How to Budget for Study Abroad

M Wolfe, Pitt in Florence'20

One of my biggest worries about going to live abroad was did I had the self-discipline to not waste my money and end up broke in a foreign country. I was in Florence Italy, and my program made me have at least 1,000 euros a month. So, I looked up the prices of food and other things not provided (like shampoo). Then I made a very rough estimate of a weekly budget in euros. For me my target was to spend less than 100 euros a week. If I did that, I could save the extra and take little trips on the weekend. The first few weeks I exceeded my budget. I forgot to add my school supplies into my budget. So, I stayed in Florence for the first few weekends. I soon got a feel for what my new routine meant for my bank account. I started to write down all my purchases each day. By the end of the week, I could see if I made my target of less than 100 euros. Food was my biggest expense (as it was planned, school and housing were paid beforehand). Sharing a half fridge with 3 other people meant little room for stocking up on food. In Italy it’s not uncommon to go the grocery store to get that night’s dinner ingredients  So, I would go a few times a week to the grocery store (tip: avoid the 5pm-7pm dinner crowd). Grocery shopping was about 20 euros a week, I bought the cheapest stuff that still tasted good (tip: never get yogurt that is under a euro). I gave myself one dinner out a week, I found a deal with a local travel agency that had pasta and wine nights for 15 euros. I really enjoyed going with my friends and roommates. I spent about 10 – 15 euros a week on cafes, snacks and the occasional lunch (tip: packing lunches most days and save money).
Food wise I would spend 45 – 50 euros a typical week. Usually I would spend a little to enter a museum or church, or by a souvenir. My average weekly cost was about 70 euros. This allowed me to spend the extra 30 euros on fun things, like travel. Cheap train tickets to nearby towns were plentiful. From Florence to Pisa 10 euros; to Bologna or Ravenna 15 euros; to Milan 30-45 euros. Longer trips like to Rome could cost 30 – 70 euros, depending on how long and uncomfortably you were willing to travel. Weekend trips meant paying for a room somewhere (renting an AirB&B, a hotel room, some people stayed with friends), and you had to notify the program if you were staying the night away. If you didn’t and they found out, you got in trouble. If you are taking weekend trips, I suggest lots of one day trips (that are cheaper) mixed with overnight ones. A day trip could be 70-100 euros if you don’t pack food and go to popular tourist spots. And spend some weekends exploring your host city. If you’re staying somewhere for four months and you never explored the city, did you really live there? Also, weekends in the city exploring was like 20-30 euros, way cheaper than traveling. If you want a good budget find out what you need (food) and what you want (travel, shopping). Then find the cheapest ways to do it. Don’t buy the 3 euro pasta when the 0.40 cent pasta is good. Find banks that have a withdrawal fee for 4 euros instead of 10 euros (tip: I used the banks in the Piazza della Signoria). I also found that withdrawing my money biweekly helped me keep to my budget, I separated my money into different piles of grocery money, lunch money, travel money, etc. The slow disappearance of each pile helped me realize how much I was spending. The weeks I went over my target felt like I failed, but I set my target low so if I went over, I could still afford it. But If I passed my target of 100 euros it was a warning. In the end you just have to keep tabs on your budget. It’s a serious thing and if you ignore it you will find it going out of control. If you pay a little attention to it every day, you’ll be on top of it.

  • Different pasta from the local market
  • Gelato from Carabè Firenze