Little changes can add up a lot.
'Saving' and 'students' are two words that don’t generally make their way into the same sentence, but we’re here to prove to you that it is possible to save your money as an international student. Or some of it, at least.
These tips may not leave you rolling in money, but they should help to keep your bank balance looking a little bit healthier each month!
1. Buy course books second-hand
Course textbooks can be expensive, but luckily there's no need to purchase every item on your reading list. You can usually borrow set texts from the library whenever you need them. Only buy the most important books, and even then you'll be able to find cheap second-hand copies online or through your university. Sell them on when you're finished with them to recoup some of the costs.
Books aren't the only essential thing you can save on. Depending on how much your university charges for printing, it might also be more cost-effective to buy your own printer. Just check to see how much printing you’ll have to do first.
2. Invest in travel cards
Investing in travel cards will save you lots of money, especially if you are the type of person that enjoys travelling. Travel cards for subway systems, buses, trains, sometimes even flights can be available, often with extra discounts for students.
3. Live within walking distance of your school…
Most student houses are located fairly close to the university/college but, if possible, try to find a place to live that is within walking distance to your campus. Not only will it motivate you to turn up to your lectures, it will also save you having to pay out for a bus card or taxi every time you have to venture onto campus.
4. … Or consider living off-campus
It will take some calculation, but living off-campus and then commuting may in fact save you money.
Next to tuition, housing is one of the biggest expenses international students face. While it may be more convenient for international students to live on campus, living off campus provides the opportunity to save a chunk of cash, since living on campus can be quite expensive.
You may consider splitting your time between on and off campus housing. This could allow you to adjust to life in your new country while living on campus for a while and then to live in an apartment or house for the rest of your studies. Please keep in mind that it is more affordable to have roommates to cut the cost of living, whether that be on campus or off.
When it comes to housing, another option you may consider is a homestay program. Studies are showing that international students who live in a homestay have a high success rate in college. By living in a homestay, international students have an opportunity to gain language proficiency, explore local spots with natives and have a home-away-from-home, all at an economical price.
5. Be smart with your food shopping
Food will be one of your biggest costs, so it's worth finding ways to reduce your bills. Buying supermarket value products rather than well-known brands, and shopping at the end of the day when many items are discounted, are some of the simplest ways to save money.
Where possible, you might look into cooking with your housemates or planning your meals in advance. Either way, you'll be able to do a cost-effective 'big shop' at the start of each week and avoid the need for too many expensive takeaways, working on your culinary skills at the same time. You'll also be saving money by making your own packed lunches rather than buying a sandwich or going to a coffee shop every day.
6. Look into meal options
Most colleges and universities have dining halls or campus centres with restaurants that are available to students who live both on and off campus. Students can choose their own meal plan from a range of options such as a specific number of meals at a set price or an “unlimited access” option. If you have access to a kitchen you may decide not to buy a meal plan and opt to cook for yourself, which is often cheaper than a meal plan. But it’s something worth bearing in mind, especially when the temptation of getting takeaway is never too far.
7. Shop at second-hand stores
Second-hand stores can be excellent places to supply yourself while maintaining a bit of frugality. If you can find one, second-hand stores can often sell ladies’, men’s and children’s clothing, books, toys, ornaments, kitchenware, videos, music, computer games, furnishings and other assorted goods at a far discounted rate.
Some also sell furniture and electrical appliances, and others are more specialist, like ones that specially sell books, bridal wear or music.
8. Otherwise, keep an eye out for sales
Looking out for seasonal sales and stock clearance is a great way to save money. When looking for a bargain, timing and information is everything.
The prime sale seasons can differ from country to country, though there are often big sales after Christmas and in the New Year in most places. There are also increasing numbers of big sales online, such as Prime Day offered by Amazon. So ask around to find out when would be best to get that thing you need.
And of course, the all-important question when it comes to buying stuff- do you really need it? It might look cool or seem really interesting, but more often than not, purchasing something is just a waste of money. A good test is to leave it for a month. After that, are you still interested? If so, then get it for yourself and enjoy.
9. Use Skype to call home
Calling home using Skype is one way international students can save money on mobile and landline calls. All you require is an internet connection, a free Skype account, and a set of headphones with a microphone attached.
If the person you are calling is also using Skype on their computer, you can talk to them for free- anywhere in the world. If you both hook up webcams to your computer, you can not only talk for free, but also see each other on your computer screen for free. Even if you want to call someone who doesn’t use Skype, you can still call them on their cell phone or home phone for a very inexpensive rate.
10. Fly for less
As an international student, it’s possible to spend thousands of dollars each year flying back home or by touring around your destination. But it is possible to find great deals on flights. For starters, Wikipedia has a list of low-cost airlines you might consider.
For example, many sites allow you to set up an alert when flights to your destination have dropped in price. Being flexible on your travel date could save you hundreds, and if you are going to have a flight with a connection, it may cost less to book a flight to your connection and then book a separate flight to your destination.
11. Utilize student discounts
It’s important to keep in mind that there may be some extra cash in simply being an international student. Many businesses in your town may provide special rates and discounts if you present your student ID card before purchasing. If you don’t see a sign stating a business offers a student discount make sure you ask as you may be able to save a substantial amount on entertainment, food, coffee and more. There are also additional discount cards you can purchase like the ISIC card that can offer even deeper discounts to students.
12. Cut your own hair
This may be a tough one for some people admittedly, but cutting your own hair can save you hundreds each year. If you wear your hair short, that will usually mean you have to get it cut more often- consider wearing it longer so that you don’t have to go so often. Or if you simply cannot go without cutting your hair try and find a fellow student that is studying beauty or something similar that might be able to help you out!
13. Avoid joining a gym
Of all the things to invest your money in, of course good health should always be at the top of your list. But when it comes to a gym, lots of people pay a lot each month for something they hardly use. So save a little extra and instead find other ways to stay fit. Try and walk to places whenever you can. Take up running or cycling to get places, or just for fun. Or if you have a little extra money, it can often be worth the investment to buy some weights and gym equipment for your place- especially if you have the space. And if your housemates are interested- share the cost!
14. Take the time to find cost-effective insurance
If you study in the US, amongst other countries, you may have to pay quite a lot for health insurance. But wherever you study, there will be insurance to buy, whether that be travel insurance, possessions insurance or simply study abroad insurance (which covers course fees and more). So shop around and try and find yourself the best deal possible. Remember that it’s a lot better to pay a little more in insurance than having to pay thousands for medical care or because of a broken laptop.
15. Keep track of your spending
It might not be the most exciting job, but keeping track of your finances is the best way to make sure you don't overspend and land yourself in trouble.
As a starting point, you could create a spreadsheet showing your income from student loans, scholarships and bursaries, parents and any part-time job you have, and note down regular outgoings such as your rent and mobile phone contract. You'll then be able to see exactly how much you have available to spend each month.
Sticking to your limits has never been easier, now you can check your balance at any time using your mobile banking app. If you do go overboard, the interest-free overdraft offered with the majority of student bank accounts will help tide you over.
16. Pay your bills on time
By keeping a close account of what’s going in and out of your bank account, it can also make it far easier to pay your bills on time.
When you're living in halls of residence, utility bills will usually be included in your rent, making budgeting a little easier. However, if you're sharing a student house you'll normally be responsible for paying for your gas, electricity, water and internet. Use comparison websites to ensure you get the best deal and keep costs down by saving energy.
Setting up direct debits or standing orders for your regular bills, so that they are paid automatically each month, will make them easier to keep on top of. You may even receive a discount for doing so, and you'll avoid any charges for late payment.
Sharing bills among housemates can be effective (one pays the electricity, another pays the gas, etc.) as long as it is managed carefully. If you pay a bill on behalf of your housemates, make sure they give you their share promptly. Similarly, if a housemate pays a bill for you, repay them as quickly as possible. This way, you'll avoid any unnecessary tensions developing should anybody consistently fail to pay their share.
17. Ensure you pay the right taxes
Perhaps the most important tip.
If you work part time while studying, you will likely have to pay tax just the same as everybody else. It’s possible you may not have to, but if you do have to pay and you don’t pay your taxes you could be in for a big fine and plenty more besides. So once again, do your research and look to see if there’s anything extra you have to pay.
Studying abroad is exciting, but it can be easy for expenses to add up. However, this does not mean that it is impossible to study abroad. By implementing these basic strategies and cutting certain unnecessary expenses, you should be able to reduce the cost of studying overseas!