I recently received what might be the best left handed compliment of my life. A friend told me, "I love how confident you are in hosting people at your house. It makes me feel like I can do it too!" She meant it with the best of intentions, so I just thanked her graciously, and told her that I looked forward to a party at her place (or a place near her place) soon. I'll bring the cookies.
But its true. I'm no Martha Stewart, or Pioneer Woman. My house is imperfect (and not in the it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful sense, but more in the, I hope nobody has to Pee in the four hours that they are at our house drinking coffee or alcoholic beverages). I'm a decent cook, but I usually forget to do important tasks when preparing for guests like buying enough food, or having a grill when I'm planning a grill out (a special thank you to my dad who bought me a $26 dollar grill when I told him we would have "oven grilled" burgers when he and my mom visited in May).
I recently had some friends over, and I had to adjust my menu four hours before the guests arrived to suit the palates of those who aren't finishing up their first trimester of pregnancy (my previous menu was meat and pickles).
I don't tell you all this to be self-depreciating, but to encourage you to start having people into your home. Even if you're living on a tight budget, and even if you have no "hosting" skills, starting to invite people into your home is a way of inviting people into your life. I want you to start having people over because it has enriched my life, and I want it to enrich yours too.
These are my tried and true tips for entertaining on a tight budget, even if you have no skills.
Start where you are
Start where you are is a phrase that I learned from Shauna Niequist's book "Bread and Wine", which was a gift from my mom who embodied this phrase perfectly. Start where you are is a gentle form of Nike's just do it. Becoming someone who entertains doesn't happen overnight, but at the same time it does.
When you start inviting people into your life, it might be awkward, and you might not be that good at it. But that's okay, start where you are. All you have to do is invite one person, or one couple, or one family to your house for a bite to eat and to watch a football game, or to play a board game, or to go for a walk.
You don't have to serve fancy food, or even a full meal. You know what people love? Ice cream. Just buy ice cream (maybe two flavors), and invite people over for desert. That lasts about one hour, and its fairly easy to clean up, and if you don't have enough bowls, you can use cups. Voila! You are now someone who invites people into their house.
My mom is a great hostess. One of the best that I know, but she got that way through a lot of practice. Growing up, we would have all the neighbors over for pool parties. We provided the pool and the Lipton Iced Tea. The neighbors provided snacks (popcorn or goldfish usually). We had pool parties nearly every afternoon, all summer long, all through my childhood. These are where I learned to entertain- at simple, no frills, affairs where kids were sometimes instructed to drink from the garden hose if they kept drinking too much tea.
Make it a regular gathering
One thing that's difficult about being an adult, is that its tough to do anything consistently. You want to have a friend over? You'll probably check 46 different weekend dates before you settle on the 16th of January, 2016 as the date to hang out.
I know we're all busy, but come on, it should not be that difficult to have people over. Which is why I recommend that once you're comfortable having people over, start making it a regular thing. Maybe once a month, or even once a week. Maybe it will be every Saturday that Alabama is playing a football game that starts before 8:30PM (as a side note, my son will do the following dialogue: "Who is the best team?" "Awabama! Woah tide woah!")
When you start to establish a regular time and place, and your friends know they are welcome, they will begin to build their calendars around it. Not every person will make it every time, but over a long enough time horizon you will start to build a little community. Something that's worth inviting people into. Friends who will help you move refrigerators, lend you their tools, pick you up from the airport, pray for you, and take you meals when you're sick or hurting.
Do one thing well (if possible)
When you are hosting people in your home, its tempting to try to have a perfect meal, and perfect place settings and perfect appetizers and perfect seasonal decorations (you know to accompany your perfect house, your perfect marriage and your perfect children). And don't get me wrong, I love when people are willing to bend over backwards to make a perfect party, but you don't have to be perfect to build a community.
Instead, focus on doing one thing well. Do you like to decorate? Then make your house beautiful and serve frozen pizza (well bake it first) and a salad with Ranch dressing. Or make a delicious homemade cake to follow sloppy joes, baby carrots and chips. Or make a perfect tomato soup that you serve with store bought bread.
People are better able to remember one outstanding detail than a lot of perfect details, and the point isn't really the food or the decorations anyhow. It's the people. And if you do one thing well, it shows your people that you care about them.
Don't be a hero
Going along with the previous point, don't try to be a hero. Unless you are hosting a fancy dinner (and even then, as long as its not a wedding), you can ask other people to help you out. After all, they are benefiting from the community too. You make a pot of taco soup, and ask one friend to bring sour cream and cheese, and another to bring chips and salsa. Your other friend can bring desert.
By asking for help, you are actually allowing increasing the intimacy of your friendship. Over time, bringing sides or wine or desert will become second nature to your friends. Sometimes you'll end up with five salads, but usually these things have a way of working themselves out. Potlucks are a beautiful thing.
Make it your best, not someone else's
I am a firm believer that when you have someone into your home, you should set out your best for them, but don't confuse your best with someone else's best. If you're on a tight budget, and you're inviting people to your house for dinner then your best might be grilled hot dogs or a pot of soup.
Maybe, you live in a construction zone, so your best is sweeping the floors, wiping down the tables, and cleaning the bathroom even though it still looks really gross. It really is okay that you still have painters tape on the wall.
It's tempting to remember awesome parties that your friend the chef threw, or the beautiful Christmas parties that your aunt hosted, or the seventy types of dip at the dip taste testing party, and think that those are your standard. But they aren't.
The best is simply inviting people into your home and into your life
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.