How To Be a Financially Gracious Houseguest When Staying With Friends or Family

Shot of people getting food fresh off the braai.
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Whether you’re heading out of town or need a local place to crash for at least a few nights, you’re saving a ton of money by staying with friends or family members. This is great, but just because you won’t receive an itemized bill at the end of your stay, doesn’t mean you can spend your visit freeloading.

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Prior to your arrival, Joyce Marter, a licensed psychotherapist and author of “The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life,” suggested asking what you can bring.

“Ask if they’d like you to pick up any food or beverages or if you could bring ingredients to make a meal,” she said.

She said you should also ask permission before consuming any food or beverages, unless you’ve been explicitly welcomed to help yourself.

Jodi RR Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, said in most cases, you should also pitch in for food. She said factors like each of your socioeconomic situations and length of stay should factor into how much — if any — you contribute to the grocery bill.

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“The longer the stay, and certainly one more than a few days, groceries and staples should be discussed during the planning phase,” she said. “Similarly with the dinner bill, who is paying should be an explicit conversation before reservations are even made.”

Even if you’re cash poor, Smith said that doesn’t put you completely off the hook.

“The guest can always do something,” she said. “From getting up early to bring coffee and pastries back to making-serving-cleaning an entire meal, there is always something for a guest to do to show the host some appreciation.”

Marter agreed that you can — and should — contribute something, no matter how much cash you have to work with.

“Consider your budget and state clearly what you’d like to do,” she said. “For example, ‘Please let me contribute $50 to groceries — what is your Venmo?’ Or, ‘Let me pick up the food for our barbecue tonight — I insist.'”

If you go out to eat, she said you should offer to treat, if the bill is within your budget — or at least offer to pay your portion.

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Likewise, Marter said if you borrow a car, you should replace the gas you use. If you can afford it, she suggested filling up the tank as a nice gesture for allowing you to drive their vehicle.

Beyond that, she said there are several other factors to consider when trying to be a financially gracious houseguest. For example, the nature of your stay.

“Are you an invited guest for a weekend stay or are you couch surfing for three weeks until your new apartment is ready?” she asked. “The latter definitely requires more financial signs of appreciation, including an offer to contribute to the rent.”

She said it’s also important to consider the nature of your relationship.

“The less close the relationship, the more formal the financial gestures might need to be,” she said.

Additionally, she said the difference in your financial situation versus theirs also matters.

While you would never want to take advantage of somebody’s financial means, there is a difference in expectations if you are an executive staying at your nephew’s apartment or you are a student staying at your executive aunt’s estate,” she said.

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Finally, she said it also matters how and if you’ll be able to reciprocate their gesture in the near future.

“If this is a situation where you are staying at a couple’s home for a weekend shortly after you had them at your place for a weekend, that would lessen the financial expectations,” she said. “Rather than if somebody invites you to their vacation home on Maui for two weeks and you could never reciprocate.”

Staying with a friend or family member can be a great way to save money while spending quality time with loved ones. Just be careful to read the room and avoid making your host feel like you’re mooching off them.

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About the Author

Jennifer Taylor is a West Coast-based freelance writer with more than a decade of experience writing about anything and everything. Since earning her MBA, personal finance has been her favorite topic, as she’s passionate about writing stories that educate, inform and empower. Specifically, she specializes in budgeting, debt repayment, savings and retirement.
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