Racehl Bermingham, studying at the University of Tübingen, Germany
As a study abroad student, managing your money can seem complicated. Actually, as a student regardless of location money management is a daunting task, but inevitably one that has to be faced
The biggest difference for me is that last year at university in Ireland I went home every weekend - this year that’s certainly not an option. I’ve had to get used to funding the two whole extra days of food, socialising and general living that comes with being a student seven days a week. I’ve learnt it’s certainly doable if you follow a few key rules.
1) Explore your banking options - particularly if your study abroad location is a different currency to home
Germany is very useful for me because it’s in the eurozone so I don’t have to worry about constantly googling the right exchange rate and checking whether or not I’ve been ripped off. I use my Irish debit card for withdrawing money here on a regular basis as almost every transaction here is done with cash. I’m fortunate that these withdrawals don’t incur any nasty extra charges, but it’s really worth keeping this in mind if your currency is different to home.
I do however need a German bank account for my rent, taken directly from my account each month. If you have as little as 1 cent less than the required amount they won’t take your rent money, but instead will slap a late fee onto it and send you through the gruelling process of a German bank transfer. If you can get through that - trust me - you can get through anything.
My strong advice would be to research this thoroughly because it’s so important to avoid heavy bank charges for international transactions, but solutions such as TransferWise make it easier and cheaper.
2) Saving up before you choose to study abroad is a must
There are lots of big expenditures when starting a study abroad program. For me, these included registration contributions (around €85), a semester ticket for public transfer (another €85) and expenses attached to my accommodation. It all quickly adds up so having some money in the bank before the year starts can make all the difference.
3) Budget for extra spending in the first month
What is commonly overlooked at the start of term is how much money goes into socialising to make friends. It’s all well and good to have pre-drinks at your friend’s house to save money but you need to make that friend first. Budget for pub crawls, meeting up for coffee, going for lunch and so on - it quickly eats away at your bank account.
4) Be inventive to save cash on socialising
In Germany, socialising isn’t as expensive as back home in Ireland, but it still costs money. ‘Dry January’ is worth considering to save money after Christmas - you can have many cheap alternatives to going out by just having friends over to drink tea and everyone brings a snack. Even pre-drinks at home - so that you don’t have to spend lots in pubs and clubs - help you to save if you’re disciplined later in the night.
5) Ditch luxury to make the most of travel opportunities
When on your year abroad everyone expects you to have a glittering social media full of all your wonderful adventures and travels. This is easier said than done when you have exams to study for, it’s -9 degrees outside and money is dwindling rapidly from your account. But travelling while on your year abroad for me is a must, even if it means working that little bit harder to make it happen.
To make the most of travel when studying, you’ve got to ditch any notion of luxury you hanging over from family holidays! Embrace the student experience of a dorm in a youth hostel. Search as hard as you can for deals. We found a special bus ticket with Flixbus that can get us to 5 different cities for €99 spanning all of Europe. While the bus journeys are longer, it’s cheaper than the trains. Buying food in supermarkets instead of eating out for every meal goes a long way in saving money on a big trip.
A typical student is known for the constant fear of checking their bank account and trying to save in every possible way - my advice is to embrace the budget lifestyle, it’s so worth it.
Rachel Bermingham is an Irish student, currently on her Erasmus year at the University of Tübingen, Germany