Saving Money While Studying Abroad

25 Apr

Studying abroad is a great educational experience, but it can be expensive. So how can a normal college student without a bankroll or a trust fund afford it? We’re not talking about tuition, visas, and round-trip travel to the study abroad location. We’re talking about the other costs–the ones you might not think about until it’s too late and you’re Skyping home to plead for more funds to eat, to travel, and to experience the culture you’re visiting. Having both studied abroad AND taught in study abroad, here are our 10 Ways to Save Money While Studying Abroad.

1. DON’T DRINK YOUR MONEY. Many students study abroad before they are of legal drinking age in the U.S., and studying abroad offers them a first opportunity to drink alcohol legally. While that may seem appealing, we cannot count the number of students we have worked with who drank up all their money in the first half of their trip, leaving no money for anything else. Drinks in European bars and clubs (in particular) are more expensive than in the U.S., so be aware and don’t end up being the one who has to stay behind on weekend travels because you spent all your cash on overpriced beer.

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Sampling those flights of English cider is tempting but pricey!


And if alcohol doesn’t tempt you, even coffee or bottled water every day or two can eat into your budget.  As our friend Cassidy, who just returned from a semester abroad in Greece, told us this week, “The small things really add up.”  Pack a French press from home, take a single serve option such as this one usually used by backpackers, or look into buying a cheap coffee maker as soon as you arrive so that you can make your own coffee.  If you’re spending even just $1 on coffee every day at a cafe for the whole semester, you’re saving yourself a lot of cash by making your own.

And fill a refillable water bottle with tap water.  In countries like Brazil or Thailand, that’s not going to be possible, but if the tap water is deemed safe, drink it.

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Tap water is FREE! Fill up whenever you can!


(BONUS RELATED TIP:  If you must buy coffee, be aware of differing prices for standing and sitting in European cafes. Yes, you read that right. Drinking an espresso while standing at the counter in Italy, for instance, costs about €1. But that same espresso can jump to €3 if you sit at a table. Stand and save yourself some money; sometimes this applies to eating in vs. carrying out food as well.)


2.TAKE ALONG A FEW CHEAP PLASTIC CONTAINERS FOR LEFTOVERS AT RESTAURANTS. Restaurants in other countries don’t always offer doggie bags, a fact we learned the hard way while living in Australia one summer. And cramming that leftover half of your wienerschnitzel into your backpack is not going to work. So carry a small plastic container with you to pack it up. Voila! Lunch or dinner the next day! Can you buy plastic containers once you arrive? Sure. But again, they cost more abroad. And besides, your mom probably has several in her cabinets (from Ziplocs to margarine tubs) that she’d be happy to donate to the cause. And once your trip ends, you can leave them behind and save luggage space because they were cheap! (Or you can pack them full of Kinder Surprise Eggs and sneak them home as gifts for friends!)


3.SHOP FOR GIFTS AT THE GROCERY STORE. One of our favorite things to bring home to our friends and family is foreign snack food. It’s cheap and interesting, and the person you’re giving it to doesn’t have to find a place to store it. Jammie Dodgers from England, Tim Tams from Australia, shrimp crackers from Japan, a can of Guarana from Brazil: items like these cost around $2 or less, a much smaller investment than t-shirts or random tchotchkes. And because they’re consumable, your friends and family won’t have to figure out what to do with them after they smile and say thank you. Another cheap gift idea: office supplies! Both Europe and Asia are home to pen and pencil manufacturers that make useful, inexpensive, easy-to-pack items you can’t find in the U.S.

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This flavor isn’t available in the U.S., so we brought some home (sealed in Ziploc bags, of course).


4.TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PURDUE MOVES SCHOLARSHIPS. If you’re studying abroad for a full semester, Purdue will give you up to $3500! And for summer programs, you can receive up to $2000! The fine print is that you must have a FAFSA on file for the current year, and you must apply for these funds BEFORE the day before you leave on your study abroad experience. In almost every case, the Purdue Moves scholarship at least pays for your plane ticket, and in some cases goes a lot further than that. There might also be scholarships at the college or department levels; the Brian Lamb School of Communication, for instance, offers its majors almost $10,000 in study abroad scholarships each year.


5.CHOOSE PATCHES RATHER THAN T-SHIRTS OR SWEATSHIRTS. You want souvenirs. We get that. So do we when we travel! Other bloggers suggest taking home postcards, menus, or other free/cheap paper items as souvenirs. And if that floats your boat, then great! But part of the fun of traveling can be coming home wearing a shirt emblazoned with the city you’ve visited so that other people can see where you’ve been. Let’s face it: when you wear a London sweatshirt, it’s not because it’s the most stylish, highest quality sweatshirt money can buy. It’s because you want complete strangers on the street back home to see your sweatshirt and think, “Ooh! That person went to London! How cool!” And while menus and postcards are cheap, they aren’t exactly enviable. So how about buying a patch at each place you visit? Europeans actually buy these as souvenirs often, so they’re super easy to find in Europe at most touristy shops, and they’re far cheaper than t-shirts and sweatshirts. Try buying a cheap fabric bag before your trip, and take it and a sewing kit so that you can sew on each new patch along the way. Instantly enviable! (And Instagrammable!)

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The bag costs less than $20 at Target, and the patches were each less than $5.


6.PACK SNACK FOODS FROM HOME. Remember, it’s the little things that add up, so bring some snack foods with you from home. Peanut butter and crackers, trail mix, and even microwave popcorn would be options to take with you. If you know you’ll have access to an oven, you could even take cookie mixes. We’ve done this many times, and our kids have even earned some spending money by selling their cookies to study abroad students who were desperate for some home-baked goodness. Can you pack enough for an entire semester and still stay within your weight limit? No. And mind you, we’re foodies, so we love trying foreign junk food and snacks; we’re suggesting this simply as a way to save cash once you’re there. And besides, if you buy them at home, there’s a good chance your parents will take you grocery shopping and not count it against your study abroad budget!

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Our daughter, Kinley, bakes cookies from a mix bought in the U.S. to sell and earn some spending money.


7.COOK AND BROWN BAG IT. In London one summer, one of our students was talking about how her simple lunch eating out while she interned cost the equivalent of $15 every day! Packing your lunch, or cooking simple food or making sandwiches, can seriously reduce your food costs, freeing up more money for travel and experiences. And besides, if you’ve gone to the trouble of taking our advice to bring along cheap plastic containers, you might as well use them.


8.WALK OR RIDE THE BUS. Public transit in study abroad locations is usually much more efficient than public transit in the midwestern U.S. But a lot of it is unfortunately underground. If you’re only traveling underground, you miss out on opportunities to really see your study abroad city. Buses are usually a little more difficult to figure out, but they allow you to see the territory you’re covering. And for shorter distances, consider walking to take in the life of your adopted city–if you’re only going 2 or 3 stops, walking might actually be just as fast as a subway, and it’s free to boot.

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9.BE OPEN TO TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES THAT WEREN’T NECESSARILY ON YOUR LIST. It’s great to have a plan for the places you want to visit from your study abroad location on weekends and travel breaks. But leave some flexibility in your schedule to follow cheap deals that you learn about after you arrive. From Italy, for instance, we were able to visit Morocco and the Canary Islands much more cheaply than some of the higher-profile destinations we had been thinking about before we arrived. And we wouldn’t trade those experiences! The places your classmates arrange might give you new ideas that are worth following.

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Our side trip to Morocco from our study-abroad location in Italy was one of the most memorable of our lives!


10.ASK LOCALS FOR MONEY-SAVING TIPS. Guide books and program leaders are helpful, but it’s also helpful to strike up conversations with people who live where you’re studying. They often have insight into the best way to maximize your money on public transportation, free days at museums, or discounted day seats for the theater. One of the benefits of spending weeks or months in the same place is that you aren’t in as much of a hurry as the casual tourist; you have the luxury of time to figure out how to get the deals and then maybe spend a little time standing in line for them to leave more money in your pocket. For example, once when we were living in London for summer study abroad, we learned that a popular tourist attraction offered discounted tickets to locals. The catch was that you had to provide your local address and apply for the tickets more than a month in advance.  We did that and scheduled our visit for our last week in town – just outside the month window – saving ourselves quite a bit of cash.

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Our family waits in line before the box office opens for cheap day seats to see War Horse in London.


Studying abroad doesn’t have to be expensive. Taking advantage of some of these tips will allow you to fully experience your study abroad city and nearby travel destinations without breaking your budget.



Thank you to our guest bloggers:

Josh Boyd, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Brian Lamb School of Communication

Gina Boyd, 4th/5th grade teacher, Mayflower Mill Elementary

Josh and Gina have worked with study abroad in the U.K. and Italy, and they have taught English on mission trips through Let’s Start Talking in Ukraine, Japan, Brazil, Malaysia, Fiji, and Thailand. Gina writes a travel blog called “My Traveling Shoes Are High Heels,” available at

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