1 WWYD: Thanking Your Host | The Billfold

WWYD: Thanking Your Host

In this installment of “What Would You Do?,” strapped for cash, but staying with friends for an indefinite period of time:

I’ve recently moved cities, but am keeping my job and have to go back to my old city from Tuesday to Thursday each week. In order to make it all affordable-ish, I’m going to be staying with my friend and his wife two nights a week when I have to come back for work. My question is…what should I offer by way of thanks or payment for this? My friend kind of joked that I have to buy them dinner when I’m there, but frankly if that’s the case, I’m better off staying in a hostel. I don’t want to be an ass and take advantage of their hospitality, but I am really strapped for cash. (Side note: My friend’s wife is on a diet that involves lots of rules and meat, as far as I can tell, and I’m a vegetarian so cooking for them seems pretty out of the question. My friend’s wife, in addition to being on a weird diet, doesn’t really drink.)

Back in college, I had a friend who found herself with no place to live for a few months, so my roommates and I offered her our couch. She did not cook us dinner nor pay us anything in rent (because she had no money give), but she did this seemingly impossible thing of not getting on our nerves during her stay with us, and keeping our place remarkably clean. This was a big deal because it was a two-bedroom apartment with four roommates with very different schedules, and college kids are generally massive pigs.

Cooking or taking the host out for dinner is usually a good way to thank someone for letting you stay with him or her. This is an unusual situation, and if I were in this position and strapped for cash, I would thank the couple for allowing me to stay with them for two nights a week, and explain that I’d love to find a way to repay them that wouldn’t require spending money (because I had none to give). I would offer to wash dishes, or do laundry, or help repaint a room—whatever chore or odd job they’d like some help with. And like my college friend, I’d try everything in my power not to get on their nerves during my stay with them.

And under no circumstance would I ever blog or write about them in a terrible book.


Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments.



36 Comments / Post A Comment

Megano! (#124)

Whhhyyyyy would you move cities if you’re still keeping the old job in the first place?

OllyOlly (#669)

@Megano! Yes I feel like I need some more details here. If the move purely for personal enjoyment, taking advantage of someone’s hospitality so you can go to cooler places on Friday nights doesn’t sit well with me.

probs (#296)

@Megano! Right? I’ve spent the past ten minutes just being boggled by this scenario.

cmcm (#267)

@Megano! I am the letter writer! I didnt want to overdo the details for the sake of simplicity but the reason I moved is bc I’m starting a phd in the new city AND my boyfriend lives there (I’ve moved in with him) I’m keeping my job because my contract goes til June and I would be a jerk to leave the project halfway thru. SO this arrangement is only for six months TOPS.

Megano! (#124)

@cmcm Is there anyway you can telecommute and only have to go in like, once or twice a month, and just for the day? Because this is a LOT of extra hassle for only two days of work (or 3 days? I can’t math).

cmcm (#267)

@Megano! Ugh. I wish. When I first told work I was moving I was hoping to come in once a week which would be fine (1:25 train journey so it would be manageable) But they weren’t too pleased as it’s a group project so they want me around as much as possible (I’m working from home one day a week)

Basically it ended up feeling like a no win situation- stay in city 1 and miss my boyfriend and pay super high rent, or move and get stuck with this “living half in each city” mess.

EM (#1,012)

@cmcm Are you going to be staying with them for two nights a week for the whole six months? That is a long time.

cmcm (#267)

@Michelle It is a LONG time. I’d really prefer not to have to do this but can’t figure out a better option. I think a youth hostel it is…

Megano! (#124)

@cmcm Yeah…even if you are the world’s most perfect house guest, 2 nights a week for 6 months has about a 95% chance of ruining your friendship (I hate to say it, but I’m gonna say it).

@cmcm 1:25 train journey, as in an hour and 25 minutes each way, and there IS a train? I don’t know where you live but I live in the Bay Area and I know people who commute longer than that every day. Like, Sacramento or Davis to San Francisco. My real-talk advice: suck it up, stock up on library books, and take the train. Or, use the money you would spend on the train and sublet a couch. There just isn’t a way for you to spend no money and also keep your friend.

EM (#1,012)

@lizzle Yeah, that’s bad but not too bad. Basically you would just be living in their house for 2 1/2 months rent-free, which- if I were the friend lending the space- would be a hard pill to swallow.

Megano! (#124)

@lizzle Yeah, an hour and a half on the train is totally doable. It used to take me an hour to get to where I worked last year (even now it’s about 45 minutes). TAKE THE TRAIN.

orangezest (#317)

@Megano! Seconding take the train take the train TAKE THE TRAIN. Unless that actually costs more than a hostel would. Two nights a week for six months is too long.

Or you could do some combination of hostel/flitting around various friends (if it’s a city where you’ve lived awhile, surely you know some people, right?) I’d let a friend stay on my couch for two nights every month or two, just not every week.

cmcm (#267)

@Emma Peel An hour and a half plus 30-40 minutes each end to get to and from stations (I live in England, by the way). I think it would just be too exhausting to do it every day I would die. The train isn’t too too expensive (£32) but I can get a hostel for less than that if I can bear sharing a room with noisy kids.

Tuna Surprise (#118)


Do you need a place in London? I have a lead on a room if you’re interested.

honey cowl (#1,510)

Normally I feel that I am not qualified to make judgments (out loud) on others’ life decisions, but since “what would you do?” is actually included here, I feel compelled to say that I would not stay at their house if you can’t take them out for dinner or something comparable. Speaking from the perspective of the host, that could easily ruin the friendship.

tussock (#1,296)

I think an honest conversation is in order about what each of you expects. The trades Mike suggests could work well. Taking them out to dinner *every week* seems like too much, but maybe you can do that at the end of the arrangement (semester?) or every so often or something.

@tussock Seconding the honest conversation thing. If you say something to the effect of “hey, money’s tight right now, but I’d be more than happy to pay back your hospitality by helping around the house!” and they’re like “that’s fine!”, cool, but make sure you’re clear about what everyone expects and is prepared to give.

littleoaks (#1,801)

I think how you thank them depends on how long you’ll be staying. Is this a temporary arrangement with an end date already set? Or it is an open-ended “til you find a new job” kind of thing?

Also, how crazy is that story in the link? I can’t decide whether it’s more or less crazy than Cary Tennis’ reply.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@littleoaks yes, can we please take a minute to discuss this. At first I was like wtf book-writing professor from Vancouver, but then that second hand anger was totally eclipsed by Cary Tennis and his bonkers response.

orangezest (#317)

Even if the dinner suggestion was sort of joking, it implies that they obviously are aware that they’re doing you a favor. I’d be careful here. Do whatever you can for them as often as you can. And if this situation is going to last more than six weeks, I think you need to consider subletting an apartment or staying in a hostel. A friend in need is one thing; a friend pursuing a discretionary move and freeloading is something totally different.

probs (#296)

I’ve got to say, the potentially passive-aggressive joking from the friend and mostly-irrelevant snipes at the friend’s wife don’t bode well for this scenario.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@probs Love this comment. Also you’re correct.

cmcm (#267)

@probs You might be right… Starting to think a hostel is the way to go…

@probs That’s totally correct. I’m ashamed to say I did this recently – I stayed with a “friend” (acquaintance?) for two months because I was transferred both temporarily and on short notice. It was horrifyingly uncomfortable, but we’re both extremely WASPy so we made it through without confrontation. I accepted this scenario only after exploring every other possibility, including finding another job where I lived. I respect the writer’s desire to see the project through, but everyone will be better off if she (or he) tries to find a local job.

Aside: if the wife is doing Paleo, I forgive the snipes. Does that diet have a proselytism component to it? I am SO tired of hearing about it and Whole 30 everywhere I turn. Yet another reason to avoid this scenario.

kellyography (#250)

@cmcm I second the sublet idea. I don’t know what city this is, but a hostel is probably more expensive (and way shittier) than getting a small room in a house or apartment that’s already furnished, with roommates that will keep the rent and bills cheap. Plus, you’d be able to keep food and extra clothes there instead of hauling everything around all week, and you wouldn’t have to feel awkward about crashing on someone’s couch for six months.

probs (#296)

@cmcm oh thank the lord, I’ve been going around clutching my chest ever since the edit/delete window closed on this comment. I’m not the confrontational type, which is part of why I wanted to be frank about this, to discourage a confrontation-prone situation.

But for real, though: strongly consider leaving your job. I totally understand the loyalty and not wanting to leave people hanging, but you have to look out for yourself sometimes. Presumably that business would fire you if it was in their best interest; you shouldn’t feel bad about approaching it as a business relationship. Just a thought.

@swampette@twitter – Yeah, Paleo does seem to have a certain insufferable element of among some of its adherents.

cmcm (#267)

@swampette@twitter IT IS PALEO.

EM (#1,012)

If you are going to be there all the time it’s good if you can minimize your impact, eg, never make them have to clean up after you. Wash your own sheets after you stay, clean up your bedroom/couch area (?), etc etc.

Buying groceries is nice and cheaper than taking people out for dinner/easier than cooking if you are a vegetarian who won’t cook meat- a girlfriend recently stayed at my place for the weekend and when she left she bought good coffee beans, brie, olives, and wine (totally unnecessarily, but we were deeply appreciative).

As someone who’s hosted a fair amount of people, I would say cleaning their kitchen and doing housework accounts for a lot. I remember when I hosted my friend’s mom for a couple weeks that she would clean my kitchen every morning, and even if she didn’t take me out for dinner or give me anything in return for the housing, her actions still made her seem like a thankful and thoughtful guest.

faustbanana (#2,376)

@oatmealshrapnel I second this. If you do follow through with this setup, cleaning would be a great way to repay them (as long as you don’t throw away their valuables because you thought they were garbage.)

I definitely recommend subletting a small room or even a couch from a stranger, especially considering it’s for six months! I like my friends, but two nights a week for six months is way too long to let someone stay in my house. Your friend might just be too polite to say no. Also, subletting will be far cheaper than a hostel. I don’t know what city you’re in, but around here I see lots of ads from people who want a little help with their rent but don’t want someone around all the time. Try posting your own ad too. Also, in case the relationship goes sour partway through, you’ve lost a roommate and not a friend.

Or, see if you can get some kind of housesitting-adjacent gig. Obviously two nights a week isn’t enough for pets or anything, but maybe there are some rich people going out of town for a couple months who want someone to pick up their mail and water some plants? You might not be able to find one place for all six months, but IMO that’s way better than driving your friend crazy.

m.m. (#3,026)

Consider finding something you could offer for the free place to stay. While completing a six week unpaid internship in D.C. I stayed for free at my cousin’s house, but basically became her nanny for the time I was there. I helped with the three kids, babysat on the weekends, and helped with laundry, cooking, and cleaning. I think it worked out well for both of us (she had just had her third child when I came).

olivia (#1,618)

Yeah, this sounds like a terrible idea. If you can’t pay your friends some sort of rent, don’t stay with them for 6 months. That is far, far too long to stay with someone who is clearly feeling put out already. If you can’t afford to sublet a room or stay in a hostel, perhaps you should re-approach your current supervisor and tell him/her that it’s just not feasible for you to come in that often, and that if they’re not okay with telecommuting you’ll have to put in your notice.

A friend of mine is in a similar situation and works 2 days a week in a city that’s 2-3 hours away, and she rents a room in a friend’s house.

sheistolerable (#2,382)

Rent a room from some college kid doing their study abroad or something. Check Craigslist for things available for small, random amounts of time.
If you have a full-time job and think you don’t have the cash to take friends out to dinner for a favor like this, Ph.D. life is going to be a rude awakening.

selenana (#673)

I’ve done this a couple of times, but when I was about 20, and for way less than 6 months. The first time was in college, the second time while traveling. I was a broke joke. BUT here are some things I did, which I recommend.
Make yourself as unobtrusive as possible. Make your stuff invisible, stash it in a closet when you’re not using it/there.
Don’t lounge around in common spaces for extended periods of time. Sleep, be friendly, then make yourself scarce.
Do chores that you notice need doing. Washing up dishes and cleaning the toilet will go a long way toward goodwill.
I definintely couldn’t afford to pay much, but I could and did:
Bring home flowers sometimes.
Or chocolates.
Candles, nice tea, useful little luxuries that don’t cost a ton but are thougtful.
Offer to kick in a bit for utilities, even if it’s just $20 once a month.
I cooked for my hosts (traveling) and brought home stuff from the bakery where I worked (college). People love free croissants, except Paleos.

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