Making the Most of Your Money Abroad

March 27, 2020

It’s no secret: studying abroad teaches you valuable job and life skills. One of those skills is money management. Don’t forget to make a budget before you go! There are a lot of cool things to see and do while travelling, but if you don’t pay attention, your bank account can shrink pretty quickly. For many students, the mere mention of finances and accounting might put them to sleep. However, it is an important part of preparing to go abroad.

Study abroad student in Bilbao, Spain

Here are a few lessons you can apply financially as you prepare to go abroad.

  1. Make a list of all that you hope to accomplish while abroad. Maybe you want to visit famous monuments, like the Eiffel Tower or the Coliseum.  Maybe you want to go on your own gastronomical tour of Ireland (there’s more to it just than mashed potatoes!).  Maybe you’d like to take few guitar lessons with a real flamenco guitarist.  Whatever it is that you want to do, it’s easier to keep track of it all when you physically write it down.
  2. Put an estimated cost next to each item. The amount of money you’re going to need to achieve your goals might be scary.  This is why planning is important.  As Sangl notes, “money accomplishes much more when [you] prepare a plan before [you] actually spend it.”  Also, keep in mind that API includes a number of excursions in your program— and since they’re already included in the cost, you don’t need to factor any extra money into getting there.  For example, depending on when they go, students in Madrid can visit El Escorial, Granada, Salamanca, Segovia, Santander, Seville, Toledo, and they even go to Paris, France. Excursions for students in Cork include Blarney Castle, Cobh, Dublin, Killarney or Kinsale, and Paris or London.  Excursions are a part of every API program.
  3. Prioritize these items. Consider your “opportunity cost.”  Spending money in one place—shopping on Las Ramblas, for example—prevents you from spending money somewhere else—maybe at a bullfight.  Is buying clothes in Spain really worth missing out on a chance to see a traditional Spanish cultural event? Is there a next best alternative use of your money?  You decide!
  4. Use this info to write down your budget. Designate a certain amount of money to each item on your list and stick to it.  This helps cut down on “impulse spending” and “buyer’s remorse.”  Don’t forget, it’s OK to budget in some money for miscellaneous purchases as well, like souvenirs and other trinkets.  As long as you stick to your budget, you’re in control of your spending. How about sampling some of the local fare?
  5. Remember to save for emergencies. You never know what could happen while abroad.  You may wind up getting lost while exploring a new city, and be forced to take a cab back to your hotel.  Expect the unexpected, and have some money set aside to pay for it.
  6. If you plan on using credit cards, know how much you are spending.  Keep track of your debt online so it doesn’t spiral out of control!  You have expenses while abroad, but you’ll have more expenses when you get home too.  Take advantage of your time overseas and have fun with your money, but don’t dig yourself into a financial grave through sheer ignorance.

And finally, here are a few tips shared by API alumni:

  1. Know the exchange rate. A Euro is NOT a dollar, so don’t fool yourself.  Make a rough calculation of how much you will actually be paying for items at the supermarket or at the various shops you wander into.  It may be more than you’d think (it also may be less—it works both ways)!  The difference can really add up quickly when making big purchases, like plane tickets.   Here’s a helpful website to get you started.
  2. Look for student discounts. Don’t be afraid to ask for student discounts, especially in Europe.  Student travelling is really popular over there, and businesses are sympathetic to your (lack of even a) small income.  If you’re travelling with Aspire by API, you’ll have a student ID card from your host university, which you can use to get some great deals on train tickets, hotels, or sightseeing tours.  Since she had lived in Grenoble for years, my RD Marie also had an insider’s perspective on where to find the best deals, so I often asked her for advice on where to go and what to buy as well.
Anna Johnson

It’s important to have fun on your study abroad adventure, and financial planning may not be at the top of your to-do list. 

But taking just 10 minutes a week to plan will give you a lot more peace of mind, and that fact alone is going to make your time abroad truly enjoyable.


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