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Save Money Abroad: Living on a Budget Without Raiding Your Piggy Bank

Living on a budget, save money and enjoy a good life – all at once! You think that’s not possible? I say it is. Here’s how you can get there.

Poor you… I’m really sorry that you’re reading this right now… “Huh? What? Are you serious?” Well, as you stumbled over this article, it means that you have financial problems. Or at least you think you'll have some as soon as you move abroad. So, you see, I’m sorry for this. Not having enough money to live a careless life is everything but a nice feeling, I know what I’m talking about. You must count every cent you’re spending and make too many sacrifices. How is it even possible to enjoy your life in a new city like this? Well, keep reading and you will know ;).

What are the reasons for a tight budget?

There are plenty reasons why people don’t have enough money once they’ve moved abroad. Are you considering moving to Paris and do an internship in a young start-up? First of all, congratulations! Working in Paris or any other metropole in Europe is an amazing opportunity. Still, you can imagine that you won’t make a fortune. Although internships must be remunerated in most countries, in many big cities the salary will be barely enough to pay your rent. And if somehow you are confronted with sudden unexpected expenses or want to buy birthday or Christmas presents, you catch yourself questioning all your life decisions, because you have no idea how to handle the situation without asking your parents for money.

I must admit, the reasons mentioned above are rather short-term ones, and you'll overcome them somehow. Nevertheless, in my opinion it may actually “save your life” to start managing your expenses early enough and keep doing it on a long term. Once you’ve mastered the art of living on a budget, you’ll be able to pay your monthly living expenses – like rent and food –, some after works, all the presents for your family and friends, and will still be able to save money! Are you curious? Let’s see how it works.

How to start living on a budget?

As usual, the beginning is always the most difficult part. Planning and organising yourself will be a challenge, but in the end, you’ll see that it was worth the effort. To make it a little bit easier, here are the main steps you should follow:

living on a budget

Create a budget

To figure out how to win the fight, you should know your enemy. Maybe in our case it’s not really an “enemy”, but you must answer one important question first: What is a budget? According to the Cambridge Dictionary – yes, I’m using an actual definition here –, a budget is “the amount of money you have available to spend”. This means, to create a budget you must know how much money you need for what. To find out how much you spend every month on groceries, after works, hobbies, etc., start with tracking your expenses. You’ll have to learn how to separate your budget into fix costs, savings, and even variable expenses. Once this is done, it’s important to stick to the budget you chose!

Set up several bank accounts

To make sure you only use the budget you’ve planned for certain expenses, split your income on several bank accounts. There will be one where you put the money for fix expenses like your rent or phone bill. The second one will be for food, drinks, etc. – let’s call it everyday life. And the last one is for your savings. The card for this account should not be in your wallet, but save at home, so you’re not tempted to use it.

Follow up with your expenses

It’s important that you track your expenses. In the beginning you won’t know how much money you spend on groceries, as in your new city things might be a lot more expensive or even a lot cheaper than at home. Keep an eye on what you spend per week and adjust your budget if you realise that it’s not working. Of course, there’s no need to do this forever. After a while you will know how much you need for everything, so you can stop the detailed tracking.

It doesn’t sound so hard, right? And it isn’t. The only thing is: if you want to create a budget, you need money that you can spend. So, let’s look at some money saving ideas next.

Tips for living on a budget

If you haven’t decided on a destination yet, the first thing you should do is to check for the cheapest countries to live and work. The cheaper the city, the higher your budget after paying all the fix costs. This is for sure the best way to save money. It’s not hard to imagine that living on a budget in NY or London is different from staying in Albacete (and probably you don’t even know this tiny Spanish city). When you move to a small city your living costs will be much lower than in a metropole, but if you dream of moving to Paris, Munich or Barcelona, you will have to make compromises. Here are the promised money saving tips:

save money abroad

Check for help from the state

In some countries you have the possibility to ask the state for money to help you paying your rent if you have a low income. In France, for example, you can get help from the CAF (caisse d'allocations familiales). I don’t know any intern who didn’t get it after applying. The only thing is, that you need a French phone number and a French bank account. But taking into consideration that you’ll have almost 200€ more per month is totally worth the paperwork, don’t you think?

While looking for accommodation, you need to make sure your landlord will sign the CAF papers for you!

Compare several supermarkets

Every city has supermarkets that are either more or less expensive. This is one of the things you should find out during your first week abroad. Maybe you belong to the group of people who like to buy their groceries in bio markets which tend to be more expensive than discounters, so this could be the first step to take. If you don’t want to change your lifestyle you can still save money by buying only seasonal products.

The non plus ultra advice: buy fresh vegetables and fruits at the weekly market. Be opened on what to buy and look for daily promotions. It’s incredible how much money you can save.

I nearly forgot about mentioning the app Too Good To Go. Especially in big cities you will have an incredible range of restaurants, supermarkets and bakeries that give away products for little money instead of throwing them away.

Change your habits

our life on a budget

I won’t ask you to completely change your life, don’t worry. But there are some aspects that you will barely notice until you see how much money is suddenly left at the end of the month.

  1. You used to live alone or in the city centre before moving abroad? Maybe it’s time to try a shared flat or move outside the city.
  2. Cook at home instead of going out every day.
  3. Change from beer to wine or the other way around. Depending on the country you move to, one is always cheaper than the other.
  4. Instead of going out for drinks, lunch, etc. with your friends visit a free museum or go for a walk.
  5. Take the bike to go to work (in summer) instead of buying a transportation ticket every month.

Earn some extra money

Finally, there are many possibilities to earn some extra money when starting your life abroad. English-speaking expats, for example, can have a babysitting job in the evening or on weekends. There are always families looking for native English conversation teachers or nannies. You can sign up on speaking-agency if you are interested in working with children.

If you have a hand for creative writing, translating, photography, and so on, you can raise your income by doing a bit of freelancing. The nice thing about freelance work is that you can always decide whether you have time to take the job or not, so you’re super flexible.

Okay, I think this should be enough. I hope I could help you a little bit. Also, I want to be honest with you: probably you won’t live a “fabulous” life on a budget, but I don’t think this is what you need. Living a careless one should be enough for the beginning. As soon as you finish your internship or studies and start earning a regular salary, things will change, and you will appreciate the opportunities you’ll have even more. So, what do you think? Are you ready to start the adventure of living and working abroad ?

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