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You’ve paid all your tuition dues, did a genius ____-a thon fundraiser that paid for your flight all the way to Australia, but now you need to figure out how to NOT blow all your money on scuba diving adventures and wine tours during your first few weeks abroad. Whether your study abroad experience lasts a month or an entire year, learning how to budget your expenses is a valuable tool that will not only keep you out of debt, but teach you the value of a dollar, yen, euro, or baht. So we’ve created a list of tips to help save you some cash during your time abroad.
1) Before you even decide where you’re studying abroad, make sure you choose either an appropriate destination or time frame that will fit your estimated budget. If your spending money is being made by once-a-week babysitting gigs, chances are a semester in Paris may not be the most reasonable choice (unless, of course, you’ve earned some great scholarships along the way). Figuring out how much money you think you’ll be able to save up in advance is the best starting point for creating your budget and being able to stick to it!
2) Smart Banking. Try banking with places that either have very minimal ATM fees, or none at all. Different banks will have different partnerships with banks overseas, so figure out in advance which ones will benefit you the most. Otherwise, if you are getting charged a little bit for each transaction, try and take out as much as possible at a time and then ration that amount over a few weeks. Also, find a credit card (like Capitol One) that doesn’t charge you currency conversion fees.
3) Keep an up-to-date account of your expenses! By seeing your expenses written out, you’ll know exactly how much more you have to spend for the week or month. Also, by being more conscious of your spending and holding yourself accountable by tracking everything, you’ll be less likely to be talked into buying that ridiculously overpriced, custom made dress shirt from that pushy vendor in Bangkok…that you don’t even really need.
4) Plan ahead. I’m all for the spontaneous road trip, but these experiences have never been the best in terms of being budget-friendly. Many bus services geared towards travelers offer extremely cheap fares when you book enough in advance.
5) Give yourself weekly allowances. By creating a manageable allowance, it will also help you stretch your budget all the way to the end. Trust me, it’s easy to save up a huge wad of cash and then pretend it’s Monopoly money in your first few weeks of exploring your new city. However, when it comes time to take that special trip you’ve dreamed about, you’ll be kicking yourself for blowing all your cash on nights out at the pub.
All of this said and done, we’re human, and we’re not perfect (especially when it comes to budgeting). If you happen to go over on a weekly allowance, or even your overall budget, try not to stress too much. Recognize how valuable your experience is and be sure to put yourself in a position that will set you up for success so you can leverage your study abroad experience when searching for jobs!