The Best Ways to Budget When Studying Abroad

Don't worry: with some research and smart planning, you can absolutely have a great time abroad without breaking the bank.

Xe Consumer

September 10, 20205 min read

Young student smiling in Paris

We know, we know. When you’re studying abroad, your budget probably isn’t one of the more exciting parts of your trip. But it’s undoubtedly an incredibly important one. Between textbooks, tuition, and trips on weekends, there’s no shortage of costs that can pop up during your time studying abroad. 

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a great time during your study abroad program. Planning ahead and creating a smart budget is the key to ensuring that you’ll be able to make the most of your time abroad. We want to share some of our key budgeting tips to help you have a great time without any financial setbacks.

Use money transfer to avoid costly transaction (and exchange) fees

We’ve discussed this before, but it always bears repeating: avoid exchanging your money at airport or train station kiosks, or any other hub for tourists and travelers. They’re likely to have the least favorable exchange rates. Exchanging your currency at a bank will be a bit better, but on average their rates will cost you 4-6% more than the mid-market rate.

Planning on using your credit and debit card to get you by? That might not be the best move for your budget either. Paying with a card will net you a foreign transaction fee in the process, and if you’re frequently swiping your card, those can add up. Most foreign ATMs will also charge transaction fees when you withdraw cash. These fees aren’t high—typically between $2-3 USD—but they can add up!

Instead of falling victim to unfavorable exchange rates and frequent transaction fees, take advantage of online money transfer to exchange your currency ahead of your time abroad. When you transfer with Xe, you can:

  • Transfer at the real rate of exchange

  • Avoid frequent fees

  • Trust your money will be secure.

Plan ahead, and leave yourself some wiggle room

Don’t wait until you’ve already started spending money to start limiting yourself. Plan out your budget well before your trip, and make sure to consider the cost of living in your new home. Depending on where you’re coming from and where you’re going, a little money could go a long way, or things could be much more expensive than you’re anticipating. Check out the exchange rate (our Currency Converter will help you out here) and talk to locals or other students or expats to get a feel for what you can expect to spend.

Think about how much you’ll need to spend on the following:

  • Necessities (tuition, room and board, groceries)

  • Climate-appropriate clothing (if necessary) or furniture for your lodgings (if necessary)

  • Entertainment and activities

  • Extra, just-in-case money

In general, it’s best to overestimate the amount that you’ll be spending. That way, if the unexpected happens (such as illness, injury, or even just a spur-of-the-moment night out), you won’t be stressing about how you’ll keep yourself fed.

Live like a local

What’s the best way to determine whether something is a ripoff? Take a look around you. If you mostly see tourists, while the locals stay far away, it might not be the best place for you (or your wallet). Avoid the hokey tourist traps and go where the locals go—not only will you save money, but you can get a more authentic experience of living in this new country.

Talk to the people around you. See where they go to get their groceries, go out to eat, or have fun on the weekends. Read newspapers and other local publications, and do a little research on Yelp or other sites before heading out.

Take advantage of student discounts and freebies

They’re all over the place! From airline and train fare to museum tickets, student discounts are almost everywhere you go (especially if you’ll be studying in Europe). Keep your student ID on you and don’t be afraid to inquire about them—they’re a great way to keep a bit of your budget and still have some fun!

You could even have fun without spending any money. Give the wallet a rest for the day and look out for museums with free entry or free exhibits, local parks, free shows, and other activities.

Build the budget that’s realistic for you

You know yourself. You know your spending habits, and you know what you want to experience in your time abroad, more than anyone else. Just because one type of budget worked for your friend, or for some random person with a blog doesn’t mean that it’ll be the right budget for your experience. It’s easy to say, “I’ll be super responsible, I’ll do all of my cooking at home, and I won’t waste money on unnecessary things.” It’s not as easy to stick to this when it’s your first Saturday night in your new city and you want to experience weekend nightlife, or when you’ve been invited on a weekend trip to a neighboring country.

Be realistic with your budget. Budget for the essentials, but take into account those bucket-list items as well as leaving some room for fun. Prioritize everything you're planning on doing—what are you looking forward to most? What could you do without?—and use that to form your budget. With some research and planning ahead, it’s possible to have a great, unforgettable experience without blowing through your savings.

Wherever you're traveling, we hope you have a great time! Need currency for your upcoming trip? Sign up for a free account now to make your transfer ahead of time—trust us, you'll be glad you did.