As a student who studied abroad in Tokyo, Japan, I understand how financially challenging it can be to survive on a student budget. Here’s some top tips for sticking to your budget and spending carefully, whilst having fun and getting the most out of your study abroad year.
Before you go, get a bank account that grants an interest-free overdraft
Banks like Santander and Natwest offer student accounts that have dealt with study abroad students before. See what their overdraft offer is – it could come in useful for your study abroad year. As long as you know you can pay it back after your study abroad year is over, of course.
Take your money seriously. It can be easy to think of euros, dollars, pounds and yen, which you’re not used to using, as ‘pretend’ money that you don’t fully appreciate the value of. When you’re on holiday you’re much more likely to spend because it’s not the cash you’re used to using. Figure out the exchange rate and use it as carefully as you would at home.
Look for a job. Getting a part-time job isn’t too difficult with a student visa. See if locals in your study abroad country want to learn English privately. In Japan, you can join a website called my-sensei.com where you upload your profile and interested potential students will get in touch with you. Meet in a cafe, a school, even the park – and earn just by talking or following a textbook!
Find the cheapest grocery stores. It can be easy to stick to the nearest convenience store when you need a loaf of bread or a carton of milk. But walking just an extra few hundred feet could save you a lot of money. In Japan there are 100 yen (around $1 or 66p) stores where you can buy everything from candy, to kitchen utensils, to stationery. Have a look round before you shop, and compare prices. Sometimes shopping in several different stores can cut your expenditure significantly. It can be a pain, but it means more money for fun and less on unneeded food cost. See if your area has a Walmart or a Costco or similar store, so you can buy things in bulk and save a lot of money later.
Create a budget and stick to it. Blowing all your money on a party or an overpriced meal is easy to do – I’m guilty of it myself. But creating a budget will keep you financially safe. Work out realistically how much you’ll need for food, stationery, clothes, and other expenses, whilst keeping some aside for parties, treats and travelling, taking any student income plus your wages from your part-time job into account. There’s nothing worse than having to turn down a trip or a night out because you blew your budget.
Find the cheapest insurance, way to travel, and clothes stores. As with food, there are much cheaper ways to survive. Families on low budgets manage, so why can’t you? There’ll always be small thrift stores if you’re into that sort of thing. Is the bus cheaper than the train? Which insurance is good for you? Is there a way to claim back your expenses? Some universities or insurance companies offer reimbursement. If you’re from the UK, Student Loans company will help you with your travel costs, including your air ticket. Keep receipts, research your options, and you could save a chunk of change.
If you stick to these tips, you’ll be financially safe and get used to taking care of your money. You’ll grow financially and gain some valuable skills. Studying abroad is a lot of fun as well as challenging, and many people say it’s the best year of their lives. So most importantly – enjoy it!