Studying abroad can be a life-altering experience, but it certainly doesn’t come cheap. International student tuition and fees is often many times that of local citizens (although some countries have free tuition for citizens AND foreigners, although the language of instruction is rarely English...worth a quick Google search, though).
Managing your money while overseas doesn’t have to be any harder than doing it in your home country. It just takes a bit more planning and forethought.
Step 1: List ALL Expenses
You may have to guess or estimate for some of this at first, but create a list of every conceivable expense you will have, both one-time and recurring (weekly, monthly, quarterly, or whatever). Include the usual suspects like tuition, housing (you should be able to find a ballpark figure by looking online), groceries, utilities, transportation, entertainment, medical, insurance, travel, loan payments, clothing, and so forth. What does it add up to? Can you reasonably afford it?
Step 2: Consider ALL Income
How much money you can safely spend each month depends on how much money you a) have in savings, and b) can earn via scholarships, grants, and part-time work. Will you be working while away at school? Even a few hours per week brings in spending money and prevents you from having to deplete your savings. Are scholarships/financial aid available to you? Look at your previous or current school and your overseas institution for options.
An often-forgotten expense is tax on scholarship and grant money. Make sure to check whether you’ll lose any that way.
Step 3: Banking
To properly manage your money while studying abroad, you’ll want to have an account in your home country, as well as one in your overseas destination. This is the ideal set-up.
At home: inform your bank that you will be living overseas. Give them the anticipated dates and location(s) so they can add that information to your file. Get a backup credit card for your account (keep it somewhere safe overseas. That way, if the first one is lost or stolen, you don’t have to wait weeks for a replacement to arrive). It’s best to leave your debit card, as withdrawing from an overseas ATM can be expensive. Take a credit card with you, but try and keep it for emergencies only.
Overseas: find a local bank with debit functionality and ATMs, internet banking capabilities (it saves time and hassle having to deal with clerks that may not speak English), and the ability to send and receive wire transfers from home. Use this account for local purchases while abroad.
Keep your eye on the exchange rate between your home and the local currency. Take advantage of it when it swings in your favour - send money home, or request a much-need loan from mom and dad.
Step 4: Track Your Expenses
During your first full month, track all spending. Every single penny (or local equivalent). Write it down. Do that for a full 30 (or even better, 60) days to get an accurate picture of where your money is going each month.
Then, explore where you can comfortably cut back. Create a monthly budget with this information and STICK TO IT.
Step 5: Save Money Whenever and Wherever Possible
Consider finding a roommate to split housing and utility costs. Use public transport (or better still, a bicycle) rather than buying or renting a car. Take advantage of student discounts (most European countries, for example, offer numerous student discounts on everything from admission tickets to rail travel). Check out international student discount websites like Student Universe to see what’s out there. Use coupons. Car-pool. Eat at home more than you eat out.
Comparison shop for everything. Ask the locals where you should be shopping and eating. Wait for sales before buying anything over a set amount.
You can save money on practically anything with a little effort. You could potentially save hundreds of dollars, for example, using a service like peerTransfer (for paying international tuition). They offer a “Best Price Guarantee” and will beat any service fee/exchange rate offered by your bank.
Step 6: There’s an App for That
Keep your spending, income, bills, and everything else in one convenient place with one of the dozens of finance and budgeting apps available. Two of the most popular include Mint and You Need a Budget. Both are available in your browser, as well as iOS and Android.
If you decide and set your mind to saving money, you’ll do it. You can still have fun and enjoy your overseas experience, too. It just makes sense.