How To Build Up Your Savings While Studying And Travelling Abroad
For those of us who thrive on novelty and adventure, a study abroad experience sounds just perfect.
Getting immersed in the local culture, meeting people from other parts of the world, learning a new language, and testing your limits and boundaries are just some of the promises of embarking on a sojourn abroad. However, one's often turned off by the insanely high tuition fees and the related costs of moving and sustaining a life in another country as a student.
Although that can be true, you should also know that you can take advantage of your study abroad experience to learn, gain qualifications, and travel extensively... without incurring further debt. It sounds counterintuitive, but studying abroad can also let you build up your savings to prepare for life after grad school, wherever that may be.
Let me tell you a personal story. Before I moved to Europe, I had been working for 6 years in Manila with a decent paying job. I bought a house and managed to look like I was efficiently adulting.
But in my heart of hearts, I knew I was failing at it big time.
I had debts and very little savings. I struggled to pay my mortgage. I led an indulgent yuppie lifestyle: I dined out almost everyday, went to the movies every so often, and shopped for new clothes almost every week.
When I landed the Erasmus Mundus scholarship in 2013, I thought I was not going to be any better, if not worse. For me, being a student meant living off a meager allowance.
But those two years of study abroad experience changed me and my attitude towards life and finances. Strangely enough, I felt freer and more financially independent as a student. I realized that present and prospective students like you and me don't have to struggle with financial insecurities just because we're choosing to stay in school.
During my time as an international student, I was able to save around 6000 euros worth of emergency fund while travelling extensively around Europe. This fund almost entirely went to my back up plan to continue living in Spain legally. Thank God for my emergency fund, I survived and managed to buy more time to figure out my next steps.
So you might be wondering... how can YOU make it happen? How can you pursue an education abroad without getting into more debt? Or better yet, how can you double or triple your savings while studying?
Well, here are some suggestions on how you can build your savings and/or emergency fund as a student abroad.
Save up on school fees through a scholarship.
Higher education's proving to be a lucrative business everywhere, especially in this day and age where students' aspirations involve travelling and living abroad. Some universities bank on that by charging international students TWICE the amount of tuition fees. Student housing can also be extremely expensive in some contexts.
It's so easy to spend 10k euros on a study abroad experience for a year. And that's debt that you'll incur and eventually have to face after graduation.
The truth is, not everyone gets a decent enough payout for all the tuition and living expenses that come with a study abroad experience. It surely looks sexy to have a foreign qualification on your CV, but financial freedom sure sounds more appealing, at least in my book.
If you're planning to study abroad, I'd highly advise finding a scholarship. Scholarships can waive your tuition in full or in part. Some of them also cover living expenses and installation costs like airfare, accommodation deposit, etc. Erasmus Mundus is an example of a scholarship scheme providing full tuition waivers, monthly allowance, installation costs, and medical insurance. You can check my post on how to apply for a masters scholarship in Europe for more information and download scholarship hunting-related freebies from our free resource library.
I was receiving 1000 euros monthly as an Erasmus Mundus scholar, and I spent most of it on recurring expenses such as rent, food, and public transportation costs. I was also able to set aside at least 100 euros monthly from my scholarship allowance as savings. This all went to my emergency fund that I used to prolong my stay in Spain.
Get a part-time job.
Now that you've got your basic expenses covered, let's talk about your travel fund. I prefer to have it separate and to have a specific source only for this end so I don't feel guilty about using my scholarship money for leisure.
So on top of my monthly stipend as an Erasmus Mundus scholar, I worked part-time. At the master's level, I found that international students' schedules are more flexible and are thus more compatible with part-time work. They mostly go for jobs as foreign language teachers (you can read my post on how to work as an English teacher in Spain on a student residence permit), babysitters, shop assistants, waiting staff, and administrative workers. Most countries in Europe allow you to work for a certain number of hours each week as a student. In the UK, for example, you're allowed to work 20 hours during term time and work full-time during the term break.
Meanwhile, Spain has more vague rules about it. The law says that you can't work without a work permit, but most students would go for jobs like babysitting and private English classes without a contract.
Where do you find such jobs? Here are some examples:
Your university's international student office
Usually, the university has an international student office where they share job openings available for students. You can go to their office, shoot them an email, or find some information through their social media pages. You would also often find such job postings in hallways or on bulletin boards.
Sometimes, the university opens up posts providing administrative or IT support to certain departments. They may come in the form of a part-time job offer or as a scholarship opportunity.
Your student network
You can also find part-time jobs through your student network. It's quite common for people doing the same masters to a Facebook page, so try to get in touch with those who did the course before you and ask for tips and advice. In my experience, my first job in Spain as an English teacher came as a referral from another Filipina from the previous batch. Meanwhile, one of my part-time jobs in London was as a writer for the Filipino community's newspaper, which I got from another Filipino alumnus from the same masters programme.
Posting your profile and services on online platforms is also an option. In London, I was able to find a babysitting job at Find a Babysitter. Joining Facebook groups is also a great way to find opportunities and to connect with people in your field. For example, I joined the group Bilbao English Teachers and was able to land a job there teaching private classes in companies.
If you've got a specific company in mind, it doesn't hurt to browse through their website and send them an email inquiring about job posts and openings. In my experience, I was lucky enough able to find an internship in Scotland by emailing the HR department directly. They actually didn't have anything posted about internship opportunities, but because I wanted to work there so bad, I thought it wouldn't hurt to try. I introduced myself, described why I think I'm a good fit in their company, and attached my CV. It worked out in the end and I got a paid internship opportunity in my dream company.
MONITOR YOUR EXPENSES.
I got encouraged to record every purchase I'd made for a month by a friend, and I think it was the brightest idea ever. You can use a regular Excel file for this or a phone app like Monny to do the work for you. The app really worked for me because all I needed to do was make a shortcut for the app, and pull out my phone every time I make a purchase (from coffee, to top-ups, to clothes shopping). Monny generates a monthly report where you can see how much money goes to where, and in which aspects you can cut back on the following month to reach your target.
It's funny how we mostly feel compelled to work more and have less time for ourselves to be able to live the lifestyle that we want, when in fact, what we need is to want less things and live more.
My study abroad experience made me realize just that. Forced to fit all my life into two pieces of luggage as I move from one city to the next, I had to make tough choices and downsized my life. I thought: if I were to buy more stuff and need to leave them behind the next time I move, what's the point?
I watched my wardrobe get smaller as I discard the pieces that I hadn't worn in a million years. Maybe because it wasn't the right size, I wasn't feeling comfortable wearing it, or that it didn't reflect my style at all.
My clothes were the first things to go, then I moved on to downsize my books and school notes. I was, again, forced to sit down and sift through them. Will I really need this bunch of notes from last semester, or has it already served its purpose? Do I need to keep these boarding passes and old receipts in the box when I don't see any use for them in the future?
I was also careful not to accumulate too many trinkets from my trips. These are the small things that won't bother you at first but can really weigh you down in terms of space and money in the long run. Seriously, how many ref magnets and key chains do you need in this lifetime?
Living small is a daily challenge, and I still indulge myself once in a while with a pretty purchase from Amazon. But I can say I've become more intentional with my shopping, and aim for quality and useful pieces.
Read more about how to live small in my post about how my life became simpler when I moved abroad.
There you are! I hope you've found this both inspiring and helpful. If you have any questions and suggestions about building up your savings while studying abroad, feel free to leave a comment below.