How Long Does a Guest Have to Stay Before They Start to Pay?

Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash.

I love it when my friends and (certain) family visit me. I really do. When they ask if they can crash at my place for a bit, I’m usually like, “Yeah totally, stay as long as you want!”

Sometimes, they take you up on that — and end up living on your couch/kitchen floor for over a month.

Honestly, I enjoy having company (to an extent) and most of my long-term guests have been cordial. But having a long-term guest means spending more money than usual on all kinds of household items.

Food is an obvious one. Having an extra mouth to feed, especially if you’re used to purchasing food for a two-person household, represents a pretty significant cost increase. Two-for-one specials on single fruits like apples, oranges, and grapefruits (which I buy frequently for myself and my partner) no longer apply, and packs of steak or chicken breasts are often designed for just two people. Feeding three means buying another pack and ending up with an odd amount leftover.

More people eating means more dishes to clean, which, over the course of a month, means a lot more dish soap dispensed and sponges replaced. Paper products seem to disappear in a matter of days, as do coffee grounds. Also, I think there’s some mysterious mathematical rule with toilet paper wherein the amount of toilet paper you need for one person doesn’t double with two people or triple with three, but rather exponentially increases.

Breaking down the total cost of a month-long guest may sound stingy. But if you’re living on a freelance writer’s income (like I am) or still paying off student loans (like my partner), then you’ll find yourself noticing the extra expenditures. They make a difference. I’m not suggesting your guest needs to make up for that difference in cold, hard cash, but I am suggesting that hosts be aware of the cost and kindly, gently nudge their guests to contribute accordingly.

First, let’s break down a month-long guest’s expenses. These are all estimates, as I am neither a human calculator nor fantastic at tracking my own spending:

Food

That includes breakfast and/or dinner most days. Usually, guests have lunch plans or eat while they’re out exploring, and they’ll often meet friends for dinner or grab breakfast on the go. In a 30-day month, then, let’s say your guest eats the equivalent of one meal a day at your house (some guests will eat fewer meals, others much more). My partner and I usually spend about $10–$15 a day on food if we’re eating at home (we live in New York, where everything is expensive).

A third person may increase that cost by about $3 daily (extra meat, veggies), bringing the average up to $15.50. Multiply that by 20 and you get $310, which divided by three is $103.33.

My partner and I order delivery on average about 1.5 times a week, which means that if a guest stays with us for a month and eats one meal per day, 10 of those meals will be delivered. Ordering delivery for three people in my neighborhood amounts to, let’s say, about $35 total, plus another $6 to tip the delivery person. That’s $41 multiplied by 10, or $410. (Wow, we need to order delivery less often.) Divide that by three, you get $136.67.

Food total: $240

Dishwashing supplies 

This one’s not too bad. I don’t have a dishwasher, but my dishwashing soap will last over a month regardless of how many guests we have semi-comfortably staying in our apartment (we can semi-comfortably fit three). I’m kind of a stickler about sponges, though, because they are bacteria hubs, and I usually have two going at a time — one for countertops and one for dishes. I like to change them both up pretty frequently, because germs. Let’s say I buy an additional three-pack of sponges one month because of my guest.

Dish total: $3.49

Shower products

This is also a negligible cost for me, since I don’t really buy fancy shower products, but I know plenty of people who do. If that’s you, you’re probably already aware that high-end body wash costs like $35, and high-end moisturizer can cost even more, around $50 (according to Bloomingdales). Nice shampoo and conditioner (i.e. Frederic Fekkai) can go for about $20 each. Many guests bring their own shower products, but if your guest uses yours, you’ll need to factor in the costs. 

Shower total: $15–$50, depending on how much you spend on products and how much your guest uses

Paper products

I admit, I’m a paper towel user (sorry, environment — my carbon footprint is otherwise minimal — I don’t drive a car!), and I obviously stock toilet paper (don’t really want to consider the alternatives). Together, my partner and I probably go through 14 toilet rolls a month, aka three to four every week. That’s between us and friends who come over. Divide that in half, and we can say that one of us = seven monthly rolls of toilet paper. Applying that number to a guest, and considering the generic-brand toilet paper I buy ends up costing $0.67 per roll, that’s $4.67 worth of TP.

A guest contributes enough mess to necessitate buying maybe three extra rolls of paper towels a month. In six-packs, an individual Bounty roll amounts to roughly $0.83. (I know. I should buy fewer paper towels. Consider it a belated New Year’s resolution.)

Paper total: $7.17

Coffee

I’ll let this slide. Like any good bed and breakfast, coffee is on the house.

Substances

In my experience, guests enjoy beer. So much so that it’s one of the items they’re mostly likely to buy themselves while staying with you. However, my guests also tend to consume a certain green, skunky-smelling item that costs a lot of money per volume, and they’re not as forthcoming with reciprocal offerings.

Substance total: $40

GRAND TOTAL: $305.66

My brother has been staying with me for about a month. (Finally, we get to the crux of this essay.) As far as long-term guests go, he’s a good one. When he first arrived, he brought maple syrup he’d been making with my family up in New Hampshire. One day during his stay, he went to Sunset Park, where there’s a large Chinatown, and came back with pitaya (also known as dragon fruit), mochi, and 38.8 ounces of “Long-Life Noodles.” These extremely thoughtful, unique gifts are almost priceless — at least, the homemade maple syrup is. If he keeps this up, stops taking my “substances” with him when he meets up with his friends, and offers to grab a delivery meal or two, I’d say we’re square.

Over five years ago, a close friend of mine stayed with me for what ended up being the first month spent in my then-new apartment. Throughout her stay, she helped my roommate at the time and I build Ikea furniture, clean, and buy groceries. She even cooked us delicious meals. I’d say that’s plenty to contribute, even if it did take place during the stressful time of settling into a new home. Her contributions, after all, eased our stress.

But what if your guest isn’t so accommodating? What if they’re of the serious moocher variety?

I’ve heard before that it takes three days for guests to stop being “guests.” I think this applies more to you actively catering to them (“Can I get you anything? Water, coffee?”) than it does to you requesting a contribution to household expenses. However, if your guest has been living in your home, eating your food, and using your bath products for five full days without any acknowledgment of the financial burden they’re posing, it’s time to tell them, “Hey, do you think you could maybe grab dinner tonight?”

Jessica Klein is a freelance writer and amateur portrait artist based in New York. You can find her on Twitter here and read her stories about kinky Renaissance fairs, rare blockchain art, and Yiddish insults here.


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