Sarah’s Tips for Budgeting Abroad

Here are some budgeting tips that I’ve learnt along the way, from my own experience and from online websites and blogs!

Sarah Ng 1
The earlier you save, the more you can enjoy later! Photo from Shutterstock

Golden rules: Don’t spend more than what you have – set a budget limit for splurging e.g. 30% of your monthly income/allowance. Also, think about what makes you happy – does spending more on food or clothes or sports/entertainment make you happier? If you feel like you enjoy eating good food, then you should cut down on spending on other areas e.g. clothes or entertainment.

Before you go:

  • Take on a part-time job. If you’re a Nanyang student interested in working part-time in NTU, you can find a job on the iNTU’s StudentLink page (Financial Assistance > Work Study Scheme). It is a part-time job listing for NTU students, and jobs range from administrative to technical (e.g. videographer, research assistant) and pay an hourly rate of $7 and above.
  • Apply for a scholarship. Some schools, such as WKWSCI, provide a special scholarship just for exchange applicants. There are also university scholarships that cover the expenses for exchange, although I am not too sure about this.
  • Apply for a Overseas Study Programme (OSP) Loan. NTU has partnered with OCBC Bank to offer an interest-free OSP Loan for exchange students in NTU.
  • Buy round-trip air tickets in advance: Buy tickets for a round trip instead of a one-way ticket, because it’s cheaper. I bought my air tickets to Leeds a few months in advance. Some of my friends bought air tickets through STA travel, which is located in the North Spine in NTU. One of the major advantage of buying through STA is that they give you one free-date change for your flight. However, I preferred booking the tickets on my own, so I decided against going to a travel agency.
  • Buy travel insurance. In NTU, it is compulsory to buy travel insurance before you go for your exchange.
  • Have a packing list and buy items on sale: It’s good to have a packing list of everything you need, before you start buying. Buy your travel essentials in the mid-year and year-end sales. For countries that have a stronger dollar against SGD, it’s wise to buy all your travel needs from home before you go.
  • Tip: If you’re on a tight budget, Daiso sells winter gloves and winter hats for $2!
  • Choose on-campus accommodation: If your exchange Uni provides on-campus accommodation, it may be slightly more expensive than staying outside campus, but on-campus hostels are safer as they have on-campus security, insurance coverage, and you’ll make friends with people in your uni.
  • Catered vs self-catered accommodation: If your exchange Uni provides catered (meals provided) and self-catered (cook your own) options, this point is applicable for you. Based on the advice of exchange students in Leeds, some prefer catered because it’s more convenient, and they made good friends from sharing regular meal times with their flatmates. Other students who chose self-catered said they can save on food, by going to cheaper grocery stores and buying housebrand products. I guess it’s useful to learn how to cook, and may be overall cheaper to stay in a self-catered hall.

During your exchange:

  • Bank account: I’m not sure whether it’s more economical to open a bank account in the host country (e.g. open a Barclays account in Leeds) or to use DBS Multi-currency account.  If you have a HSBC Premier International Account or plan to open one, you can benefit from the free international transfers to overseas HSBC accounts.
  • SIM card: In England, phone companies offer free SIM cards, which is usually mailed to a UK address. SIM cards can be bought at vending machines in London’s Heathrow airport, or at convenience stores. Tip is to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card, which is cheaper and more flexible than having a contract. Some SIM card providers: Lebara, which specialises in international calls, Giffgaff– offers free calls to other Giffgaff users, and Three – which allows you to make free calls in the EU.
  • Look for student-friendly discounts in the host country. g. UK offers a 16-25 railcard and bus card, which offers 1/3 off the rail fare/bus fare! Even though the cards are 1-year and cost GBP 30, it’s still worth it to buy it if you’re travelling around UK a lot.
  • Estimated cost of living: You can google the estimated cost of living in the place you’re going to. For example, this website provides estimation of the cost of living in many cities, but I cannot vouch for its accuracy.

For advice specific to Leeds/England, this blog post is helpful, and some websites you may be interested are:

Another useful article by the Straits Times: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/students-overseas-share-budgeting-secrets

by Sarah Ng – Nanyang Technological University – Singapore

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