Spend Less, Save More: A Guide To Tighten Up Your Living Expenses Abroad

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Saturday-only market in Rennes is one of the most famous in France, dating back to early 17th century. (Photo by Author)
Saturday-only market in Rennes is one of the most famous in France, dating back to early 17th century. (Photo by Author)

Money is always a problem, especially when youre on your own studying abroad with new things to buy, places to be, and experiences to try. Our contributor, Hanryano, shares foolproof tips on how to save money while maintaining a good quality of life so you dont have to starve even if you want to travel to nearby countries. Because sometimes, you can have it all.

As a student, most of you deal with limited income and an endless possibility of spending. Especially when you’re studying abroad with so many new things to discover, so many interesting stuff to buy, and so many new places to be.

As a student with no monthly stipend from a scholarship, I needed to ensure that I can have a healthy life with the lowest possible expenses and still leaving the door open to travel. I was eligible to work part time but ended up not getting any. The major drawbacks were my subpar French skill and the fact that I was on an exchange program thus leaving me with a considerably limited amount of time. Hence, the option left was to manage my expenses.

Whether you do get a living allowance or struggle on your own, it’s always nice to save some money so you can indulge in the good things life has to offer, from travelling to watching concerts.

Let me give you some tips on how to cut your living expenses while maintaining good quality of life.

  1. It should start even before you leave your home: do your research!

Do your research properly about whether it’s more lucrative to get the allowance transferred to your overseas bank account or simply to withdraw the money using Indonesian debit card abroad. Choose the one with minimum charge, better exchange rate and the biggest maximum withdrawal at once. Therefore, you will be able to minimize the cost by taking the money once a month or even less frequently.

As much as you love Indomie, please don't have it every single day. (Photo from Brandcom)
As much as you love Indomie, please don’t have it every single day. (Photo from Brandcom)
  1.  Learn to cook, obviously.

Besides the obvious, I need to emphasize that what you’re cooking matters as well. Find what locals are cooking and stick to it. It’s cheaper to cook pasta with sausage in Europe rather than preparing a plate of Ayam Penyet, for instance. On top of that, most people would bring tons of local instant seasonings from Indonesia. That is a lifesaver when you are homesick and would want to cook some Indonesian dish quickly and easily while saving a bit as well with your readily-available resources.

Pro tip: If you’re an Indomie aficionado, bring just the seasonings to save space. You can use any kind of noodles you can find. You’ll thank me later.

Eating at the ESC Rennes Cafeteria apparently costs higher than in nearby state university, that's why I decided to eat elsewhere, or better, bring my own lunch. (Photo by ESC Rennes)
Eating at the ESC Rennes Cafeteria apparently costs higher than in nearby state university, that’s why I decided to eat elsewhere, or better, bring my own lunch. (Photo by ESC Rennes)

Eating at the ESC Rennes Cafeteria apparently costs higher than in nearby state university, that’s why I decided to eat elsewhere, or better, bring my own lunch. (Photo by ESC Rennes)

  1. Channel your inner ibu-ibu to find the cheapest options possible to shop or get food:

Find the cheapest to grocery shop and go there less frequently. Affordable supermarkets such as Lidl or Aldi in Europe would save you quite a lot in the long run. This holds true as well for finding a place to eat. I studied at a private university which rings expensive cafeteria. Every lunchbreak, I would take a bus one stop away to the nearby state university canteen and dine there. The cost of regular one course meal at the cafeteria is more expensive than a full three course meal in the canteen. Sometimes I even go home to cook for lunch.

  1. Dont stop at food. Do research on how to pay less for almost everything.

Take the cheapest way of living possible. For me that meant paying more upfront for a full six-month unlimited transportation. Not only it will save you bucks to splurge later, but also save you from forgetting when to top-up your card.

  1. Trust the locals, be a local.

Talk to locals to find out where to shop, where to eat, and other pro tips. It would cost you a lot when you maintain a tourist lifestyle while living abroad. Trust the locals on where to spend your money on. Nevertheless, you might find contacting a fellow Indonesian before going abroad to be practical. How would I know that the only Asian supermarket in Rennes did not have sweet soy sauce or even Indomie (YES!) and I need to buy one from the embassy with an exorbitant price. The point again is to be well-equipped and research thoroughly.

  1. Now you have the money, manage your travel budget well.

Doing the aforementioned activities sometimes leave a room to spend more on other areas, and traveling is one thing most Indonesian students long to do while pursuing their studies overseas. It depends on each person but finding yourself in a different country every weekend just because it is so easy and affordable in Europe is not recommended. Plan your travel time very well. Going abroad every week will cost your body and wallet more harm than good.

Me during student-held excursion to Chateau de Chambord in the Loire valley. (Photo by Author)
Me during student-held excursion to Chateau de Chambord in the Loire valley. (Photo by Author)

Sometimes, going to nearby cities would be a viable option. It is surely cheaper and will equip you with a better understanding about the culture. Living in Bretagne enables me to differentiate it in terms of culture and way of life with the rest of France. There is a distinct Gaelic culture that I would never going to know better had I spent every weekend hopping on the cheapest low-cost airline seat.

  1. Special addition to those studying in France: make the most of the libertéégalitéfraternité.

Accommodations can make the largest hole in your pocket. I applied for a government subsidy called CAF that works a bit like a cashback. French government would transfer me a certain amount of money to reduce the financial burden from accommodation fee. However, there are stringent criterions to be met to be eligible, starting from the type of the accommodation, rental price, etc. This is actually my lifesaver since I ended up paying less than half of the original rental cost. A more important information is you need to make sure to close down and notify CAF when you are about to move to another place or back to Indonesia. Otherwise, they will hunt you down and even put a warrant against you, should you fail to comply.

There are also other disbursements and social security programs for students in France. Just look for the ones suitable for your condition.

Now that you know how to save money, make the most of your months/years abroad. Just don’t forget your first priority should not be travelling, but doing great at school. Bonne chance!

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Hanryano works at Indonesia Financial Services Authority covering Non-Bank Financial Institutions sector. He used to work in an e-commerce company where he was familiar with warehouse management system and the growing start-up community in Indonesia. Hanryano earned his bachelor degree from Institut Teknologi Bandung majoring in Business Management with specialization in Finance and Operations. During college, he was an exchange student at ESC Rennes, France and secured funding from the Ministry of Education. His time outside work is filled with learning new subjects, traveling, and volunteering.