Today’s post is by campus correspondent Connie Ip. Find out how you can become a campus correspondent, too!
Studying abroad is a wonderful and enriching experience that can open eyes to new sights, sounds and discoveries. However, it is also a venture that can be very expensive.
My exchange program in France costs nearly $40,000 – and that does not even cover expenses such as school supplies, books, travel, partial board and health insurance.
Fortunately, I received generous financial support from my college to realize my dream of studying in France for a year. However, with the weak American dollar, everything in Europe is more expensive. Thus, I had to be careful about how and when I spent my money.
Unless you have a rich great-uncle or you are a beneficiary to a trust fund, it is likely that you will have to budget and economize during your time overseas. It is a great period in your life to learn about personal finance, how to prioritize your spending and how to be responsible with your money.
Budget and Prioritize (And a Few Money-Saving Tips)
This is one of the skills in life that you will have to eventually acquire anyway – studying abroad is the perfect period in your life to learn it. While they are different for everyone, these are the expenses that will quickly drain your bank account: food, transportation, communication, entertainment and travel.
I imagine not going hungry will be a matter of concern, so food is probably going to be at the top of that list. I suggest that you make a grocery list before going shopping and stick to it. This will ensure that you will not spend more than you anticipate. Also, buy food that is going to be filling: apples, rice, pasta, oatmeal and whole wheat bread are just a few examples. The less you have to eat, the more money you save.
Depending on how long you are going to be abroad, buy monthly or year-long metro/bus passes. Better yet, walk or bike around. It’s free and eco-friendly! Avoid taxis when you can, especially when by yourself or with just one other person — not only are they more expensive, you may be labeled a tourist and get taken advantage of.
You will probably want a cell phone while abroad, but that depends on you. I bought a month’s worth of credit during the beginning of my stay in France. Afterward, I tested myself to see if I could go a month without using my cell phone. In the end, I discovered that I did not need it; I relied mostly on e-mail and Skype, which are both great for long-distance communication.
There are plenty of ways to entertain yourself without breaking your bank account. Look at your city’s event calendars and I can almost guarantee that there is something to do that is either free or costs little to nothing. You can also join a school club or volunteer.
Also, always remember to ask about student discounts. They usually apply to international students as well, and you can often get reduced fees at museums, clubs and even some restaurants.
If you plan to travel, I highly recommend that you book plane, bus or train tickets at least two months in advance to obtain the best deals. If you are in Europe, I suggest that you fly with low-cost carriers such as Ryanair or EasyJet, or travel with Eurolines, a bus company. For housing, check out youth hostels or sign up for a CouchSurfing account, which allows you to crash on someone’s couch or spare bed.
Keep Track of Your Expenses
I have a little notebook where I keep track of how I spend my money. I write down the date I spent the money, what I spent my money on and how much the item cost. Down to the last cent. At the end of the month, I review the list and make notes on where most of my money went that month. Then I write a summary of what I should do the following month to reduce spending.
For instance, during a recent month I saw that I spent more than I intended on restaurant dining. It was irresponsible spending, considering that I could have spent the same amount on groceries that would have lasted three times as long. I planned on expenses that I knew of ahead of time, such as the 55 euro medical appointment that was required in order for me to get my residency card.
You may discover that studying abroad can be expensive once you are in your host country, but you do not have to spend as much if you do not want to. Decide what is important by using your best judgment, and do it responsibly.
Connie Ip is a French and European Studies double major at Mount Holyoke College. She spent her junior year in the south of France. Her interests include English literature, classic films and international travel.