Budgeting & Money Management
CREATING A BUDGET
The program you choose will be one of the most significant factors in the overall cost of your program. So, look at your program options and the associated costs carefully. Don’t just look at the program fee number, but make sure you understand what is covered by the fee. Does it just cover the cost of your coursework, or does it include other things, such as built-in excursions and activities. If the program includes housing, that fee may include some of your meals (as in a homestay). Some programs provide course materials as part of their fee.
If something is not included in the fees billed by your program, you can exercise more control over them, but you also need to do your research to know what to expect. So, for example, you might look at estimated expenses from more than one program in the same location to get a sense of the range of costs. Check travel guides and other online sources for cost estimates. Make sure you know what the current exchange rate is (and if it has changed significantly recently). And talk with returned students to see what they spent and how they recommend you budget funds.
As you draw up a list of estimated expenses, be aware of your own spending habits. If you eat out a lot, budget more for food; if you like to walk, maybe you can spend a little less on public transportation. Also, think about your priorities while abroad. If you want to travel in your free time, you’ll need to budget more. If your priority is language acquisition or making local friends, explore activities you can do in your host location, like volunteering: these will put you in contact with people and won’t cost much!
Before You Go
- Create a personal budget, both of what you spend now and what you can afford to spend while abroad.
- Do your research (travel guides, websites).
- Look for group or student fares; balance ticket cost with time/itinerary complexity.
- Apply for discount cards, memberships (ISIC, IYH, WWOOFing).
- Check your bank: make sure you understand what fees you’ll be charged for using your ATM or credit card abroad; research fees with other banks.
- Use an app on your phone to quickly calculate currency conversions.
- Travel: Limit travel outside your host country; plan trips ahead of time; take day trips rather than overnighters; use hostels rather than hotels (IYH); explore your host city.
- Eating: Eat in, share meals; eat like a local—shop local markets, get staff suggestions for cafés; alcohol is expensive, so if you drink, drink in moderation.
- Avoid tourist traps.
- Communication: Watch your data usage; set your phone to airplane mode and use wifi and apps—Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp, WeChat; send old-fashioned letters and postcards.
- Transportation: If you are able to, walk as much as possible; use buses and metro rather than cabs; consider purchasing weekly/monthly passes; for trips, remember to compare train and air prices; think about overnight travel—save the cost of a room.
- Shopping: Wait to buy, especially for souvenirs, and compare prices; if bartering is part of the local custom, then barter (and take a local friend with you to get a better deal).
- Money: Follow your budget! Keep track of what you spend; pay cash—it’s easy to overspend with credit cards; don’t carry lots of cash with you so you are less tempted to spend; use your discount cards (ISIC, IYH, university ID).