It’s no secret that studying abroad can be expensive. Even after the tuition and the program fees, figuring out how to keep track of and save money on your daily expenses while actually living abroad is essential. Here are a few budgeting tips that I picked up from my time in Florence, Italy on the Pitt in Florence program to help you save some money when studying abroad without sacrificing your experience.
- Cook at home
The food was one of the things I was most excited for during my study abroad program in Italy, and it sure didn’t disappoint! From pastries to panini to pasta, there was always some delicious new dish to try. However, it quickly became clear that dining out for every meal would not be financially sustainable for me. To help save money on food, I chose to limit myself to about two dinners out per week, and the rest I would cook at home.
I often got breakfast at a local cafe. I love coffee, so a daily cappuccino was something I was willing to splurge on (although coffee and a croissant usually only cost a little over three euro.) I would buy lunch on the days that I didn’t have time to go back to my apartment for food between classes, specifically trying different styles of sandwiches from the many different shops throughout the city for only five to six euro a piece. When I had more time, I would eat leftovers or snacks back at my apartment. However, the big money-saving opportunity was cutting back on dinners out. We had a mini grocery store right on our street, so it was easy to quickly stop by for ingredients for that day’s dinner. My roommate and I would make a meal to split, often with leftovers for the next day, which was significantly less expensive than going out to a restaurant. We’d have dinner at a restaurant maybe once or twice a week, so I did get to try my fair share of pasta while also not breaking the bank! Your priorities with the foods you want to try may be totally different, so adapt this as you need, but in general, buying groceries and cooking at home for any meal of the day is a great way to save some money while abroad.
2. Choose day trips
Studying abroad for six weeks gave us five full weekends to explore, and many students (myself included) chose to use that time to travel. With the incredible public transportation available, all of Italy was at our fingertips. Personally, I saved a bit of money by doing some day trips instead of spending long weekends in one area. When booking train tickets, there were always special deals for round trips in one day, and day trips eliminated the need to pay for a hotel, Airbnb, or hostel. Also, by doing different day trips, my roommate and I were able to fit more into our weekends. For example, one weekend we headed to Cinque Terre for a beach day, then took a short train ride to the nearby towns of Pisa and Lucca later in the weekend.
There were so many different places that I wanted to see while abroad that I didn’t want to have to skip because of my budget, so it was worth it for me to spend a shorter amount of time there in order to make those trips. There’s definitely value to staying longer in the place you’re visiting, but if you’re on a tight budget, consider trying some day trips instead!
3. Pay with cash when possible
One of my biggest tips to keep everything organized is to pay cash when possible. If you withdraw a certain amount of money from an ATM each week, you can’t go over budget since you don’t physically have the money to spend! While it isn’t always possible to pay cash, such as if you’re buying tickets online, keeping most of your spending cash-based helps you keep yourself to a stricter budget. In my opinion, it’s more practical anyway to pay for small purchases such as a croissant or a scoop of gelato with cash instead of a card. Plus, maybe it’s just me, but I found it exciting just to be using a different currency!
Some extra tips for dealing with cash and ATMs: first of all, you might be deterred from using cash because of the conversion rate between currencies. There are ATMs everywhere, but some are way overpriced. The best way to avoid this is to use an ATM at a bank. Bank ATMs usually provide some of the best conversion rates so you’re losing the least amount of money in the transaction. If possible, use a debit card with no international fees to save even more money when withdrawing from one of these ATMs. Finally, ATMs tend to give 50-euro bills, which can be hard to break for small purchases. If the ATM allows you to enter the amount you want to withdraw, give an amount that isn’t divisible by 50, such as $180. This way you’ll at least get a few 10- or 20-euro bills for you to work with while you wait for a larger purchase to spend your 50s.
Overall, if you’re worried about staying on budget while studying abroad, the most important thing is to go in with a plan. Come up with an amount you’re comfortable spending, then figure out what your priorities are to determine how much money you’re willing to allot to which things. Most of all, keep track of your spending. This is important for budgets everywhere, even at home, but tracking how much you spend ensures you don’t overspend and allows you to save for the things and experiences that are most important for you. It is possible to have an amazing study abroad experience on a budget, and I hope these tips help!