First Person: 4 Tips for Budgeting Family Reunions

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Over this past weekend, my family and I hosted a reunion for over a dozen relatives who traveled to Colorado to enjoy some time together. We golfed, barbequed burgers and brats, and played cards and dice into the night. After the stories and laughter ended, relatives boarded their flights and packed into their respective SUVs and headed home, hopefully with enough good memories to last until next gathering.

Hosting such gatherings can easily drain your bank account, however. We discovered that with a little research and planning, some erstwhile budgeting, and letting others know when and how to pitch in and contribute maximized our fun without emptying our wallets.

Plan early for the obvious. The first thing we did was to budget for the basics: food, drink, and accommodations. Months in advance, we offered our guest rooms to relatives whose needs we could best fit and scouted local nearby hotels for good deals for our other relatives. We found multiple options based on price and amenities and let our relatives make the final decisions on where to stay.

With food, we planned on hosting a couple of big family dinners: a barbeque and a baked ziti night. We shopped ahead for non-perishable items like dry pasta, canned tomatoes, sodas, and baked beans using sales and coupons to spread the cost out in the months before the event. Then, two days before relatives arrived, we purchased the fresh vegetables, fruits, and breads that were left on our shopping lists. This spread out our costs over multiple months so we weren't burdened with one bloated grocery bill while maximizing our savings.

Give guests time to enjoy individual activities - and pay for them. In the weeks before the reunion, I exchanged a number of emails with family members outlining possible activities and events that might be of interest and left a good amount of time during the days together unplanned. Since we live in Colorado, we were sure to include a number of area attractions and allowed time to explore the mountains. Being that my family loves to golf, we discussed a number of different courses ranging from indulgent mountain layouts to the cheaper local municipal course.

For those blocks of unplanned time, I researched options for our guests that included taking in the local minor league baseball game, mapping out nearby shopping centers, and taking on the new miniature golf course for the kids. That way guests could enjoy themselves with a variety of choices, while we didn't have to plan and fund everyone's entertainment.

Keep activities simple, fun, and cheap. Since reunions are about spending time with relatives you don't get to see very often, we wanted to make sure that everyone had plenty of opportunity to sit and talk and enjoy one another's company. During our group times like our dinners, we made sure to keep the activities simple: throwing the Frisbee in the backyard, card games that all ages could enjoy, and having plenty of chairs set up on the deck for conversing, none of which cost us a dime.

Let guests know how they can help. In the days leading up to our event, pretty much all of our guests asked what they could do or bring. For those who arrived early, we let them treat us to dinner out one night. For those who arrived later in the week, we suggested beers and wines that they could provide. Others pitched in and covered the cost of a pizza night. One family brought desserts. By allowing others to chip in and help, we weren't burdened with bills inherent with entertaining over multiple days.

Reunions like ours and other large gatherings can easily send costs through the roof for the hosts, but we found that planning, budgeting, and giving our guests plenty of options and opportunities to pitch in and pay really lessened both our stress levels and financial worries. After all, our time spent laughing, talking, and sharing stories cost nothing and made all who attended enough memories to last… at least until next year.

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