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How to Balance Finances at Home While Studying Abroad

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Studying abroad is expensive; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Many people are able to finance their trips through financial aid, scholarships, savings, and even loans from Mom and Dad. But how are people with little to no income, who also have financial responsibilities at home, able to afford such a trip? I, myself, am considered to be a non-traditional student because I am above the average age for a study abroad student (thirty-three years old at the time of my trip) and I have many financial obligations that younger students don’t yet have, such as monthly rent, utility bills, insurance and credit card payments, pet care, and the list goes on.
While saving and budgeting for a semester abroad is extremely useful, it’s not always feasible, especially when both you and your partner are in school and only one of you works part time. So how can a person stay afloat financially both at home and abroad? Of course, everyone’s financial situation will be different, but I have outlined three key elements that have helped me during my trip.

1. Communication

In order to maintain your finances and stay in the black you must develop strong lines of communication between you and your partner back home. Being open and honest with each other about your expectations and concerns will allow you to navigate your financial obligations successfully. Don’t just talk about bills though; consider the little things each of you will spend money on because it all adds up – like going to see a movie or ordering out. Once you’re abroad, it’s important to keep those lines of communication open, so set aside a specific time when both of you are available to discuss each month’s bills. This will help you stay on top of any unexpected expenditures. If or when either of you needs extra money, let the other person know so that money can be moved around and you can avoid overdraft fees. Keeping your lines of communication open will create less financial tension, and you’ll be able to focus on a plan that prioritizes your bills and expenditures.

2. Plan Ahead

Discussing your financial priorities is the start to creating a plan you can both stick to while abroad. Make a list ranking your most important bills to your least important expenditures. This will give you an idea of how much needs to be allocated towards bills each month, and where you will need to stretch your dollars. Before you leave, try to set aside the money you will need in order to pay your most important bills. If that’s not feasible, work out a schedule with your partner so you know when to expect money coming in and money going out of your bank accounts. This will ensure things get paid on time. While studying abroad you may be in a completely different time zone than your partner, so set reminders on your phone for when bills are due and you’ll be able to stay on top of your finances.

3. Contingency Plans

It’s always important to discuss and plan for unexpected situations. What happens if the car needs a new battery or is in an accident? What happens if a child or pet gets sick and needs medical attention? What if your laptop gets broken or stolen while you’re abroad? All of these things, and many others, could happen and might ruin your financial strategy unless you create a contingency plan. Having a plan B can make a difference in deciding whether to eat out, or eat at all, while you’re abroad. Emergency credit cards are a good way to pay for the unexpected, but make sure you read the fine print. Many credit card companies charge exchange rate fees, so it could end up costing you more if you use it in your host country. In extreme circumstances you may be able to rely on your family for help. They may be able to lend you money, but it’s important to talk with them about it beforehand. Let them know that they are your backup plan while you’re away.
Saving and budgeting your money are primary ways to finance a study abroad trip, but that might not always be feasible if you’re traveling on little to no disposable income. It’s important to communicate with your partner about financial priorities, while at home and abroad, create a primary financial strategy, and have a backup plan for emergencies. Studying abroad is definitely expensive, but with these three elements it can make it more attainable. You don’t have to be rich to study abroad, you just have to be strategic in your financial planning.
Sarah Adkins is a Cultural Anthropology major at Oregon State University and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Otago in New Zealand during fall of 2018. As a first generation student, she received the IFSA First Generation College Student Scholarship