Ten Ways to Show Hospitality when Things are Tight

When we first moved into our 640-square-foot duplex for Josh to start law school, every single preconception I had about hospitality was shaken to the core. Our kitchen table barely seated three, the trim was cracked and peeling, and there were so many stains already on the carpet that I didn’t need to worry about adding more. You’d never notice.

But rent was cheap and we were trying to get through school without being saddled with a huge burden of debt, so it was worth it. Our grocery spending matched our rent spending. God was really gracious to give us a daughter (and then two more kiddos!) that begged for oatmeal, beans, vegetables, and rice. Kids who turned down fancy breakfasts for a bowl of oatmeal and preferred tomatoes to cookies. That was enormous blessing, but what about company?

At first I didn’t think that hospitality would even be possible. After all, who would want to come visit us? And if they did come, where would they sit?

Especially in this fast-paced online culture, taking time to show hospitality is so important, even when things are tight. Here are ten simple tips for practicing hospitality on a budget.

Answers to the all-important seating question here

Much to my surprise (and amusement) a steady stream of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances has passed through our little white house. I read somewhere that during the early 20th century, as houses started being made larger and larger, people looked back on the homes they grew up in and couldn’t believe how many people had managed to fit into such tight spaces to enjoy such frugal feasts…and had so much fun doing it.

I saw first-hand how true it was. You don’t need lots of space or lots of money to practice hospitality. You just need to share your life with those around you. “Share what you have,” as it says in Hebrews 13:6.

Especially in our fast-paced, online society, taking the time to open our homes and engage with people right around us is so important, even when things are is tight.

Hospitality isn't about impressing your friends or showcasing your home. It's about fellowship and friendship. If you have a limited budget, here are 10 frugal ways to practice hospitality when things are tight.

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10 way to show hospitality when money is tight

  1. Create a welcoming environment using what you have. A scented candle, pretty music or jar of wildflowers add a warm touch and are inexpensive. Use items you have and remember that hospitality is not a Martha Stewart contest!
  2. Open your home, without serving food. If your food budget scarcely lets you feed your own family, you can show hospitality without serving a meal. Watch a friend or neighbor’s children to give them a break. Invite a friend over in the afternoon, just to chat.
If you want to serve food…
  1. Remember, you don’t have to host dinner. Invite a friend for lunch or breakfast or have college girls over for tea (or coffee!) One of my favorite times of fellowship was over brunch. Friends invited several couples over on a Saturday morning and made homemade waffles topped with strawberries and ice cream. It was delicious, simple and fit their tight budget. Hosting a simple tea party is another inexpensive option. It may not be quintessentially American, but it’s awfully fun anyway.
  2. Make homemade cookies or brownies. Whenever you make cookies, make a big batch and freeze the extra dough in wax paper to pull out for fresh hot cookies at a moment’s notice. Many cookie recipes freeze well. These almond crunch cookies were a favorite with the students I tutored. It’s amazing what a plate of cookies will do to open up conversations!
If you are hosting guests for dinner…
  1. Compile a simple rotating company menu. Think through the meals and desserts your family loves. Then make a list of meals that you can serve when company is coming. They don’t have to be expensive or gourmet. Soups, homemade pizza and this Savory Lentil Rice Casserole are delicious, yet budget-friendly.
  2. Keep ingredients for those meals stocked. This will save on gas money and impulse purchases… and relieve a whole lot of stress if you find out mid-afternoon that friends will be joining you for dinner!
  3.  Shop your cupboards and use what you have. Maybe unexpected company is coming and you’re almost out of groceries. Get creative. A missionary shared an inspiring story of a time she only had one onion, some cheese and spices in the house. Company unexpectedly dropped by. Instead of panicking, she turned the onion and cheese into a savory creation that her guest raved about!
  4. Make bread or biscuits to serve with your meal. Homemade baked goods are increasingly rare and enliven even the humblest meals.
  5. Serve water or make your own iced tea. Add sliced lemon to “make it fancy”. Homemade tea costs a fraction of store-bought. I buy a box of 100 tag-less tea bags at Walmart for $1. Using four per quart, that’s enough to make more than six gallons of tea. Better yet, grow your own mint!
  6. Share the load. Let your guest bring a side. If you are hosting a large group, plan a meal that all can contribute to, like tacos. Have each guest bring a filling or two. Or, host a potluck type event.

Practicing hospitality when money is tight

It took me a long time to get comfortable inviting friends over to our humble house and sharing our simple meals. When I finally loosened my grip on pride and realized that true friends came to visit us, not enjoy Pinterest perfection, I found myself nodding in agreement to what earlier Americans knew: it’s amazing the amount of joy you can have sharing “a morsel of bread” in love.

What about you? How do you practice hospitality on a budget? (And have you ever had to whip up dinner for a crowd at the last minute?) 
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  1. says

    Great ideas, Anna. I like the idea of just sitting around talking. :) Or so often guests want to bring something to help with the meal. Let them! :)

  2. Jenni / Life from the Roof says

    In my babysitting days, I was working at a dinner party where the hosts and their guests picked a magazine issue of Bon Appetit and made a menu from it from the appetizer to the dessert. Sometimes magazine menus can be pricey, even for wealthy couples like the ones I babysat for, but it would be much more manageable to do it with several groups of people. Plus, it’s a new way to try new dishes. You could pick a particular popular cookbook author and get recipes off the Internet, etc

  3. Kasey says

    These are terrific ideas! We definitely live on a budget and I’m afraid there are many times that I pass up an opportunity to open my home because of it. Thanks for the fresh inspiration!

  4. says

    I appreciate it when a friend takes the time to truly talk…whether it’s via email, at church, an afternoon visit…time to talk and catch up on each other’s lives. I remind myself of this whenever I start stressing about the house not being 100% picked up or not having a fancy meal to serve. It’s the time and care that matters.

    • anna says

      You’re so right! When I stop worrying about what the house looks like and really just focus on my guest, the messes loose all importance. Besides, what mom lives in a perfectly picked up home all the time? A few messes keep it real, right?

  5. Barbara Rice says

    This has always been tough for me because I have 6 kids 1) the house NEVER is company ready 2) and our budget is well hmmm, tight. But lately as my kids get older, I realize the need for their friends to drop by and the need for my husband and I to have a social life so I’m changing my tune. 1) when guests show up don’t apologize for the reasonable “messes” with a family of 8. Just welcome them with a smile and enjoy them! 2) I think inviting folks over for an evening dessert is gonna be a new thing for me because its inexpensive and oh so good!

    • anna says

      That’s awesome Barbara! It took a while for me to let go of my company perfectionism, but whenever I remember that hospitality is about friendship and fellowship, it helps me so much. Dessert with friends is wonderful! :)

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