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How to budget as an international student

Studying abroad is a life-changing investment. Traveling the world, exploring new cultures, and making lifelong friends are just a few of the priceless benefits you’ll experience.

Careful budgeting is key to making the most of your international adventure. By keeping on top of your finances, you’ll have a more enjoyable and eye-opening experience.

What is a student budget?

A student budget is a breakdown of all the money you’ve got coming in, as well as the money you’re spending. It helps you to estimate and plan your outgoings so that you don’t wind up spending more than you have.

Student budgeting tools

Before you jet off, it pays to do some research. Look into the average cost of living in your dream study abroad destination. Websites like numbeo allow you to compare living expenses across different cities and countries, so you’ll know what to expect before you leave.

Once you’ve got a rough estimate of living costs in your new home, you can input other expenses like tuition fees and rent into an online student budget calculator. This will give you a more accurate prediction.

However, you’ll only understand the true cost of studying abroad after arriving in your host country. Once you’ve settled in, you can begin to track your expenses with a budgeting spreadsheet.

What to include in your student budget

Splitting your expenses into essential and non-essential costs is one of the simplest ways to organize your budget.

  • Essential costs are items or services that you need to buy. You should prioritize these necessities in your budget.

  • Non-essential costs are items or services that you enjoy but don’t necessarily need.

Here’s a rundown of the essential and non-essential costs faced by most international students:

Essential costs Non-essential costs
Tuition fees Clothing
Accommodation costs Haircuts & beauty products
Utilities (gas, electricity, water) Gym membership
Groceries Dining out
Mobile phone, WiFi, TV Household supplies
Insurance (health and contents) Nights out (club entry, alcohol, takeaways, taxis)
Visa application fee Music and film subscription services (Amazon Prime, Netflix, Apple TV, Spotify)
Books and academic supplies Hobbies (cinema tickets, music gigs, games consoles)
Transport (buses, trains, fuel, car insurance) Sports club membership fees and kit

Having a small emergency fund in your budget is a sensible move. Hopefully, you’ll never need to dip into this pot, but it could cover the cost of urgent healthcare or an unplanned flight home.

How do you calculate a student budget?

1) Work out your total income: This is all of the money you receive from loans, scholarships, grants, part-time work, savings, and contributions from parents or guardians.

2) Subtract your essential costs: Take the overall cost of your essential expenses away from your total income.

3) Calculate your disposable income: The remaining money is what you can afford to spend on non-essential items and services.

See the costs of studying abroad

Top money-saving tips

  • Find the cheapest way to travel: Get yourself a bike, take buses rather than trains, and book flights well in advance. If you’re a frequent traveler, consider investing in a multi-use travel card.
  • Look for financial support: You could be eligible for a variety of financial aid packages, including scholarships, grants, and bursaries. If you do some research, you could strike gold.
  • Earn while you learn: If you’re starting to feel the pinch, you could look for a part-time job. This is a useful way to make ends meet, but don’t let it hinder your education.
  • Cash in on student discounts: Loads of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues offer student deals and discounts. Remember to show your student ID before you pay.
  • Cook from scratch: Eating out regularly could damage your finances. Home cooking is a fantastic way to save money and improve your culinary skills. Consider buying frozen rather than fresh, and supermarket lines over big brands, to knock even more off your bill.
  • Look at alternative study countries: There are many countries where being an international student work out cheaper, or where studying abroad is free.

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