The Frugal Art of Being a Good House Guest

Whether you’re house-hopping for parties or overnights, be sure to follow these rules.

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The year-end rush often includes a mix of parties, gifts, and travel. And whether you’re traveling across town or across the road, your holiday baggage may include host gifts for those who invite you into their home for a party or a vacation. Host gifts are part of the annual holiday shopping ritual, which is estimated to climb to $447.1 billion during the 2010 year-end holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation. Fortunately, there are frugal, but meaningful host gifts and solutions for travelers and party goers.

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Cultivate green gifts

Plants and flowers are eco-friendly gifts for dinner and overnight guests. Create a green holiday gift by starting with a trip to a thrift store or yard sale. Second-hand outlets are excellent sources of vases and unusual containers for flowers and plants. This shopping strategy enables you to recycle vessels and provide a low-maintenance gift for your host. (Discount stores also carry a range of attractive vases and containers.)

Your goal is to create a green package that resembles a florist delivery, complete with water, soil or other flourishes. Purchase flowers and plants from nurseries, florists, street vendors, specialty chains or supermarkets. If you’re a gardener, create a display from your backyard. Consider herbs, fruits and other edible plants. Provide easy-to-follow care instructions.

Volunteer

Cleaning services charge hourly rates ranging from $75 to $200, according to costhelper.com. Overnight guests can step into that price void by washing dishes, sweeping floors, preparing meals and shopping (and paying) for groceries. Likewise, dinner party guests can offer to help set the table, run errands, serve drinks or clean up when the party ends.

Research

Overnight guests should aim for self-sufficiency. Don’t rely on your host for entertainment. Study online events calendars maintained by visitors’ bureaus, libraries, public parks, museums and regional theatre groups. Activities and entertainment typically include no-cost and low-cost activities. Learn about local transportation options, including public bus and train routes, cab companies and low-priced car rental packages.

Share membership perks

Bring along that annual pass to your hometown zoo, museum, gym or entertainment center. Many local attractions have reciprocal relationships with peer organizations in other states and regions. Your annual membership may provide discount tickets, merchandise or perks that can be shared with your host.

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Create gifts of time

Even the best houseguests can overstay their welcome. To avoid hospitality fatigue, be time-sensitive. Respect your host’s work and leisure schedule and step gently around established household commitments and rituals. Watch the clock and the calendar with the goal of providing your host with pockets of solitude and relaxation. Find low-cost activities at malls, community centers and public parks, and disappear for extended periods. At dinner parties, respect the host’s time borders by sending the RSVP, arriving and leaving the party in a timely fashion. (See also: How to organize a frugal night in with friends).

Express gratitude

In addition to a thank-you note, gratitude can take many forms. Framed photographs, tickets and gift certificates are great thank-you gifts. After returning from a vacation or party, print and frame a favorite photo from the vacation, party or outing. Unusual picture frames—ranging from funky to elegant—can be found at thrift stores, consignment shops and the clearance section of national discount and department stores.

Sharon Harvey-Rosenberg is a special financial news contributor for Wise Bread. She is the author of "Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money” and a contributing author to ”10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.”