The Broke Person’s Guide to Having People Over

published Nov 20, 2019
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Welcome to Easy Untertaining! It’s a term we coined here at Apartment Therapy to describe those get-togethers that just kind of… come together.

What is it about adulthood that can make hosting friends so intimidating—and expensive? The ironic part is, while staying home is the alternative to going out and spending a bunch of money, we often have expectations that hosting should cost just as much as a night at our favorite restaurant. So what’s the sweet spot for gathering people in your home for a fun night (or day) in without breaking the bank?

Dave Lowell, a personal finance expert and founder of Up Your Money Game, says it’s important to keep the big picture in mind if you want to keep the financial stress out of your get-togethers. First: You definitely don’t need tons of cash to have fun. Second: You’re not alone in feeling discouraged about your money situation. 

“The shame or embarrassment you feel about not spending extravagantly on a gathering is because you feel like you need a lot of money to have fun, but that has never been true,” he says. “And chances are, your guests feel just as much pressure as you do about appearing to be doing better financially than they really are.”

Instead of dwelling on what you don’t have or can’t do, flip the “negative” into a positive, and get creative. “Time and time again, psychological research has shown that experiences bring us more happiness than things or money, so focus on creating an experience your friends won’t forget,” Lowell says.

If you want to host friends and family in your home without worrying about money (or sacrificing a good time), here are some suggestions for a gathering on the cheap.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Keep it light

In her just-scraping-by days, Erin Lowry of the Broke Millennial and author of “Broke Millennial” had a standing joke about the state of her apartment, which lightened the mood when she had friends over. “I never nested in my New York City apartment (that I lived in for nearly 8 years), and it became a running gag about how sparsely it was decorated,” she says. “So I just described my style as ‘recently robbed chic.’ It got a laugh, and I didn’t feel like people were wondering why I didn’t have art on the walls or throw pillows or rugs.”

Use what you have

Once you establish that your top priority isn’t impressing your guests, you can start planning your time together. Rein in the focus of the night and plan an event that doesn’t require going out and buying a bunch of unnecessary activities or decor. The key is to maximize what you (or your friends) already have. Have a Spotify account? Create a special playlist for background music or, better yet, have a dance party. For decor, keep things minimal: Set the mood and light some candles when your guests come over. And don’t worry so much about paper plates or cups: Just use the dishes and flatware you already have in your kitchen!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Plan a simple theme 

To make the gathering feel thoughtful and intentional, set a simple theme that won’t require you to spend a ton of money. For example, for an at-home movie night, stick some popcorn in brown paper bags, get some movie theater candy at the Dollar Store, and screen a few movies—and bonus points if you pick a theme, like ’90s rom-coms or holiday movies. 

Lowry says one of her favorite ways to entertain on a tight budget is game night. “I already owned games that are great for groups, like Taboo and Catchphrase, and now there are plenty of apps you can use, like Heads Up,” she says. “Just grab some snacks and ask people to bring a drink to share, and you have a fun night!”

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Enlist some help with food

You’re already generously opening up your home—there’s no reason you should be stuck providing all the food and drinks, too! Whether you’re hosting a casual hang or a dinner party, ask your friends to pitch in. Now is your opportunity to capitalize on your friends’ skills and knowledge. “If someone makes killer baked goods, specify that you’d like her to bring dessert. If a buddy is into craft beer, as her to bring some of her favorite beverages, and you can host a tasting. If another friend crushes casseroles, be direct that you’d love for her to bring her family’s special dish,” suggests Lowry. Don’t want to be so prescriptive? Just create a spreadsheet with what you need, and have guests fill it in.

To keep things organized, Lowry recommends arranging by type of food, and spreading it throughout your home as space allows—that way, people won’t be clustered in one area to get food. “But I wouldn’t worry so much about the fact that dishes don’t all match and that some people will really get into it while others will bring a bag of chips. It’s part of the experience of a potluck,” she says.

Remember a little effort goes a long way

Want to go the extra mile to make your gathering memorable for everyone who attends, but don’t want to drain your bank account? Small touches like a signature cocktail (don’t be afraid to use rail liquor, and keep the ingredients minimal!) with a fun, hand-lettered label or simple favors from the dollar aisle can go a long way when you’re hosting people.