To those who haven’t studied or worked abroad as part of their degree, or who are considering it, you would be forgiven for thinking that it consisted of back-to-back day trips and partying every second night. Social media can be deceiving, but nevertheless, a scroll through Instagram or Facebook might have you questioning how students afford all this.
It’s a question of having a little self-discipline and knowing the difference between treating yourself and reckless spending. I’m now back in the UK because of the escalating situation with COVID-19, but here is what I learned about managing your money when abroad.
SOCIALISING AND NIGHT LIFE
Exploring the night life is one of the most exciting parts of a year abroad and a great way to make friends and experience culture. For the first few weeks especially, Erasmus societies hold a series of events and everyone seems to want to go out every night. There is a lot to take in, so it’s important not to get swept away and keep an eye on your spending.
Events with societies like ESN are intended to be affordable to students, though you will have to pay for an ESN card at the start of the semester. This card can also get you discounts at certain events and clubs.
It also depends where you are studying. For example, I didn’t think a night out in Strasbourg was much cheaper than back home, but a night out in Alcalá de Henares (a town outside Madrid) costs considerably less, mostly down to the fact that alcohol is generally cheaper.
While most students are used to cooking for themselves or perhaps have catered accommodation, it’s natural to want to try out all the new restaurants and cafés. In Strasbourg, I developed a taste for the patisseries in my area and gave in to the temptation quite often, especially after classes. I definitely ate out more than I did back home, but I didn’t go crazy. I’d recommend finding where other students go for their grub as usually it’s not too expensive (and if it is, it’s probably a sign it’s worth it). Again, keep an eye out for student discounts and always have your student card to hand.
It’s not a great feeling spending a chunk of your monthly income on books and stationery, but it’s often necessary. While libraries can be the answer to saving money on books, during my time in Strasbourg, I found some books from the course syllabuses at book fairs. Some bookshops also have pre-prepared bundles for certain courses / classes, so again, look out for discounts and have your student card at the ready. It is always good to have your own copies (especially if you can bring them into exams), but if you don’t feel you need one, you can always try to borrow from someone else.
In terms of stationery, I now do most of my work on my laptop, meaning I save on notebooks and pens and have less to take home when the semester ends.
Buy what you know you will eat. The less waste, the better it is for your wallet and the planet. However, you will probably have to change your eating habits slightly no matter where you go. For example, I didn’t know how popular UHT milk was in Spain until I realised I hadn’t seen anyone buy fresh milk, which makes sense because UHT can be stored for longer and is cheaper. In France, I swapped fresh fruits in favour of smoothies and juices (which were in abundance) because, again, they last longer and I was still getting my vitamins.
If you are based in or near a city, monthly passes are the way to go. With the CTS card in Strasbourg, people aged between 19-25 can get trams and other transport around the city for 27,60€ a month (and there are other deals for other age groups). I used the tram every day to go to university, so I saved loads with this card. For Madrid, I recommend the Tarjeta Transporte Público, which is 20€ a month for young people and includes the use of trains, buses and the metro in the Madrid region.
For day trips further afield, Flixbus is a popular choice throughout Europe, though not always the most punctual! If you’re staying overnight, Airbnb can have some hidden gems, though a decent hostel is always an option. Obviously, the fares for trains and flights vary drastically, but when you can, book in advance.