Budget Tips

Traveling is all about the money. We all know it, which is why so often are our plans limited to what’s a two-hour drive away. Everyone has a different budget. That is to say, some of us can rely on stable jobs to keep the cash flowing, while other less fortunate souls have to suck up to our parents for enough moola to see a movie with the gang on Saturday night. I have to say that I fall into the latter category. Everything I do is definitely at the mercy of my mother’s wallet or my dad’s good will. That being said, how does one plan for a life abroad, money-wise?

Planning helps. A lot. I’m not saying a day-to-day plan, but just a general overview of how much money should be allotted per week or month will keep the bank account happy and hopefully stable. At the very least the plan should get you through your time spent abroad, if not with a bit of buffer money left over when you get home. For example: if your mum’s given you $10,000 for a year-long excursion, how do you divy that up? There are many factors to take into account. Since I’m headed to Florence with Imaginary-Mum’s money, we’ll be using that location as the basis for our divy-ing.

First of all: currency. The dollar is no longer the “might dollar.” Conversion rates can be pretty crappy, so in all likelihood, that $10,000 is not actually worth €10.000. It’s more like €7.500-€8.000. Or, going for accuracy with the current conversion rate of $1.00=€.695, $10,000 today is worth €6.954. Suddenly, all that money Mum gave me doesn’t seem like very much.

Academic standard year for Palazzo Rucellai is 30 weeks, including fall and spring breaks. Food is on you. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, bars, and midnight snacks are all out of pocket. All those lavish Italian restaurants you see on the silver screen are definitely out of price range. Maybe just once, for a really special occasion, but certainly not every weekend like you so idealistically planned it. Looks like there are a lot of cheap meals in your future, but how do you set that up for your wallet? ATMs usually only dispense €300 per day, so if we’re smart, we can make that €300 go a long way. Say, two weeks? Lots of cheap meals.

What’s cheap in Tuscany? Pasta, certainly. Fresh, seasonal veggies from the local marketplaces are a good buy, too. Bread from that panaderia down the street smells great every time you pass by on the way to school. Toast, pasta, and salad. Three cheap and easy meals for every day. Granted, you’ll get bored of that soon, so good thing you’re gonna be around for a long time. You can snif out the cheapest grocery stores and invent a few cost-effective meals during your stay. That, and the Food Network website is always helpful. So is that little old Italian lady living next door. Moral: use the sources around you. So long as you make an honest effort at speaking the language, people are willing to give you a little help.

So, you’ve given yourself €300 every two weeks for food. Already that’s €4.500 of your budget gone, give or take a couple hundred if you really pinch or really splurge. You’re left with €2.454 for shopping, travel, and other expenses. That’s fine, right? Plenty for that nice jacket you saw in the store window the other day and a weekend trip to Rome with some girlfriends. Not bad for a student, huh?

Oh wait. You’re a student. Meaning you have textbooks and school supplies to pay for. We all know how the prices of textbooks can range. A friend of mine once shelled out over $200 for an engineering book, and that was for only one class! So, let’s put aside maybe €300 for textbooks and school supplies. You’ve read your course syllabi and none of the book listings are up, but €300 should be enough as a tentative cost measure. Ah, but there might be some out-of-class excursions to go on, and those cost money too.

So much for having all that cash, right?

Budgeting is hard. I remember thinking that all the money my parents gave me the first semester of college was going to go to good use, and I’d definitely have more than half of it left for winter break and Christmas presents. Boy was I wrong. It’s hard to keep track of money on a card and so easy to part with it when bills are in hand, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to be mindful of the important things. A new wardrobe has to take back seat to eating for a week, even though the new collection looks really great on me, and a chance to see my favorite band might be out of the question when I have a mandatory school excursion to go on the next day. It’s really all about perspective. Do I want to starve but look pretty? Do I want to fail a class but see one of the best concerts of my life?

. . . budgeting is hard.

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