Studying in a foreign land—away from the comfort and familiarity of your home, family, friends, and country—can be both rewarding as well as humbling. Apart from the bright prospects that await you once you get your degree, it offers a new learning every step of the way. While exposing you to a brand-new geography and way of life, it also makes you come across fellow students from different parts of the world, who bring with them their own unique cultures and views, helping you shape a more evolved and tolerant world view of your own.
As exciting as it sounds, studying abroad comes with a fairly heavy price tag. But with meticulous planning and mindful spending, you can keep financial woes at bay and focus on making your time abroad as enriching as possible. Moreover, this is also a good time to learn some money management skills.
Here’s how you can manage your finances better while studying overseas.
Get familiar with the foreign currency
Understanding the currency you will now be using, and knowing its exchange rate, is the first step towards sound financial planning. A common mistake students make is to compare prices abroad to prices in their own country. A better way to plan your budget is to first understand the general standard in the new town and convert everything in your head, until you get used to the new currency. For instance, if you pay $10 for a hotdog in the US, it may give you the impression that you’re only spending 10 bucks,which doesn’t seem like a lot. However, those $10 actually amount to more than Rs. 600!
Cash or card?
Before you go abroad, make sure you know what kind of money is commonly used there. Some countries prefer the use of actual currency bills, like Japan, while at countries like USA and UK, you can easily get by with plastic money. If you are planning to purchase a forex card, check with your bank if they have any tie-ups with banks in the country you will be residing in. This will help you save on withdrawal or ATM fees.
Make a budget
Because of the high conversion rate of the Indian rupee (in terms of US dollars, euros, and pounds), the cost of living for an Indian student in a foreign country tends to be quite high. However, the pressures of this high cost can be easily alleviated. Before the start of every month, make a list of what you need and what you want, always prioritising the former over the latter. Then start putting aside money for your fixed and basic expenses like rent, bills, food, transportation, books and study material, and so on. If you find that you are on a tight budget, start putting aside some money as savings every month. That way, in a few months’ time, you will have enough money saved to allow yourself some indulgence. Always make sure you have some cash in your contingency fund.
Arrange before you arrive
Tuition cost aside, a clear evaluation of your living expenses before you set out to live abroad is going to make the finances of your stay a whole lot manageable. Once you get there, you may realise that the cost of living is higher than you expected, or you might have to take up an expensive accommodation or it may turn out that your college doesn’t permit students to take up jobs. Be prepared for these circumstances by making sure that the money you are taking with you is more than your projected requirements. A good way to stay on top of your living expenses is to take a loan with a low interest rate and long tenor, so that you don’t have to worry about repaying it as soon as you graduate. For instance, a loan against property for education comes with a tenor of up to 20 years and also has flexible payment options.
Sharing is saving
While some colleges offer on-campus accommodation for students, these are often limited. In case you are required to rent your own place, sharing accommodation with a few other people can help you cut down your costs to a great extent. Apart from rent, you will also be sharing bills, food money and—if your roommates go to the same college as you—conveyance cost. An added advantage is that your household chores can also be equally divided among the roommates, so you don’t get too daunted by doing laundry, washing the dishes, or keeping tab of bills.
Scout for discount
In your free time, scan the market and the internet or, even better, befriend a local who can guide you to stores giving you the best deals. For instance, in big cities, supermarkets usually have discounts on grocery and household items. A good way to save on basics is to do your monthly shopping at one of these stores in bulk. This because often the larger quantity you buy, the more you end up saving. For items like furniture and appliances, check out second-hand stores or websites that have listings for sale of used items (like Craigslist in America). For recreation, look for movie theatres, sports clubs, and music venues that offer student discounts. Most good colleges often host events such as music, food or theatre festivals, sports tournaments, movie screenings, and ice-breaker sessions for students. Frequenting these will take care of your leisure needs but also save you a lot of money, and you may even make some good friends in the process.
Explore additional income options
When studying abroad, it is common for students to take up part-time jobs in order to make some extra money. If you are open to this idea, first look for job opportunities within your university. Working on campus in the library, the administration, or as a research assistant will make sure your work hours don’t clash with your classes. Another option is to look for freelance projects pertaining to your field of interest, such as writing or editing, designing or translating. When looking for work, make sure you keep an open mind. Remember, no job is too small.
Finally, try not to stress too much about finances, and this is where good planning will play a big role. Studying abroad is as much about experiences and adventures as it is about academics. Spending wisely and saving money will ensure that you have enough to go out, meet people, try new things, take up a hobby or just explore a new country.
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