The (Financial) Etiquette for Hosting House Guests

It's been a hot second since I was hosting house guests, but then I got to thinking about house guest rules. There are of course the rules nearly everyone follows when  guest is in town:

  • Your house is always supposed to be sortof clean when a guest comes over.
  • You always give your guest clean sheets and clean towels. (And if you don't you are freaking nasty…)
  • You should always have an itinerary of things to do/places to take your guest.

Then there are the other house guest rules, the less-common ones. I specifically want to talk about one that impacts finances. This is after all, a financial etiquette post.

House Guest Rules: Who Pays for Dinner?

My brother is a college student. He paid for ALL my meals while I was in town. Granted, this was because I made the trek from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa to act in his short film, but still. Most good hosts cook breakfast/lunch/dinner for their guests, but what about if you want to go out to eat? I have had hosts who have paid for meals out, and others who have not, and I haven't been offended either way. Still, after the debacle, I described in my other financial etiquette post (you know, the one about gift cards..> I know better than to think what I feel is acceptable is a common belief among others.

I did a little research, and by research I mean I polled my friends about their own house guest rules. Apparently paying for meals out depends on a variety of factors:

The number of people staying at your house– Some people would be willing to purchase one out of town friend dinner if it was just the friend in town, but never for a family or multiple people staying over. If I had a large group of my sorority sisters staying with me I'd probably just offer to cook dinner for everyone, instead of chance-ing a restaurant.

The distance traveled-Most agreed that if you live within driving distance they probably wouldn't spring for dinner. However, if you bought a  plane ticket and traveled thousands of miles, a dinner might be in order. Most often to cook for their guests no matter how much distance is involved, but going out to seems to be another situation for most folks.

Who did the inviting?-Are you crashing on a friends couch so you can take a prestigious job interview? Then YOU better be the one buying. Did your friend beg you to come visit her in Milwaukee before her baby comes? Then yeah, she should probably offer to buy you dinner. These, of course, are just my opinions.

 In Conclusion

I don't think there are any hard and fast rules for how/when to treat your guest, ultimately it is up to you and your discretion. I had a friend in college who took a group of us to Disney World and paid for all of it. He had more money than Midas, but he also enjoyed being generous. Still, I think it is an interesting subject to ponder over.

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Ah yes, another great financial faux-pas. So you're crashing on someone's couch or guest room for the weekend - how do you pay your host back? What rules should you follow? See our guide to house guest etiquette and let us know your house guest horror stories.


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  • Michelle
    February 3, 2013 at 7:07 am

    I always spoil my guests as they are always coming from overseas. We typically cook most of our meals at my place. I try to cover all of the food costs because my friends are taking the time and have spent the money to visit. But, they love grocery shopping because they are from other countries-so, who am I to stop them? My friends also usually manage to pay for a couple of meals out during their stay after a quick tug of war for the check. I also cover transportation costs and typically pay for a treat (one friend got a ticket to Lenny Kravitz and also got to see the Black Eyed Peas-she visits a lot. I’m in her wedding!) I love my guests 🙂

  • Kendal
    January 31, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    I agree that it really depends on the specifics of the arrangement, but I do find myself going into “hostess mode” whenever anyone crashes with us. Clean sheets and tidy community spaces are a must, but I also enjoy having tasty snacks and drinks available. I have learned to let people cover the cost of some things, whether it’s groceries or dinner, if they really want to. I certainly want to reciprocate in that way when I stay with others, so it’s best not to have a drawn-out argument about it.

  • Chris
    January 31, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    My rule is I always pay. If I am going out to eat with anybody I always offer to pay except when with my dad. I probably learned it from my dad so that’s why I submit to his superior billfold. I also do the dance of “I’ll pay” “No, I’ll pay”. It has to be done. It’s insulting not to offer to pay and you only give in if the other person is very forceful in their claim to pay. If someone visits me I usually stay in and cook them something. If I visit someone else, I usually offer to take them out to eat at least once while I’m there and pay to thank them for letting me stay with them versus getting a hotel room.

  • Canadianbudgetbinder
    January 31, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    We don’t get many guests stay at our house but when me mum and dad came they paid for dinners out and a small mini trip. They said it’s because they want to do it, and we have no kids so they want to spend some money on us. Plus they said we opened our home up to them and if they had to come here to Ontario it would cost them a heck of a lot more for accommodations. When it comes to family, money is not really an issue with either of our families, we do what we have to, split bills, pay, it all works out and we are happy. If someone was to crash on our couch for the night, I’d likely cook also but if we went out, they’d be paying for their own. All depends on the situation in the end for us. Great post.

  • Leah
    January 31, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    This has come up recently for me, too. It really depends on how far they’ve come. My friends from the next state over came by, and we went dutch. My friends from across the country came to our home, and my husband and I paid for practically all of their meals. If my family came from out of state, I’d offer to pay, but I’m sure they’d pick up the bill.

    VERY interesting to see all the responses!

  • RichUncle EL
    January 31, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Here is my rule of thumb, if it’s a close family member or best friend who drove or flew to see me and to visit me then, cooking or eating out should be covered by me. Cooking at home several times, eating out only 1 fully paid for meal.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty
    January 31, 2013 at 11:42 am

    I always pay for dinner if I have guests staying at my house. When we go to my in-laws, I expect them to pay and I order whatever I want. Muaaahhahahhahahhahh

  • Andrea
    January 31, 2013 at 2:10 am

    When I stay with my sister, the first thing I do is go to the grocery store and buy the things I typically eat. Anything I don’t eat while I’m there can go home with me, but I definitely don’t expect her to cook big meals every day or take me out to eat. I know there are situations where that may be different, but I’m always prepared to pay my own way when I go anywhere, and I’m sure to let people know that. If they choose to buy me dinner, that’s nice of them, but I definitely don’t expect it.

    That said, when I have guests, I’m always prepared to feed them. I just never want to assume that other people think the same way.

  • Kathleen, Frugal Portland
    January 30, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    I think you’re right, it depends on the situation. But if you’re going to clean for me and make a bed, I will buy you dinner. And if you don’t let me do that, I will send you something when I get home.

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter
    January 30, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Excellent topic. I agree that there are lots of nuances, such as the couch crashing to go to an interview. (Done that, couple wasn’t home for the weekend, left wine and a cheese grater (they needed one, it was on a shopping list I saw)). Most of our house guests are either only passing through for a night, or related. Our parents pay for everything when they visit, sometimes trying to refund us for groceries we buy! When my bro passes through, we pay for everything (broke student). Our friend came all the way to visit from Yellowknife once and insisted on paying for dinner out… that one was awkward because HELLO he paid for the plane tickets and bus!!

  • Edward
    January 30, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    Weird. I always thought that if I went to visit an out-of-town friend (even at their invitation) and we go out to eat it was always my responsibility to buy in order to reciprocate their hospitality. Unless they strongly objected and wanted to go Dutch on the bill.

    This might be a bit more a guy thing, but beer is a very complicated matter–probably as complex a manner system as most of us get. As a guy you should always have beer for your other dude friends if they’re coming over and never be stingy with it. Yet if you plan on going/staying over at someone’s house you should always bring your own as well. It sounds stupid–like knowing there’s cake at your friend’s, yet you also bring a cake. But it’s the way that works. Occasionally a guy will come from out of town and didn’t make a beer store before they closed. Understandable and acceptable–no worries. …It’s just the dude (and we all know one) who shows up empty-handed every single time and always helps himself to yours. :/

    • L Bee
      January 31, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      Haha. I love that you just added some “bro code” at the bottom of my post 🙂 I really hadn’t ever thought about beer before, but all my male friends always make it a point to bring some wherever they go!

  • krantcents
    January 30, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    When my wife and I visit relatives in New York (from Los Angeles), we usually pick up lunch out every other time . Near the end, we spring for a really nice dinner. When they visit us, they do the same.

  • eemusings
    January 30, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Hmm. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule, to be honest. We try to be very hospitable to guests, showing them around and sharing what we have at home, but I wouldn’t pay for anything for them, especially not when going out to dinner, for example.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup
    January 30, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    I agree that it depends on the situation. I usually don’t pay for people that are visiting me, but that depends on the relationship.

  • SavvyFinancialLatina
    January 30, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    We believe that we should pay for all of our stuff when we go visit family members or friends. This does not include parents.
    They are doing us a favor by letting us stay in their house. Usually we invite them out once for dinner, they take us out once, and we pay for the rest of our meals and entertainment.
    If we stay for an extended period of time, more than one day, we usually give small gifts in exchange for their generosity.

    • SavvyFinancialLatina
      January 30, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      We also leave everything super neat and clean.

      My mom has family that comes leaves the place a mess when they leave, refuse to pay for anything, and she doesn’t even invite them anymore. She says after 20 years of dealing with that, she can’t take it anymore.

  • Seanna
    January 30, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    I think it’s the guest responsibility to come with a hostess gift (flowers or alcohol are always safe bets), and offer to make dinner one night (or take them out) as a thank you for free lodgings and hosting you while you are there!

    • L Bee
      January 31, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      I love the idea of flowers, because thats not something I normally buy for myself and my house (even though all the design blogs tell you to). Thanks for stopping by!

  • Pauline
    January 30, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    It really depends on the purpose of your visit. If I go somewhere specifically to visit a family member who has invited me over, then that person should pay for dinner, and I would pay if someone travels a lot to see me. But if I live in London and you want to crash at my place because you can save on hotel (and see me of course, what a pleasure), then I wouldn’t tend hand and foot on you, and would expect you to cook at least a meal or take me out for dinner as a token of appreciation.

    • L Bee
      January 31, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      Agreed. I’d much rather have a meal out than a hostess gift.

  • Budget & the Beach
    January 30, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I think it totally depends. I’ve had some guests who wanted a place to crash if they were in town for business, so they might take me out and expense the meal. Or it’s been my parents in town and they take me out. If we stay in, I do the cooking and buying of the food, but I would hope they would help me clean up. God I hate rude house guests. But if I have a friend who wants to just stay at my place and they are a decent house guest and we go out to eat, then we would probably just split the bill.

  • Travis @DebtChronicles
    January 30, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Great question……I expect you’ll get as many different answers as you get responses. 🙂 If I have house guests, I expect to supply meals while they are at my home. To be honest, if I cook (which usually involves a grill or smoker), we’re going to have meals that are better than 95% of the restaurants we’d go to anyway. If we end up going out to eat, it’s usually a joint discussion/decision, and at that point everyone’s on their own.

    We recently had this exact situation – we had friends come across the country (Kentucky to Minnesota) and we rotated the meal at different people’s homes. One night we went out…..and everyone paid for themselves.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules
    January 30, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    I think it depends on the situation. If it’s one person and they’ve travelled a bit then I have no problem paying for a meal out as I think it’s a nice thing to do. We also like to ask them where they would like to eat and try to go somewhere local as opposed to some chain.

  • Manda
    January 30, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    It depends on my relationship with the person and the situation. For example, I will probably always buy my brother dinner whether or not he visits me or I visit him, as he’s my younger brother and the least I can do as an older sister is buy him dinner. When I’m visiting a friend at his or her family’s, I will offer to pay for my own meal (generally, I get turned down) and I always, always bring a gift for the family as a thank you for letting me stay with them. Between friends, we generally split the bill and pay our own way.

  • Emily @ evolvingPF
    January 30, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    For us it depends more on the relationship than who has traveled. Our most recent house guests were my parents and they paid when we went out to dinner. They also pay when we’re staying with them. As far as friends go, I expect to pay for ourselves all the time and if our friends offer to pay we accept (and we bring hostess presents when we stay with friends).

  • Lyn @ Pretty Frugal
    January 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    We just got back from vacation and dealt with this very issue. My policy is to let the host pick up the tab if they want to, but always purchase at least one meal if their hosting is saving me time, energy, or money. In this case, having a free places to stay saved us hundreds of dollars, so we were more than happy to pick up a few meals!

    • L Bee
      January 31, 2013 at 2:58 pm

      Definitely pay for a meal if you are staying with someone. If it’s a long stay (like maybe more than two days) I’d bring a hostess gift as well! And always send a thank you note!

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies
    January 30, 2013 at 10:16 am

    In general, we usually pay for at least one decent dinner out whether we are the guest or the host. If the other party reciprocates, that’s okay. But other than that, we informally go dutch. We’ll alternate cooking or buying groceries. It’s usually not a huge deal.

  • Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank
    January 30, 2013 at 9:45 am

    We always pay for and look after our house guests. I feel like it is our responsibility to do so if they are coming from somewhere to see you.