I really do, but when they come to town it always feels like they eat us out of house and home. Instead of the normal and somewhat frugal lifestyle my wife and I usually practice, they drag us along to where they tend to live, which is on the other end of the spectrum.


Not only does this make my inner budget geek cringe, but it also makes me feel like we have to go on a shopping spree at every big box retailer in town to replenish our pantry after they leave. What I’ve learned over the years though is that you can’t really change family. You just have to love them for who they are. I’ve also learned that there are ways to stay within your grocery budget and fill your family’s hungry stomachs at the same time. As an aside, this’ll also help you feel less stressed as you’ll be less likely to be watching the pantry door every time they go into the kitchen.

Prepare, if You Can, Beforehand

If your family is like mine they are scattered all over the country. While it means we don’t see them as often, it also means we generally have several months notice prior to them coming for a visit. Use this time to your advantage as you do your grocery shopping. If you coupon, then look for coupons for items your family members enjoy and use them strategically to create an appropriate stock pile of those items.

If you don’t coupon, which we really don’t do much of either, then look for other ways to save money on groceries by watching out for sales and close out deals. We’ve done this with our family and if you’re able to keep the food fresh in some fashion (like in the freezer) then it can decrease the amount of drag on your budget.

One other tip is to suggest a “dutch” night where everyone pitches in for an order-in meal so it’s not only lessening the amount of food you’re seeing going out the window, but it also saves the cook of the home a night of cooking.

Stick to Your Routine

The big problem we’ve noticed in recent visits is that our visiting family can tend to throw a wrench in our routine. For example, our usual breakfast fare is a bowl of cereal for me and oatmeal or scrambled eggs and toast for my wife and kiddos. It’s pretty straight forward and relatively cheap.

Well, family comes in to town and all of a sudden we feel that breakfast has to be a production where everyone leaves needing a gastric bypass. I don’t know if it’s a felt expectation on our parts or something they’ve communicated that they like us to do, but it certainly doesn’t have to happen with every meal. If it does, your food costs go up and start to put an even greater strain on your grocery budget. We’ve learned that they’ll flow, for the most part, with what we normally do and are usually happier not having to scarf down huge meals. If they’re not expecting it, then why do it? By staying with what your normal routine is you not only save yourself money, but also time and effort.

What if They’re Not Staying With You?

Most of our family members will stay with us when they come to town, though not all of them will. Just because they may not be staying under your roof doesn’t mean you don’t have to be concerned about your food budget.

The temptation in this specific situation is to eat out all of your meals. That is a pretty simple problem to take care of – don’t eat out! Instead of eating out, why not suggest going in on some fixings and prepare a meal or two together. This has several benefits beyond saving money – it gives you time together and it’ll likely be healthier. If they still want to eat out, then try and strike a compromise and eat out for lunch and make dinner at home, which’ll make both sides happy.

Having family in to town can be a fun time together, but it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same financial mindset that you do. It can be a hard balance to entertain them and not obliterate your grocery budget, but with a little planning and outside the box thinking it is possible.

What are some ways you save on groceries when you have out of town family visiting? Do they expect you to prepare five course meals at every turn?

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17 comments

  1. Great post, John!! We don’t have out-of-town family, but we do host lots of gatherings here. We have another one coming up in a couple of weeks; 30 people. We’ll be serving pasta and sauce (cheap!!) and having a couple of people bring salads, bread, etc. Obviously this wouldn’t work for you guys, but there are some cheap meals you can serve when you’ve got to feed them all.

  2. When relatives come over to stay, a part of you feels good about being the perfect host, offering them a wide variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, but if it means messing up your budget, and you feeling terrible about it, you need to find other solutions. Guests rarely put forward difficult requests, so it basically boils down to the host’s perception of the guest’s expectations at mealtimes. In this light, it should be easy to control your spending. Plus, if each visitor is expected to head over to the kitchen and make their own breakfast, I’m sure they’ll do the frugal thing and simply eat oatmeal or eggs.

    • I honestly think it depends on the guest. Many will go the less imposing route, but not everyone will as we all have different tastes. That said, I’ve found that if you try and just include them in what you normally do that does tend to make it better for all involved.

  3. I’ve played host to visiting family and friends a few times and we’ve always struck a good balance. We make sure there’s enough staples like milk, bread, and beer (of course) in the house and we’ll prepare one or two special meals. In return, our guests will either take us out or send us something as a thank you.

  4. Nice ideas! When I have family/guests from out of town I make an effort to have healthy and inexpensive snacks around like pretzels, popcorn, peanuts etc. My husband and I also eat oatmeal most mornings and maybe eggs/pancakes on the weekends. It’s tempting to eat out more when you have family staying from out of town but it’s always healthier and more cost affective to eat in. I like your idea of preparing a meal togther.

  5. Tiffany R says:

    I just visited my mom 2 weeks ago and I told her to not stress about food before I came to visit. I have some special food requirements so I traveled with a lot of my own food. I brought my own food and cooked my own breakfasts and lunches. Mom made her normal dinner as she would for herself and my stepdad and I just ate what I could and supplemented with my own food. It worked out very well and I didn’t have to feel guilty about her cooking special meals and buying special food and she didn’t have to feel bad about trying to fix and pay for food that wasn’t normal to her. So, my advice is for the visitors to either fit in to what the host family normally does or provide for themselves. Great post!

  6. We don’t get too many house guests but when we do they usually will treat us to dinner if we go out. We provide the basics in terms of food but if they want anything special too eat we take them to the supermarket so they can buy what they want and they pay the bill. When we stay as guests with family we do the same. We don’t expect them to pay for our food and we treat them if we go out to eat.

  7. Kathy says:

    Since our son and his wife live in another state and it is easier for us to visit them because we are retired, I can only speak from the visitor point of view. Usually, to make it easier on our DIL, we eat out for probably 2 meals of each day. Usually, my husband and I pick up the check but at least once during the visit they pay the bill. We don’t expect them to feed us all the time, even though I think they could afford groceries for all meals at their house. DIL likes to cook, so maybe one meal is cooked at home. It just seems to work out for us.

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