One of the questions I consistently receive from potential homeschoolers is how to afford it. With many families already struggling on two incomes, it’s hard for people to fathom how the majority of homeschooling families do it on one. I have written many articles and blog posts about saving money on school supplies, on groceries and more (find some HERE). But I have never addressed the topic of hospitality — something that folks just assume will never again be possible once they start homeschooling.
The truth is that hospitality doesn’t have to be expensive. The act of sitting down with friends over coffee and conversation, or sharing a simple meal with extended family, is what really connects people together. A steaming pot of tea isn’t expensive. But price tags aren’t the point anyhow. It’s the doing it that counts most.
In reality, both price and time constraints seem to limit modern hospitality. It is no secret that lifestyles today are busier than ever before. As a matter of fact, one of the aims of my new book was to help modern families ready themselves and their homes to begin homeschooling, while life continues swirling all around them. Hospitality is still possible under these circumstances, too. And with a little bit of planning, it can actually be done rather easily, instead of avoided and explained away as an impossibly unaffordable luxury.
For the skeptics who believe the proof is in the pudding, I recently performed a little experiment (or a rather grand experiment, as it were) as a way to demonstrate the possibility of abundance and gracious hospitality on a budget. As many families indulged upon elegantly dressed poultry and sat down to tables boasting crisply starched linens, I set out to discover if Thanksgiving for a party of 10 could be pulled off for $100 or less. Indeed it was, and it was a holiday to be proud of. It even included hospitality beyond our four walls, as the meager budget allowed for the delivery of an additional pumpkin pie to an elderly neighbor. Plus, the experiment provided abundance beyond belief as my freezer remains well-stocked with all of the additional bonuses I received along the way.
[Takeaway: Think even bigger than your budget and it may just come true.]
Here is how I did it, and how you can incorporate some of these concepts when thinking about extending hospitality on a budget as a homeschooling family, too. These ideas needn’t be reserved for holidays, either, but can be used for afternoon visits from friends, too. Or Sunday dinners with extended family after church. Or for breaking bread with an unexpected travel guest or weary co-worker invited to your home last-minute after a particularly exhausting day.
[Takeaway: Don’t reserve hospitality for just special occasions. The people connection is more important than the occasion.]
Unlike other events I typically plan, with the exception of the final tally, this experiment actually had no plan. I relied instead on sales and opportunities for couponing, what I had in pantries and closets all around my home, and the amount of creativity I was going to be able to muster towards the end.
[Takeaway: Sometimes last-minute shopping pays off. Purchasing full-price items in advance may add peace of mind, but tug greatly on the budget. Expect sales to happen, because they usually do.]
For instance, rather than pre-ordering a fresh bird as I normally do weeks before a gathering like this one, I relied on the fates to bring about a sale or frozen turkey deal like I’d seen in years past. Though I had to wait until the last minute, something I prefer not to do, my wish came true as my local grocer offered turkeys at just .59/pound before the holiday, immediately making the main course very affordable, and using up very little of my budget for the biggest item on the menu (I actually bought another for the freezer, to serve later in the year).
[Takeaway: Consider options you don’t normally try. There is little difference between frozen poultry or frozen vegetables and buying them fresh. Frozen items take up no room in the fridge, and are delicious when carefully prepared and cooked to perfection.]
Though I have long been a fan of couponing, a changing of priorities meant I had retired my coupon binder some time ago. But since this experiment required some deep savings, I called upon my skills to help make ends meet for some of the other items needed to pull the meal together. As luck would have it, one of my favorite grocers offered a special deal on frozen vegetables two weeks before the event:
Taking advantage of a store markdown, and combining the deal with coupons found at the front of the store (an unexpected windfall), I scored 33 bags of frozen name-brand veggies for less than $10 of my budget. Using Internet coupons and some fancy number-crunching, I had previously discovered a way to get both eggs and cheeses absolutely free that day, too:
I later returned for the same deal again twice more that week, providing enough eggs for all of our casseroles and pies, and more shredded cheese than our soup appetizer even required, thus stocking the freezer yet again for future meals.
[Takeaway: Try a simpler appetizer, such as a hearty soup, over more costly items you traditionally serve. This helps in two ways, as soups can usually be prepared and refrigerated in advance, and saves dollars overall.]
Saving dollars through couponing and shopping sales provides opportunities to purchase pricier items, even seasonal treats, that a tight budget might not normally allow. In my case, the ability to continue on the family tradition of tasting this year’s Beaujolais became a reality for the adults:
and children could delight over a festive tub of soda pop purchased at a food warehouse for less than the cost of several 2-liter bottles:
[Takeaway: Warehouse stores do not accept coupons, but do offer great values at special times of the year. Look at unit costs and specially priced items when making purchases, and you may come away with excellent values that you normally cannot afford.]
Home decor is something that I really enjoy, thus I often spend a great deal of time (and money) in this particular area when entertaining. With my budget experiment in mind, however, table arrangements, matching candles, festive partyware and other items would not be possible this go-round. Instead, I pulled together a combination of what I had, including mismatched items all in the same color family, and peppered them with hints of newness wherever the budget allowed. I rose early on party day for a bike ride at sunrise and collected a basketful of colorful leaves, pods and wildflowers for table arrangements. Using elegant china goblets filled with water as vases to match my overall color scheme, I was able to decorate my entire home including the dining room table for absolutely nothing — and received many compliments on what appeared to be a million-dollar decorating idea, and one I would definately use again.
[Takeaway: Saving money in one area sometimes allows for a splurge in another. Wait until the savings are in your pocket before making the actual splurge. Then, splurge only on items that make a major impact, rather than wasting dollars on insignificant items.]
The savings on flowers allowed for the purchase of 10 yards of fabric priced down to $1.00/yard at a discount retailer. Hemming the raw edges on a sewing machine took little time, but the result was a stunning combination of colors and textures for less than the price of a single, new linen napkin. Appetizer plates placed purchased years ago at a salvage store looked absolutely beautiful when placed over fine china, and were accented by simple place cards made by one of the children joining us for dinner — again costing nothing at all. The overturned glass was reminiscent of the decorative cloches that are so popular right now, and made for inexpensive drinking glasses for the children, without worry of breakage either.
In the end, I came in well within budget and then some, considering the leftover items in my pantry and freezer, plus the leftovers waiting to be rewarmed the next day. I was even able to purchase some of the “frill” items in the center aisles at the last minute, like those french-fried onions for toppings (you know the ones) and a tray of pretty, ready-made cookies to serve with the pies later on. Tummies were full and the day was just as joyous as I had hoped, with the added bonus of pulling it off for so many people on such a tight budget, too. The day served as a reminder of the value of tradition, hospitality, re-connecting with family and friends, and the tremendous abundance that is really possible in our lives.
Hospitality is a valued tradition that can be passed down for generations. Many modern families, including homeschoolers, enjoy the opportunity of keeping this tradition alive. Sharing a cup of tea with friends, or a meal with loved ones, is an excellent way to stay connected, and should not be abandoned when belts are tightened. I hope you’ll use these tips plus any others you find posted on the Internet or learn from friends who invite you into their homes. Then, open your home(school) and begin welcoming guests again!
BTW, this post is linked here: