Budgeting Over Study Abroad: Spending and Saving Money

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One of the first things my parents told me before studying abroad was to be careful with spending money and spending too much of it, to which I rolled my eyes and thought to myself “I’m fine, I have more than enough money to support myself throughout the semester”. Though that certainly was true, my parents were right: budgeting is incredibly important when studying abroad, especially since most students studying abroad aren’t able to work in their host countries. My study abroad program had told students that spending a lot of money during the first month away was normal as we began sorting out our routines for the next semester, but for me, I struggled with spending and saving money throughout my time in Brazil, mostly because I didn’t create a weekly budget for myself to follow. So for those of you studying abroad, here are some tips and advice I wish I would have followed a little more closely to ensure I wasn’t overspending while still enjoying my time in Brazil.

São Paulo is one of the more expensive cities in Brazil, though because the exchange rate favors the USD, dollars are worth more when converted into Reais. Something that could be useful when preparing for your trip abroad is comparing standards of living and costs of living between your U.S. city and where you’ll be studying abroad to see how expensive living abroad may be. I also think discussing budgeting plans with your parents or other adults would provide insight on how to manage your spending habits while you’re abroad and what budgeting strategies may work for you to ensure you’re able to financially support yourself. My parents and I discussed a little bit about saving at least 20% of the money I had for study abroad as emergency money, though this may be different for everyone and it really depends on the type of lifestyle and activities you want to experience while being abroad.

Planning out what activities/travel plans you hope to embark on while studying abroad tremendously helps figuring out how you should spend and save your money– especially if you plan to travel during or after your study abroad program ends, keep in mind the amount of time you’ll be traveling for, how expensive the city you’ll be traveling is, and set some money aside in case of emergencies. I didn’t travel very much while in São Paulo, but I would go out frequently with friends to lunch, movies, festivals, thrift, and other activities that required me to spend a bit of money. Making sure to set financial boundaries with yourself and critically weighing the options of staying home vs going out is crucial to saving money, even if sometimes it’s hard to stay in while it seems as if everyone is spending a night out. If you’re not following your budget, spend time assessing what you’ve spent money on how you can cut back on spending, such as not going out to eat as often, cooking meals at home, creating grocery lists to avoid overspending while shopping, and finding creative ways to go out without spending money.