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Day-to-day Financial Planning when Studying Abroad

Planning your finances is very important while studying abroad. Here are some tips to help you out.

Mahesh Ramani

At the end of the day, your lifestyle plays a major role in the amount of money that you spend. We often end up on impulse buying sprees that are further aggravated by sustained advertising campaigns.

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Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man's world

Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man's world

When ABBA sang this song, they did not realise it would become so popular and unassuming writers would quote the song across a wide variety of topics. Today’s article examines an important topic - ‘Day-to-day Financial Planning when Studying Abroad’. We shall look at ways that will help you save money and cut down on your living expenses when studying abroad.

A 100 per cent scholarship or fellowship is amongst the rarest of rare cases; where a super intelligent student gets his or her entire tuition fee, accommodation, living and travel costs funded. Others get portions of their tuition fee funded. In most cases, no money comes to your hands, the scholarship amount is deducted from your actual fees. So if you are eligible to apply for a scholarship, go ahead and fill up that lengthy scholarship application form. Students are usually also expected to submit an essay, detailing why they should be considered for the scholarship. So take your time, draft your essay with care, get it proofread multiple times and then apply.

Opening a Local Bank Account:
This is a very important task that is usually taken care of by the International Student Support Team at your university. In the first week of joining university, there is an ‘Orientation Programme’. During the course of the programme, tasks like opening a local bank account, medical insurance, securing student identity card, allotment of accommodation, getting a meal plan, etc., are completed. If you decide to opt for a part-time job, the local bank account will be helpful. Additionally, you will not have to pay hefty service charges for using your Indian debit card.

Usually for undergraduate students, most universities require them to stay by default in on-campus accommodation units. Large universities in the USA, UK and Australia have well designed accommodation units that cater to different budgets. Students are usually paired with another student and allotted a room. On-campus accommodation offers a sense of safety and security and fosters the spirit of community living. It gives you the chance to interact with international students from other countries and learn more about their culture. Fraternities like ‘Greek Life’, ‘Phi Beta Kappa’ and ‘The Freemasons’ are extremely popular in the USA.

Off-campus accommodation in the form of shared apartments and student hostels may also be considered. Remember in the hope of saving money on accommodation; do not end up renting an apartment far away from campus and spending hours every day on travel. ‘Do not be penny wise and pound foolish’.  Most student campus towns have local families who offer ‘paying guest’ or ‘home stay’ options. Essentially, you live with a family and pay a pre-agreed sum of money for your food and rent. 

Most American universities offer a meal plan along with the accommodation option. The meal plan offers students nutritious food and most universities offer a choice of cuisines every week. If you are sharing an apartment with a friend then you can cook on your own. Most apartments come with modular kitchens, which you can use with ease.

Instead of eating out on a regular basis and spoiling one’s health it is advisable to source fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy produce from local farmers’ markets and cook your own meals. It may feel tiring and the first few dishes may end up burnt; but do not lose heart, cook healthy, eat healthy and protect your heart!

If you stay on campus or close to the campus, you do not have to worry much about this aspect. If you stay really far away, then you should plan your schedule with care and use public transport. In countries like Singapore, students get travel passes at a concessional rate. This is known as the ‘Student Pass’ and can be used on the MRTS - the elevated local commuter railway system. Some universities in the USA and the UK offer subsidised shuttle services between the university and places within a 5 km to 10 km radius. Check if you can avail such a service. If you prefer to ride your own vehicle; go ahead and get a car or bike and remember to follow the local driving rules. If you live within a 3 km radius of your campus, consider getting a bicycle and cycling to university. It saves money, is good for your health and environment-friendly as well.

Service Utility Bills:
If you stay on campus your rent covers the electricity charges, rules regarding internet usage vary. Where possible use the free internet service offered by your institution. If you stay off campus, your bills will vary on your usage, so plan your budget carefully and do not waste electricity.  Learn to do your own laundry, wash and iron your clothes, you will save a considerable sum of money.

Laptops and Portable Storage:
Although notebooks and pens will continue to be used, your primary tool when studying abroad will be your laptop. Invest in a good, durable laptop that will last your course of study. Do not end up getting a new laptop every year! Also invest money in a portable hard drive that you can use to store data. When leaving from India get an international pre-paid calling card like a Matrix card. This should help you till you get a local SIM once you settle down at the university.

Text books keep getting upgraded with a new edition every year. Buy the text books that you really need and use the library for reference material. Used book shops offer good deals on text books; verify the edition and year of publication and buy these books at a lesser cost. 

Part-time Jobs:
Different countries have different immigration and labour laws. Students in the USA require special permission to work outside the university campus. Other countries allow between 8 and 14 hours of part-time work a week to international students. Verify that you are not breaking any local immigration and labour laws and then apply for a part-time job.  The pay varies based on the job. You could work in restaurants attending tables, store attendant or as a data entry operator in a local firm. Remember it is very easy to get stressed so focus on your studies not your part-time job.

Stocks and Shares:
Do you remember Leonardo di Caprio’s electrifying performance in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’? Have you considered investing some money to secure your future? In India, creating a Demat account is easy if you already have a bank account and a PAN card. Consider investing sums as low as Rs. 1,000 a month and start trading in shares; be calm and tread the markets with care. Assuming that you are studying a course in business, management, finance or economics; the time that you spend in trading shares will give you a clearer understanding of the Indian economy. 

At the end of the day, your lifestyle plays a major role in the amount of money that you spend. We often end up on ‘impulse buying sprees’ that are further aggravated by sustained advertising campaigns.  Before you buy something, think if you really need it and if it will have a resale value. Do not end up cluttering your room with stuff that you do not require!

We hope that you found this article useful. Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the ‘Comments’ section below.


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