11 Budgeting Tips for International College Students

Last updated on March 7th, 2024 at 11:07 am

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Studying abroad can be an exciting opportunity, but it can also be expensive for many students. If you’re struggling to budget while adjusting to a new culture and a new school, you might be wondering how to save money. We’ve rounded up practical budgeting tips to help.

Read on to find information on how to create a budget that suits your student lifestyle and how to manage the unique financial challenges that international students face.

How to Create Your Student Budget

The first step to budgeting is to track where your money is going in the first place. Whether you use an app, a spreadsheet, or old-fashioned pen and paper, you’ll want to start by recording what comes in—and what goes out.

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  1. Make a list of all your expenses, dividing them into fixed and variable expenses.*
  2. Start tracking. At first, simply record where your money goes. Budgeting apps make this easy.
  3. Figure out how much money you spend per category, per month.
  4. Make a plan and keep an eye on your funds. You can adjust your spending as needed so you’re able to cover your basic needs, and then decide how to allocate the rest. Money remaining each month can be rolled over to the next month, put into an emergency fund, or used for fun, depending on your needs.

*Fixed expenses don’t change. These would be your tuition, rent, health insurance, and anything else that remains the same each month. Variable expenses are costs that change each month or session, such as books, food, travel, and entertainment.

Tips for Staying on Budget

Now that you’re aware of exactly how much money you have, let’s make sure you can stretch it as far as possible. Here are a few budgeting tips for international college students:

1. Plan for emergencies.

You always want a bit of money in the bank in case of emergency. If you get sick or break a tooth, you’ll need to fall back on that extra money. Ideally, you’ll put at least 10% of your monthly budget in an emergency fund.

2. Get a roommate or two.

If you want to save on rent, you can either stay on campus, which is often cheaper, or rent a house or apartment off campus with roommates. This can reduce the cost of rent and give you more flexibility in terms of food.

3. Skip eating out.

It’s tempting to eat out all the time, especially if you’re in a tiny dorm room. You can save quite a bit of money by either opting for the meal plan offered by the university or investing in a microwave and toaster oven to make your own meals.

4. Buy used.

Need textbooks? Buying them used will save you a lot of money. If possible, borrow them from the library to get them free. You can also buy kitchen equipment, bedding, and clothing secondhand in order to save money.

5. Consider studying in a rural area.

Smaller towns have lower rent, generally speaking, though you should do your research ahead of time.

6. Take a job if you can.

Depending on where you’re studying and which permissions you have, you may be able to work here and there to add a little to the budget. Countries like Australia allow students to work up to 20 hours a week on a student visa.

7. Comparison shop.

There are usually multiple stores to choose from, so do some comparison shopping and buy your food at the cheapest place, even if it’s further away. You can also shop discounts and sales to make the most of your food budget.

8. Cook for others.

If your talent lies in cooking, why not prepare meals for other students and have them pay for the ingredients? They get good, low-cost meals, and you eat for less (or free).

9. Use loyalty cards.

Ask about loyalty cards at local restaurants and stores. These often allow you to collect points and get discounts. Even better, ask other people if they want you to shop for them, then collect the points for their purchases to get free groceries.

10. Ask for help.

Some campuses offer financial advisors who can help you make your budget work. Take advantage of their expertise!

11. Use student discounts.

Find out which stores, restaurants, and cafés offer student discounts. You can also get into museums and other places for less if you are a student, so go ahead and ask. This is a good way to enjoy entertainment for less.

Financial Challenges for International Students

Studying in a country that’s not your own can present unique problems for your financial situation. For example:

Fluctuating currencies

If your family sends you a certain amount of money each month, current exchange rates can affect your allowance and budget. Keep track of the currency rate in your home country to ensure you’re aware of when it changes.

Work visas

Not every international student is permitted to work in the country where they study, which can create problems if you want to make some extra cash.

Sending money

If you’re studying and working abroad, you may need to send money to your family or cover expenses in your home country. This requires an additional line in your budget.

Why Budgeting Is Important

Without a budget, you’ll likely go through money much faster. If you’ve ever discovered that your bank account is nearly empty, you’re not alone. A budget is more about keeping track of where your money is going than not spending it.

What’s more, if you want to save up for something like a trip, you’ll definitely want a budget.