The title is a misnomer because I’m not really going to be talking about budgeting during study abroad. If you are a firstgen college student/ poor and planning on studying abroad, I really hope you’ve been planning for this for awhile now. Basically, study abroad is different from “real life” at whatever university. If you don’t treat study abroad like it’s different, you’re going to have a bad time. Don’t expect to be as frugal as you are back home. It’s definitely possible, but you will be miserable. There are expenses in study abroad that don’t come up in regular school situations. You will be going out more, eating out more, and hopefully travelling more. Anticipate these expenses and plan for them. The two biggest money-handling mistakes I’ve seen on study abroad are:
- Spending as frugally as one would back home and not being able to experience study abroad as it should be experienced
- Spending more money than one normally would because it’s #studyabroad but then constantly berating oneself for the reckless spending
Both of these behaviors are a MISTAKE and will detract from your study abroad experience. I was in the first boat for about 3 weeks, the second boat for another 3 weeks, and now I am free from both! I already sort of went over why number 1 is a mistake above. Don’t treat study abroad like it’s back home. If you have a college budget, don’t just carry it to study abroad and expect it to work and be fine. Number 2 should be obvious to everyone. If you’re berating yourself for your spending, you’re just going to make yourself feel awful. Also, study-abroad spending is not “reckless spending”. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and should be treated as such. The best thing to do is spend the extra money on the study abroad experiences (relative to each individual person’s means/ budget) and be fine with it.
Alright, so how do you get to that point where you can spend and be fine? This is where the planning comes in…That I hope y’all were doing way beforehand. If you are like me and don’t have family members to hand you money at your every whim, having the ultimate study-abroad experience takes a little finessing.
Apply for IFSA scholarships/jobs! The IFSA first-generation scholarship literally saved me so much grief. Apply for other scholarships as well. Apply for all of them, if you have the time. If you are eligible, apply for the Gilman scholarship. There are also a lot of university/region specific scholarships out there. These are usually less competitive than the nationwide scholarship programs. Brush up on your writing skills because you will be writing a lot of essays. My university has people that specifically help with proofreading scholarship/fellowship application essays. Check to see if your university has something similar.
For those that have a job during the school year: SAVE. I am serious. It is painful and hard, but it must be done. I managed to save a significant amount of money in a little over a year by consciously restricting my spending. That is in addition to paying for my miscellaneous expenses( like soap, conditioner, etc.). I created an incredibly restrictive budget for myself and stuck to it. My sophomore year social life suffered considerably, but I saved that $$$. Watch Netflix with your friends. It is free and fun. Don’t eat out. Don’t buy Starbucks. Don’t take that Uber to the bar/wherever. Obviously, it’s impossible to completely follow these guidelines unless you are a complete recluse, but you need to make a concerted effort to spend less. Sometimes I’d go to random club meetings/career events to get the Pizza/catered food when I really, really wasn’t feeling the dining hall.
Other options are, of course, loans. But taking out a loan is a personal decision and everyone qualifies for different types/rates.
Also! IFSA specifically provides students with budget calculators, so look that up. Just make sure to be realistic and don’t plan on spending $5 USD a week in expenses. Good luck!