How to Make Sure not to Burn Your Exchange Budget Within the First Month


Updated on Nov 26 • 6 minute read

Moving abroad is a fantastic adventure, full of exciting moments and life lessons. You’ll experience all the epic parties, meet new people and maybe even learn a different language. Whether you plan to enjoy the cosmopolitan city of Berlin or explore the history behind Renaissance art in Florence, you’re going to realize in an instant that going on Erasmus was a top-notch choice!

However, before you go, there are a few things that you need to prepare for, but few are as important as setting a budget. There are numerous money saving tips for students, but understanding them and how they apply to your individual situation can be key to ensuring you always have plenty of money on the weekends to hit up the best nightclubs with your new friends.

During your first few weeks abroad, there are going to be plenty of welcoming parties, and you may find that you need a few things to make your new place feel more like home. So, the lesson is to have funds for the things that you need, and not to burn through your exchange budget before the end of your first month. But don’t worry, because learning how to budget for study abroad can be simple, especially if you pay close attention to the following suggestions.

Search for the best prices on accommodation

The one thing that will eat up the majority of your student budget is your accommodation rent, which can vary, depending on several things, including:

Its location - When you begin to search for your housing, the location is going to be a primary factor of how much rent you will pay. You’ll find that apartments and houses close to the university or the city center are going to be the most convenient, but they are going to cost the most. And if you’re looking forward to those canal views in Amsterdam, you may incur a higher rent. Many students try to find a neighborhood that is a bit out of the way but easily connected by public transportation. That way, you can still get to where you need to go in minutes, but you don’t have to pay a premium price.

Your living arrangements - Some students decide to get their own place, but you’re going to need a large budget to manage all of the expenses on your own, especially if you’re opting for a higher-priced destination, such as Helsinki. Sharing a space with a few classmates will allow you to split the expenses, along with the responsibilities of cleaning and maybe even cooking. Plus, you’re going to have more fun if you’re living with flatmates, and you’ll always have a study partner or someone who understands what you’re going through.

What’s included - To better realize what you’re going to need to set aside for your rent, be sure to carefully go over and completely understand your rental agreement. Some contracts may stipulate that your utilities and furnishings are included, while others may require you to pay for your own water, electricity and Wi-Fi.

When searching for your accommodation, sign up on a trusted housing platform so that you can find the best housing at the most affordable price. Sites like HousingAnywhere will even alert you when a place matching your preferences is listed so that you won’t miss out!

Learn about the cheapest public transportation

Before you move abroad, you’re going to want to start keeping an eye on finding the best transportation, whether you’re flying into bustling Barcelona or taking the train into colorful Madrid. Sign up on sites like Skyscanner to watch for low fares, and consider some of the nearby smaller airports that may be offering cheaper flights.

Once at the airport, avoid taxis at all costs! Try a carpooling service like BlaBlaCar, or check your public transportation options and get directions for a route on Google Maps.

Once you’ve officially moved, look into your new city’s various methods of public transportation. Many will offer student discounts, so go with a pass that will save you the most money — usually a monthly pass, or even a longer period for more extended stays.

But if you want to save the most on day-to-day transportation, get a bicycle. There are renting schemes in most larger cities, or you can purchase one at a secondhand store or at the local weekend market. Some students even sell their bicycles on Facebook Marketplace once it’s time to go back home, so don’t forget to check there!

Explore student discounts

Sometimes, just by being a student, you can take advantage of all sorts of discounts, from meals at the local pub to rail passes so that you can explore Europe. Once you have your card, you’ll receive information that will provide you with details on discounts that you can take advantage of during your stay. However, it’s always a good thing to keep your student identification with you, and ask retailers or restaurants if they offer student discounts.

Avoid transaction fees

While you’re living abroad, the chances are very likely that, at some point or another, you’re going to need to receive money from back home, whether it be for a monetary gift for a birthday, or even just a little extra to pad your budget for the rest of your stay. But what are the best ways to avoid extra fees when sending money abroad?

Many young people living abroad just assume that a bank is their only option when it comes to transferring money, but there are several reasons that you should look elsewhere, with the primary one being the fees that are charged. Banks often add on hidden fees for transfers, especially those that are made from one denomination to another, and they rarely offer decent exchange rates.

You are much better off going with a company like Transferwise, which will charge upfront fees and a more competitive exchange rate, actually delivering the money into your account in the currency that you need. Other similar options to look into include TransferGo and Xendpay.

Research your shopping options

Before you just go to the closest grocery store for food and other supplies once you arrive, do a little bit of research on the best places to shop. Remember that every saved euro counts! Most larger cities will have an Aldi grocery store, which offers quality foods at a discount price. Many locales will also host markets one day a week or on the weekend, like the Blaak Markt in Rotterdam. At local markets, you can usually purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at a fraction of the cost when sold in large chain grocery stores.

Look for free entertainment

While you’re studying abroad, a big part of your experience is going to include attractions that you visit, or fairs and festivals you attend — not to mention the legendary house parties. One of the best ways to keep up with activities is to join a student association, where you can literally fill your social calendar with mostly free events. Also, keep an eye on student boards around the university, or there may be Facebook groups that will help keep you posted as well.

All major cities will also have their share of free festivals, where you can also learn more about your new home’s culture. For example, Vienna has the Donauinselfest, which is the largest free music festival in all if Europe, and Brussels has the Brussels Summer Festival.

Downlooad helpful apps

Technology has really stepped in to make our lives easier, so it’s best to take full advantage of what they can offer, especially when it can help you save money while you’re living abroad.

Too Good To Go - This app lets you know about special deals at food stores, where they need to sell their surplus food at a discount price to avoid waste.

Mint - This handy budgeting app lets you set up all sorts of different budgets, and it also notifies you of purchases and your current account balance.

Transferwise - As already mentioned, Transferwise can be the best way to transfer funds with the lowest fees. Be sure to download the app for your convenience.

Roommate - This is an app for Apple and Android that helps you keep track of chores, utilities, expenses and all practicalities you share with your roommates.

Going on Erasmus doesn’t have to lead to any unnecessary stress, especially when it comes to setting a budget. Thousands of students are opting to relocate for a semester or two every year, and with the proper planning, they acclimate to their new surroundings and fit right in within just a few weeks. Even if you’re moving right to the heart of the fashion district in Milan, a handful of good money saving tips for students can easily ensure you know how to budget for your study abroad.

So, look over the funds that will be available to you during your time abroad, including grants, scholarships, financial assistance from family members and everything you saved from that summer job at the mall. Set a feasible budget, while still allowing a few euros for entertainment and parties. No one should need to remind you to make this memorable!