How to Keep Visiting Family From Busting Your Food Budget

family eats too much

If your house is like mine you have family visit and it looks like a barren, tornado-ravaged wasteland all rolled into 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, that'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 are a couponer, then look for coupons for items your family members enjoy and use them strategically to create an appropriate stockpile 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 closeout 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 into 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 will 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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1 Comment

  1. We always save our old bread by cubing it and freezing. When relatives comes, we make a strata each night, with different items. Some days just cheese, some days cheese and mushrooms, sometimes sausage…we tell people it will be pulled out of the oven at whatever o’clock and they can eat it hot or warm or starve. Uses up the odds and ends of cheese, bread cubes and so on, and eggs are cheap. Lunch is bread and a filling laid out. Tuna salad, egg salad, chicken salad, whatever I have around (I save chicken bits from baked chickens and freeze them just for chicken salad). If dinner is ordered, we all chip in. If we go out, each person pays for self. One night we do host and pay for everything. Family should not mean bankruptcy but part of it is that our relatives all know we are very judicious about our spending and used to make fun of it, but we have noticed some of them adopting our habits (and we don’t preach or even teach unless asked why we are doing something a certain way). Plus, we figure letting them stay at our house is a contribution to their vacation since they do not have to pay for hotels (and we give up our bed to the oldest person/couple).

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