Easy, Frugal Ways to Have People Over (Even If You Don't Cook and Clean)
A friend once made the observation that people have the time (and inclination) to cook OR clean. Like me, she opted to cook, meaning, then, that she typically had a messy house.
I had never really considered that there were two such types of people. But after doing a mental scan of the homes of friends and acquaintances, I realized she was spot-on. Those with immaculate homes infrequently prepared home-cooked meals whereas those who cook most of the time seem to have, well, lived-in homes.
Whatever your personal capabilities, lacking one or the other skill shouldn’t prevent you from having people over. There are easy, cheap ways to entertain, even if you are not amazing at both cooking and cleaning. (See also: Quick Pantry Snacks for Unexpected Guests)
Let's start with entertaining amidst your mess.
Entertain Cheaply Without Cleaning the House
Friends, acquaintances, and neighbors will appreciate your hosting a get-together, even if the venue is not a formal living or dining area in your home.
Throw a Party in Your Backyard
Your backyard, patio, or deck is a great place for a casual function. Friends with small children will especially appreciate freedom from worrying about their kids making a mess.
Grill burgers and serve with a side item and dessert for a dinner party. Host an ice cream social if you want to have a kid-friendly affair. For either, stash drinks in a cooler and let guests help themselves.
Pull out patio chairs or throw a blanket on the ground for seating. Ask guests to bring a lawn or camp chair if you are expecting a crowd.
Leave most of the house untouched but clean the few areas that your guests might visit inside.
Use the Clubhouse
Many people I know have a clubhouse or common area in their neighborhood that can be reserved at no charge. Such an arrangement is ideal for a gathering.
Food preparation is a bit more complicated than dinner or drinks in your home. But since you’ve saved loads of time by not having to clean the house, you have more energy to plan and prep food and beverages.
For a casual get-together, have your favorite pizzas delivered. For a slightly more formal affair, fix a hot meal using a crock pot and serve with previously prepared cold items, such as a tossed salad with homemade dressing and potato salad.
Plan a Picnic at the Park
You can host a lunch, early dinner, or birthday party at a park inexpensively. Note that facilities vary in their arrangements: some sites are free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis whereas some venues require reservations and charge a nominal fee ($10) or a hefty one ($200 or more).
Free options involve spreading a blanket on an open space or snagging an empty picnic table. There, treat a couple of friends to a casual picnic with fried chicken or sandwiches.
For larger events, reserving a space is helpful. Coordinate a potluck dinner with friends if you want to share a meal. Oversee games or free play and serve ice cream and cake for a kid's birthday party.
Remember to bring your own supplies, like plates, spoons, and napkins.
Invite Your Closest Friends
Your best friends will enjoy your hospitality no matter the state of your house. They’ll understand that you’d rather spend spare moments in conversation, not polishing furniture or dusting around books.
A bit of tidying won’t hurt though. Just clear the main area and take care of tasks like clearing dirty dishes, taking out the trash, or changing the bathroom towels before, rather than after, the visit.
Entertain as simply or elaborately as you want, hanging out over a casual brunch or hosting a fancy dinner.
Entertain Cheaply Without Excessive Cooking
Keeping your space clean and free of clutter can take a lot of effort. As a result, you may not have honed your cooking skills or developed a list of go-to dishes for special events. But you can still have people over with these techniques.
Use Simple Recipes
Spend most of your party prep time planning the guest list and decorating the area to ignite great conversation.
Serve "Home-Cooked" Meals Prepared by Others
Private catering can be expensive, but you can often buy healthy and affordable items from local businesses.
In my area, there are a few shops with commercial kitchens that make small batches of reasonably priced entrees, side dishes, and desserts. Items can be purchased fresh with prior arrangements or frozen nearly anytime.
Alternatively, buy dishes from the freshly prepared, deli, or bakery sections of a traditional or specialty grocery store. Some frozen foods work well also, such as marinated fish.
If you decide to try one of these techniques, be sure to sample the food before your event. Pay close attention to cooking times and consider adding minutes because multiple items in the oven take longer to heat thoroughly than smaller or single-sized portions.
Practice New Recipes
Just because you don’t have a repertoire of wonderfully exotic meals doesn’t mean that you can’t learn to make a new dish for a special event.
Look for recipes that you can easily master, which typically are those with cooking techniques you understand and ingredients found at most stores. Test them in your own kitchen to be sure that you’ll enjoy the dish. Consider trying one or two new foods and ask your friends to bring additional items if needed.
Throw a Cooking Party
Cooking parties can be riveting and well-orchestrated get-togethers based on what I've read. Find formal guidelines in this article on how to throw a cooking party.
For a simpler event, pick a casual dinner or dessert theme. Ask friends to bring a topping for the pizza, baked potatoes, or salad that you provide. Let your guests surprise you with add-ons or mix-ins for ice cream or plain cheesecake, if you decide to throw a dessert party.
Buy the basic ingredients and be prepared with supplies needed to cook, serve, and dine.
Confession: I am much better at preparing meals than keeping a spotless house. Getting food and drinks together has always been easier for me than readying my house for even the friendliest of gatherings. And although I am far from a perfectionist, I sometimes find the process of having more than a couple of people over a challenge — and I thought you might feel the same way. So, to make things super easy (no matter your strengths and inclinations), mix and match the suggestions (buy home-cooked meals and eat outside, for example), relax, and enjoy.
Do you have frugal, time-saving techniques for entertaining guests?