5 Areas Where You Can Save Money While Studying Abroad

1. Food

Avoid eating out too often. Obviously food is a huge part of local culture, and I’m a huge advocate of enjoying local cuisine. This doesn’t mean, however, that you have to do it every day.

When you do eat out, take advantage of restaurant specials. For example, if a burger restaurant has buy one get one free Monday’s, you can either go with a friend and split the discount, or you can buy two burgers for the price of one, eat one, and save the other for Tuesday’s dinner.

Pool your money together with friends and buy food in bulk at a local grocery store. Things like pasta are extremely cheap, can feed a lot of people, and won’t spoil quickly.

  • If you do go the pasta route, mix shredded cheese into a few cans of tomato sauce that you've warmed up on the stove, and then pour over the pasta.
  • You can even get some packaged chicken strips that just need to be heated in a pan, or meatballs that you can just put in the microwave for a few minutes, and then add them on top of your pasta for even more sustenance.

2. Drink

Avoid the daily trips to Starbucks for coffee or tea. At $4 or $5 a cup, that adds up to well over $25 in just one week. Store brand instant coffee, while not as tasty, still gets the job done.

Pregame the bars with cheap beer and wine. Just because you’re in a foreign country doesn’t mean you need to drink expensive alcohol. In a lot of countries, even the cheapest beer tastes a lot better than many beers in the U.S.

Don’t be afraid to drink tap water. Unless you’re specifically told not to, there’s no harm in getting your water from the faucet. Drinking from a Nalgene is much cheaper than buying bottled water and more environmentally conscious as well.

3. Money

Withdraw money in bulk. This is a great option as long as you have a safe place to store your cash, e.g. a locked drawer. The fewer withdrawals you make, the fewer ATM fees you incur.

Keep up with the current exchange rates. This way, when you do withdraw money from the ATM, you’re getting the most value out of your dollar.

If it’s possible, open up a local bank account. This will probably eliminate ATM fees altogether, and most banks will have some sort of student plan.

4. Communication

Take advantage of Skype. You can instant message, video chat, and call landlines all with one program. If you don’t plan on using Skype to call landlines then your only cost is the purchase of a webcam you’ll need for video chatting.

Buy a phone that allows you to make calls and text, that’s all you need. You’ll only be using it for a few months so as long as it doesn’t fall apart when you take it out of the box, it should be fine.

Assuming you don’t have a local bank account, get a pay-as-you-go cell phone plan. Compare costs and benefits of each plan, e.g. discounted calls to people in the same network, free nights and weekends, or reduced international rates.

5. Travel – The biggest and most obvious

Fly on low cost airlines – this everyone already knows. You can also save money by avoiding things like priority boarding or travelers insurance. Trust me, all seats on a Ryanair plane are equally uncomfortable, so the only advantage to priority boarding is that you’ll get to your uncomfortable seat first.

  • Don’t let the uncomfortable seat deter you from flying on low cost carriers, in the end, the savings are still worth it.

When staying in hostels, save even more money by being flexible with your travel dates, shoot for weekday arrivals as opposed to those on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and avoid peak travel seasons.

Always carry your ISIC (International Student Identity Card) with you. My trip to Paris is proof that you can save tons of money by flashing your ISIC at museums, restaurants, and attractions all over the world.

If you're really serious about saving money abroad, develop a weekly budget that takes all of the above factors into account. Make sure you have access to your online banking records so you can see exactly where your money is going. While you don't want money to limit your experience, you probably also don't want to go home thousands of dollars in debt. Try and stick to your budget as best you can, and make adjustments as you go along.