This post is the ultimate guide to saving money while studying abroad and planning your weekend trips! Whether you are preparing to study abroad or currently studying abroad and need some help budgeting, this is for you! Let’s get into it!
Before I studied abroad, I asked my friend who had studied abroad the previous year how much money she spent in total during her time abroad. I told myself that if I had more than that amount in my savings, then I will be fine. So I worked my butt off and got my savings to that level! Knowing (ballpark) how much everything will cost before you even leave will help you so much. I would give you a number but this varies greatly depending on where you’re going. So I recommend reaching out to USAC or your study abroad office to chat with alumni who have studied where you’re planning on going. You can also look on the USAC website under your program location, they have interactive budget sheets that will help you determine how much your expenses are for the semester.
To organize your budget, I recommend creating an excel spreadsheet. It doesn’t need to be perfect! Excel or google sheets works perfectly fine. I added these factors into my budget sheet;
- Amount in savings (duh). I think this is self explanatory but I have this amount in the first box!
- Rent. My program gave us a ballpark amount of what we would pay before we got abroad, and gave us a fixed amount when we actually arrived. It helps if you create a little table and have rows for every month and columns for rent and utilities. You can change every box to zero once you pay it if you want, so you can be sure how much you still owe!
- Credit Card bills. I check my credit cards every week and be sure to keep that amount updated on my budget sheet! (side note, make sure to get a credit card with NO foreign transaction fees, I recommend Capital One!)
- Groceries. The first few weeks I just bought whatever I wanted and didn’t care too much for a budget. I found the average amount I was spending and gave myself that as a budget per week times the amount of weeks I will be abroad!
- Total in savings after rent and groceries. This helped me realize how much spending/trip money I would really have and helped me plan everything!
Now onto the planning, which is such a big aspect. It’s basically common knowledge that if you book flights weeks in advance instead of just a few days, it’ll be cheaper. But seriously, it actually is way cheaper! I used one of my first few weekends to make a list of all the places I really wanted to go and started researching the necessary transportation to get there, whether it’s bus, train, or plane. Here’s some tips:
- Google flights is amazing. You can select the date option to see how prices range over days for the next few months! This helps you see which weekend is going to be the cheapest and that really narrows it down! Also write it down! Nothing sucks more than having a billion tabs open and not being able to find that one flight.
- FLIXBUSSSS! Omg I had never heard of flixbus before coming to Torino but wowie it’s awesome! You can get to nearby places for so cheap and its charter buses so they’re fairly comfy!
- GO Euro site. This is amazing to compare buses, trains, and plane prices for your desired destination. You can see all the times for every means of transportation and how much it is, etc. Literally so good. Can’t praise it enough.
- Get together with friends to plan out adventures! Obviously traveling with someone is a lot more fun, and it’ll help you get close with people abroad!
- But also, don’t be afraid to book a solo trip. It doesn’t need to be some massive trip to a far away place! Traveling solo is a little scary but teaches you so much about yourself and your abilities! Plus I think it’s nice to be in complete control of everything you do and don’t do!
- Book hostels or Airbnbs when you can! Hostels are cheap and definitely an experience. Research each hostel on Hostelworld. Some things to look out for: whether they provide towels/linen for no cost, have wifi, are close to downtown, are close to transportation, serve breakfast, have lockers, etc!
Once I had thoroughly researched all my desired destinations, I compiled a google doc of all the travel plans I came across and how much everything would cost. Based on that list, I booked everything that I could fiscally/wanted to and screenshot every confirmation email I got.
#3. Update the budget sheet
Ok so if you’ve already planned out/booked all your trips, it’s time to update the budget sheet. I added a few new factors:
- Cost of all hostels. Most hostels charge you a little bit when you reserve online then the rest when you arrive. Some don’t accept cards, only cash. Be sure to read up on what you need to bring with!
- Meals while traveling. I looked realistically at how many meals I’d eat each trip and said I would spend $15 every meal, and that became my budget! Obviously you can choose a different number but knowing ahead of time how much food should cost you will help you plan how much cash to bring, etc.
- Phone plan/metro card. This added up to $35 a month, so I set aside that money on the budget sheet to always remember it.
My new updated total in savings is my “total in savings after rent/groceries” minus credit card bills, trip food, hostels, and random monthly fees.
I also update my budget sheet every week with my new savings total, new credit card bills, hostels/trips paid, etc to make sure I stay on budget!
My plans and budgeting might be too intense for you so if you take anything away from this post, please prioritize your spending! Know how much money you have, and be aware of how much you are spending on stupid stuff. For example, bars and nightclubs in Europe charge you a cover to get in. For me, I didn’t think that was worth the money. If that’s more of a priority to you, props! I’m just saying that you need to recognize what your priorities are for spending and that will help you have the best possible experience studying abroad.
You don’t want to go home and realize you barely went on trips because you bought unnecessary things and waited too long until the plane tickets were 3x as much, etc!
My time in Torino studying abroad is already coming to a close and I can’t believe it! Time seriously FLIES. Before you know it, it’s the end of the semester and time to head home! Planning and budgeting, and staying on budget, will definitely help you feel less stressed, assure you see all the bucket items on your list, and help you not go back home totally broke, and most importantly get the most out of your experience abroad!
To hear more about what it’s like studying abroad in Torino, Italy, check out this student Q&A Video I created with some fellow classmates for our Business Leadership class:
Lexi Dageenakis studied abroad in Torino, Italy in Fall 2018. You can read more about her time abroad on her blog, be that girl.
Additional resources for saving money while abroad: