There's nothing more exhilarating and nerve-wrecking than going abroad to study (other than a roller-coaster ride, maybe). Suddenly, for the first time ever, you're thrust into a foreign country with your parents miles away, and left to fend for your own.
Even if you have your school fees covered by a scholarship, or managed to get a work-study visa that allows you to take on a part-time job to earn a bit of money over there, the cost of living in countries like Australia or Ireland does not come cheap.
So how do students studying in overseas universities save money? Here are 12 top tips that may help you save a bit of dough:
1. Cut out vices
Yes yes, we get that you're finally tasting freedom. But all that smoking and binge drinking is not only damaging to you in the long run, but terrible for your bank account too. Set limits to how much alcohol to consume in a week, and stick to it. And bum a cig if you have to, etiquette be damned.
2. Buy or rent used textbooks
Don’t buy books you will only need for a short period of time – check them out from the library instead, or buy them from seniors that have no need for them anymore. If you really must make those big ticket purchases, sell last semester’s books back.
3. If you have a credit card, pay it off asap
Always pay bills on time to avoid late fees. Be late even once, and some credit cards' interest rates can go as high as 24% or higher! Take note of your credit card billing cycle so you'll know whether you need to pay at the end of the month, or at the start of the month, and can set aside money for paying off your charges.
It's also good to remember exactly when the last bill payment day is. If that day falls on a public holiday (or any non-banking day), you'll know that the payment needs to be in on the working day before that.
4. Give yourself a weekly limit on the number of times you eat out
A recent poll among Americans revealed that eating out is the number one cause of personal debt! That doesn't mean it's cup noodles for dinner the entire semester, but If you eat out, take steps to stretch your meals as long as possible to save money. Split the meals, keep the “liao” and cook rice yourself. For example, if you buy chicken parma and it’s a big piece, split it into two and “dabao”. You can also invest in a heated lunchbox to store these cooked leftovers.
5. Shop at places that offer student discounts.
There are so many places that offer discounts to students with a school ID. Websites like myunidays.com offer 10-30% discount off shopping, food and even music. If you'e intending to do some sightseeing (you're in a new country, you totally should!), make use of your student ID to get tickets for shows, transportation and tours on the cheap too.
6. Make your own coffee/tea
If you are one of those people that need a caffeine fix every morning, invest in a good flask and make your own coffee or tea. While coffee shops like Starbucks or one of those hipster cafes are convenient and cool, they charge hefty prices that can really add up over time. If all else fails, you can use this calculator to calculate how much those cups of coffee are costing you. You may just scare yourself into saving some money.
7. Shop at farmers' markets instead of the supermarket
Buying fresh produce from the supermarket? It's a HUGE rip off. Getting your produce from the farmers' markets can save you up to 40% off your budget for meals. Chances are you’ll meet plenty of bona fide producers at your local market too, and they can offer tips on how best to prepare and your fresh produce for yummy meals.
8. If you have to shop at the supermarket, up your kiasu level!
Most supermarkets usually give discounts for their items after 6pm. This mainly happens for food items. As the night progresses, the discount increases - for example from 20% at 6pm to as much as 50% at 10pm. Depending on your ability to snatch that heavily discounted sushi before other like-minded foreign students do, you can save a lot of money this way. And of course, the golden rule: Never go shopping when you’re hungry.
9. Exercise at the campus gym or outdoors
Instead of signing up for a gym membership (which can be costly and also cause you to spend money on a monthly basis if you get on an instalment plan), work out at the campus gym instead. Many colleges offer memberships for free or at a reduced rate for students. Better yet, you get to work out with your buddies and get that added peer motivation to sweat harder.
10. If you're driving, save on petrol as much as possible
Considering how ridiculously expensive owning a car is in Singapore, one of the luxuries of studying overseas is renting a car and driving for cheap. Learn to monitor price fluctuations of the petrol kiosks around your campus or apartment. They usually occur in a weekly pattern, so note the pattern and keep pumping when the price is low. You can also look at supermarket receipts for extra points/coupons for petrol.
11. Sell what you don't use or need
There are plenty of secondhand stores and websites, like Craigslist, where you can sell your used clothing, furniture or tech stuff. You can even organise a dorm flea market or swap meet, where residents of the same residence can sell or barter their used goods.
12. Most importantly... GO TO CLASS
You’re paying for it and skipping is like throwing money out the window!