The Anatomy of an Erasmus Mundus Scholar's Budget
So you got that acceptance letter and you’re over the moon. Yes, it does feel like winning the lottery! Spending two, fully-funded years in Europe is exactly the stuff that dreams are made of.
But your excitement is quickly overshadowed by the looming reality of paperwork and financial planning that goes into this big move. Will the scholarship be enough to tide you over those two years on your own?
To help you with this question, here are my thoughts on planning financially for your time abroad with a breakdown of what my budget looked like as an Erasmus Mundus scholar.
*Note: This breakdown reflects my spending habits as a single person living abroad. If you’re travelling with a partner or a child, this budget will obviously look different.
BEFORE THE MOVE
Okay, real talk. The spending starts months before your flight to Europe. Good for you if you’re lucky to be in a programme that sends out the first scholarship amount even before you leave your home country. In my case, I got 2000 EUR deposited to my account that I then spent on the items listed below. But squirrelling away some moolah as soon as you receive that acceptance letter can really save you from undue financial stress in the event that your scholarship money comes in late (in worse cases, up to two months after you’ve officially started your studies abroad). That would really hurt.
EXPENSES BEFORE LEAVING
Purchase my flight tickets
Reimburse myself for all the paperwork-related costs
certified true copies
authorization and legalization of documents
transportation costs incurred from travelling to and from the government offices — this can really be a pain if you don’t live in the capital or if your first mobility destination has no consulate or embassy representation in your country
English proficiency test costs, like IELTS and TOEFL
Buy suitcases and winter clothes (hey, I’m a tropical girl)
Some of you may also opt to resign from your jobs a month or two before leaving. If so, factor this in while planning and make sure that you have enough to live before you hand in that resignation letter.
WHILE IN EUROPE
First things first. Erasmus Mundus programmes require you to complete your coursework in at least two universities in different countries. The scholarship amount stays the same but the cost of living for each city you’ll live in doesn’t, so it goes without saying that your budget will change along the way.
The scholarship amount
Erasmus Mundus classifies scholarships according to your country of citizenship. If you hold a passport from any of the EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Turkey, or Macedonia, you’re considered a programme country applicant. Otherwise, you’re classified as a partner country applicant.
The scholarship amount differs, but check out your programme’s webpage and have a look at the total scholarship amounts published on the site. Partner country recipients will receive a bit more than those from programme countries. The total amount covers:
Tuition fees - You will never see this money because this is directly paid by the consortium to the university.
Participation costs - A big chunk of this is earmarked for your living costs and will be sent to you as a stipend. It also includes health insurance costs that your programme will avail of on your behalf.
Let’s take the EMCL+ course’s case as an example. Their total scholarship amounts are 35,000 and 49,000 for programme and partner country participants, respectively.
From this total amount, the tuition fees cost 9,000 EUR for programme countries and 18,000 EUR for partner countries, as published on another page in their website.
To estimate the amount you’ll receive as stipend, you have to subtract this amount from the total scholarship amount published on your programme’s page and divide the resulting amount by the number of months you’re participating.
For EMCL programme country participants: 1,083.33 (35,000 (total scholarship) minus 9,000 (tuition fees) divided by 24 months)
For EMCL partner country participants: 1,291.67 (49,000 (total scholarship) minus 18,000 (tuition fees) divided by 24 months)
So you’ll receive roughly over 1,000 EUR to cover your monthly costs. Sweet deal, isn’t it? It will now depend on your programme how they choose to spread out these payments. During my time (five long years ago… woah!), partner country applicants got 1000 EUR a month and an extra lump-sum amount of 2000 EUR every six months for related costs. These extra payments drop around the time that we’re about to move to our next mobility destination, so it worked quite well.
Monthly budget breakdown
As I’d said before, your monthly budget will depend on the city you live in. Having said that, it’s still helpful to know the monthly recurring costs that will cover your basic expenses. These are usually:
Rent (plus a month’s worth of deposit that you get back when you move out)
Electricity and water
Phone and internet
I was at my lowest financially when I did my first year in London, then suddenly felt rich enough to eat out more than once a week when I moved to Bilbao. Here’s what my budget looked like this while living in these two cities:
Scholarship: 820 pounds (1000 EUR converted to pounds, as I was receiving the funds on a UK bank account)
Rent - 350
Electricity and water - 50
Phone and internet - 20
Transportation - 110
Groceries - 125
Food and coffee- 50
Life/fun money - 100
Total: 805 pounds
Savings: 15 pounds (-ish!)
The food category covered those to-go Pret-a-Manger sandwiches when I got too lazy to cook. Transportation costs went through the roof because I lived in zone 4 and had to commute all the way to zone 1 to get to uni. A one-way tube ride cost me around 4.20 pounds at that time.
Life/fun money covered that occasional drink, eating out, and some travel. If you’ve ever lived in London you’ll understand that 100 pounds won’t get you anywhere. Going to a restaurant set me back some 25 pounds each time. When I did more travelling, especially during the tail-end of my stay, of course I spent more (and sadly went over my budget… but I was emotional, okay).
As soon as I realized that the winter clothes I bought back home didn’t stand a chance against the notoriously wet and chilly London winter, I also incurred some extra costs for rain boots and a warm coat.
Scholarship: 1000 EUR
Rent - 300
Electricity and water - 50
Phone and internet - 20
Transportation - 20
Groceries - 100
Food and coffee - 100
Life/fun money - 200
Total: 790 euros
Savings: 210 euros
Living in Spain gives you way more bang for your buck, so to speak. For one, I was receiving my scholarship money in Euros, which meant that nothing — not even a measly euro — got lost in the conversion. Rent was slightly cheaper (although Bilbao rents are almost as expensive as those in the bigger cities like Madrid and Barcelona). It’s a small city and my university was a pleasant ten-minute walk from my flat.
You can get your caffeine fix for 1.20 EUR from a local bar (as opposed to the 3.50-pound cup of industrial Costa coffee in London) and a zurito (a small glass of beer) could go as low as 1 EUR on pintxopote Thursdays. My food budget went up because I rarely cooked at home — eating the same food for two days straight bored me and I ended up with more food waste than I would’ve liked. For only 6.40 EUR for a full meal (which included an appetizer, a main course, a drink, and a dessert), I enjoyed a good variety of lunch dishes at the university cafeteria.
I also travelled extensively around this time (see that spike in the life/fun money budget?! Yay!) and still had a decent enough amount set aside for the rainy days.
Planning your finances should start even before you leave. Ideally, you should have some money to support for the first month or two in the event that the scholarship money arrives late.
In managing your budget while abroad, make sure that you’ve got all the basic expenses covered. Also consider the cost of living in the city you’ll live in and be open for adjustments (and sacrifices) when called for.
Lastly, putting away some money should be your goal without depriving yourself of precious experiences. This can help you in your post-graduation transition, whether that involves finding a job in Europe or going back to your home country. (Check out our post on how to build your savings while studying and travelling abroad). Take on a part-time job if you must (I did so myself, check our other post on how to get English teaching jobs if you’ve got your eyes set on Spain) to complement your scholarship if you want to have more money to spend for travel. Just remember that you’re a scholar and you’re spending public money, so being the best student you can be should be your top priority.
Good luck and all the best!