How to Make Your Dollars Stretch In India

Every Dollar Counts

Although cost of living is low in comparison to the United States, some students –especially first-generation students who come from families that are less able to assist them financially through their educational journey like my own — may still need to make their dollars stretch in India. Whether it be impending tuition payments, monthly bills, or any other kind of financial responsibility you may return to in the US, every dollar counts.Indian foodOne of the first things I noticed when I began spending money in India is that it is very easy to spend more than you intended when everything is in rupees and is seemingly less expensive. I also caught on to quite a few ways you can make your dollars stretch in India. Here they are!

Eat Smart

It can be really easy to want to go out to eat every day especially when meals end up being cheap compared to the U.S. One important thing to remember is how it all adds up in the end.The best solution to wanting to eat good, authentic Indian food without going to expensive restaurants was home restaurants and dining halls. In Pune, there are many 1-price all-you-can-eat dining halls that enable you to get a lot of food for a small price. On the Gokhale campus where we took our classes there is a small home-restaurant exclusively for students that is only ₹60 for unlimited food. That’s less than $1 USD! Be sure to ask your program staff and locals where the cheapest places to eat are.

Extra Money-Saving Food Tips

  • Parcel leftovers for another meal! Parceling food in India is equivalent to taking things “to-go” in the states and can be a great way to cut down on spending. Just be sure to be cognizant of your host family’s dietary restrictions when bringing food home. For example, I was asked not to bring anything non-vegetarian, including eggs, into my host home.
  • Split meals with friends. Many Indian dishes come in large quantities and it can be cost-effective to split food with others.
  • The Zomato app, which is similar to Yelp, is a great way to find cheap local restaurants and see reviews. It can also be a time-saver because they can deliver food from local restaurants too.

How to get around on a budget

One of the biggest factors that I had to adjust to in India was not having my car available to me whenever I needed to go somewhere. The solution to this problem was none other than rickshaws. Rickshaws are small, 3-wheeled motorized vehicles that roam the streets of India taking people wherever they need to go. They work very similarly to U.S. taxis but are much cheaper. Many rickshaw rides can be cheaper than $1 USD if you are just going around your neighborhood.

Extra Money-Saving Traveling Tips

  • Apps like Uber and Ola can still be helpful in booking rides to a specific destination or when traveling in bigger groups.
  • Many rickshaw drivers try to rip off foreigners by taking longer than usual routes or claiming they don’t have change. Don’t be afraid to map your ride and correct your driver and be assertive about receiving change either in English or in any Marathi/Hindi you know, it’ll pay off in the long run.
  • If you plan to travel while you’re abroad, sites like Google Flights, Goibibo, MakeMyTrip, and Yatra are your friends. They make it super easy to find flights to where you want to go at the cheapest prices. However, always be sure to check multiple sights to see which has the cheapest deal. Trains in India are a very convenient, inexpensive way of traveling around the country. However, be prepared to spend a significantly more time on a train than you would on a plane to the same destination and book AC 2 or AC 3 class trains to ensure a safe, comfortable trip.

Shop small, Shop local Making dollars stretch in India

While in the U.S. shopping at large retailers like Walmart and Target is usually the cheapest option, India is a little bit of a different story. Shopping at (reputable) small, roadside stores can be significantly cheaper than large malls and stores because they sometimes have pricing that is either similar or equivalent to that of the U.S. Plus, shopping small means you’re supporting local businesses which in my opinion is important, especially in India.

Extra Money-Saving Shopping Tips

  • Miscellaneous items like toiletries, hygiene products, and other household goods can be purchased cheaply at large Walmart-like stores. Big Bazaar is a chain grocery store that can be found all over India and has very good prices. They also carry many brands that you’ll find in the U.S. so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.
  • Never be afraid to bargain. Many shop workers will always give you the highest price when you ask especially when they can tell that you are not a local and may not know what you are doing. Simply suggesting a local price can be enough to save you some money.

These are just a few ways I was able to save money while studying in India. Hopefully by sharing them here future students — and specifically future first-generation students –will see studying abroad in India as a reality.
Noah Cordoba is a psychology major at North Central College and studied abroad with IFSA at the Contemporary India program in Pune, India in fall 2018. He served as an International Correspondent as a First Generation College Student