How to budget as an international student

How to budget as an international student

How to budget as an international student

Budgeting can be difficult for anyone, and college students are no exception. With the countless opportunities and new experiences at most universities, it might be tempting to indulge yourself and rely on your parents as a financial safety net. But if you can learn to manage your money at this stage in life, your chances of living a more financially stable and free life in the future are pretty high.

Having a budget doesn’t mean your money is sorted, but it does mean you have a plan to sort your money. A budget to track your income and expenses is how you monitor money coming in and going out; you know where your money is rather than wondering where it went. Here’s how you can optimise your finances as an international student. 

1. Know your numbers

Record all your regular monthly expenses such as rent, bills, food and subscriptions to get an idea of your average monthly expenses.

Then, write down any money you receive regularly each month – any parental contributions, earnings and student loans. If your income varies month to month, split this across the whole year, including earnings from a seasonal or term-time job, to arrive at an average income amount.

Then subtract your expenses from your average income. This gives you the starting point to understand how much you have left when you subtract all your necessary payments.

For international students, it’s also important to factor in currency exchange rates if you receive regular funds from overseas, because fluctuations can occur.

2. What’s the outcome?

If you have money left over each month, that’s great. I advise paying more into any outstanding debt to clear it faster or setting up a savings account.

A savings account is a wise idea for international students because it can help with unexpected expenses – an emergency flight home, for example.

Read also: Top 15 Best Ways on How to budget at University

3. Adjust your budget

If you are regularly spending more than you receive it’s time to sit down with your list and find ways to cut down on your spending. Tough, I know. Perhaps you have a monthly subscription you could cancel or you are able to share grocery shopping with your flatmates to save costs?

Cutting out things only goes so far, however. From housing, food and transport to books and social activities, most expenses can be trimmed but not wiped out to zero. So, be honest with yourself about what you should spend on and where you can save. You may want to set a monthly limit for each category and aim not to overspend.

I recommend the 80/20 rule for students. By spending 80 per cent of your money on things you need and 20 per cent on things you want, it will become clearer which expenses can be cut to keep your budget balanced and under control.

If you find yourself in persistent deficit, it’s worth reaching out to your student services team for additional guidance.

4. Increase your income

While Covid-19 put an end to many traditional student jobs – from hospitality through to retail –all these opportunities will hopefully return. In the meantime, many entrepreneurial students have started small businesses selling homemade products or online tutoring services.

However, I wouldn’t recommend prioritizing paid work over studies; try to find flexible work that will fit in around your university work. 

As an international student, it’s important to check what the rules are around working on your student visa before taking on any jobs alongside your studies. You can find this information through THE Student’s guides to student visas in the UK, US, Australia, Canada and Germany.

To minimise additional stress and pressure, I’d suggest you look for part-time or casual work if you genuinely need the money and it relieves pressure elsewhere. Don’t overload your schedule and remember to keep your eye on the goal – doing well at university.

Budgeting is the core of almost all money matters. By setting a clear plan for your money, you’re not just organising your finances, you’re putting yourself back in control of your financial well-being.

5. Use an App

As a college student, you’ve got a thousand things happening on a daily basis and, often, each day is different. A lack of structure can keep you from being on top of managing your spending and can spell disaster for your budget. Fortunately, there are a number of free budgeting apps to help. Try a money management app like Mint and find the best budgeting app for you. Chances are, after consistently using one of these helpful budgeting tools for just a month, you’ll find new ways to save.

6. Invest Your Spare Change

Saving your spare change has gone digital with investing apps like Acorns. You link your credit or debit card and when you make a purchase, Acorns rounds up the amount to the nearest dollar and makes the change available for you to invest. Not only will you be saving money, but you’ll also have the opportunity to grow it because your spare change is invested in stocks and bonds. It doesn’t take a math major to know that spare change and interest can really add up.

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