Budget before you study abroad – Deryn Susman

Alright kiddies, time for some serious life advice:

Budget before you study abroad.

Budget before you study abroad.


I have always sucked at budgeting, mostly because I have always been lucky enough to not need to worry about it. I had a paying job from the time I was 13, and although I did not make a lot of money with it, my family covered enough of my expenses, that I was able to make the most out of what I had. I learned a lot of independent money sense, but I also always had a safety cushion. So I grew up in a world where I didn’t need to learn to make a pen-and-paper monthly budget, and the few times I did, I stressed myself out so much, that I quickly gave up the task. I always somehow made it work, even if I didn’t think I would be able to (and most of the time, I made it work independently, too).

So when the time came for me to study abroad – aka 5 months of my life with high spending and zero income – I knew I had enough money to live comfortably and fit in some travel. However, I procrastinated budgeting. I excused myself at first because I felt like it didn’t make sense to budget before I came. How was I supposed to predict the price of milk? Then I got here, and for the first 2 weeks (month if we are being honest), I let myself have free reign so I could get “settled”. In reality, I just didn’t want to sit down and budget for myself.

February came around, and I finally sat myself down, so I could plan how much I could spend in a week, while still saving a decent amount for my first trip abroad (5 nights between Paris and Barcelona). My mistake here was planning just for one month, instead of assessing how much money I had, and breaking it up between each of the 5 months I would be in London. I do give myself credit, though: that was the only time in my life I have ever made a budget and stuck to it. I was quite proud of that.

Here we are in March, and when I sat down to do the same, I wondered how much money I would have left after the month ended. Or rather, I wondered if I would actually be able to do all of the travel that I wanted to do over the next 11 weeks. I wrote out my budget for the rest of my time in Europe, and found out that the answer was no. There was no way I would be able to afford it all, and I was heartbroken. So I slowly crossed things off of my list one at a time, until I got a number that wasn’t negative. Who cares if I am bankrupt by the time I get back to America? That is what summer jobs are for, right? Plus, now I know how to not only write a monthly budget, but stick to it as well – a skill that will last me a lifetime.

Four Things To Do For Your Budget Before Studying Abroad

  1. Make a list of all of the things you may want to do, and price them out. This list won’t be perfect, of course, but it will at least give you an idea of your estimated leisure spending.
  2. Then, try to estimate how much you want to spend on groceries this week. Look up how much you will be spending on transportation each week. Research a phone plan. Try to pinpoint any possible cost that you may regularly foresee. Put that down on your list of leisure spending. I find Googling “average cost of a day in _____” to be very helpful in finding numbers.
  3. Write it out – whether on paper or on your computer, make sure all of your numbers are written down, and that you have plenty of leeway for all of those expenses you haven’t thought of yet. Determine your monthly allowance, and if your numbers are looking a bit tight, it is time to start crossing things off your leisure list. You can always add them back later.

Other Resources

  • BUDGET + FREE PRINTABLE, FOR BEGINNERS: Alice Bolt writes a great article on real life savings, especially with tackling debt. It is not super applicable to most study abroad students who do not have an income, but she has a great printable worksheet that may be a useful first step.
  • HOW TO CREATE A BUDGET: A 6-STEP GUIDE: I found Natalie Bacon’s 6-step guide to be incredibly useful when creating my first budget. Just instead of calculating your monthly income, determine how much you want to spend each month
  • BEST BUDGETING ADVICE FOR BEGINNERS: This article is the moral support we all need when making our first budget.


Deryn is studying abroad at Queen Mary from Wagner College, NYC, USA. 


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