Budgeting for Once in a Lifetime

Zoe Zakrzewski is a student at the Colorado State University and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Rome, Italy.

Since moving to Italy, moving meaning living here as a student for a short three months, the one aspect of this journey that has lost me countless hours of sleep is budgeting. I know. Even the word sounds like it’s trying to tell you that that $2.00 you spent on a cappuccino this morning was positively excessive. The world of personal finance abroad is never a fun topic because it is the little voice in your head that tells you there is a reality to your adventure. However, in my month of spending in Italy, I have learned some strategies for managing money while also enjoying what Rome has to offer.

The most important tip that has gotten me through this month with my budget bruised yet intact is to use cash as much as possible. Exchange rates are awful to calculate, and if you’re traveling from the United States to Europe chances are they are also sad to calculate. This is because right now every Euro is currently worth 1.16 U.S. dollars. That means that expenses add up quickly on a debit or credit card because the number you see while paying is not the number you will see on your bank statement. Using cash doesn’t take away the exchange rate, but it does make it so that there are no surprises later on. When you pay eight euros in cash there is still an exchange rate to dollars but you prepaid that when you took cash out at the ATM. The other benefit to using cash is that you only take out how much you want to spend. Then you can see how much you have left rather than blindly charging away thinking you can keep track of it in your head. Trust me: you can’t.


My view from our Tuscan picnic.

Now that we have cash in our budgeted amount, the challenge is balancing our spending so that we do have some indulgences but also so we don’t have to use the debit card three days later when the cash was supposed to last for eight days. This tip is harder to follow because it is easy to use an “I’m only here once” motto. While that may be true it just doesn’t justify spending 20 Euros on an average cappuccino and a croissant. I have found that it is best to prioritize what you want and make budgeting adjustments elsewhere.

The last budgeting tip I have learned is to get out of the box. I love to have nice slow meals, but I can’t always afford them. One of my favorite meals that I have had in Italy was a Tuscan picnic where we just stopped at a grocery store and bought meats, cheeses, fruits, and bread and then ate near the hotel we were staying in on the outer hills of Tuscany. It was 30 Euros total, fed eight people, and was delicious. I still got to have a sit down meal, but it was way cheaper. Budgeting is never fun, but with a little planning it ensures that your travels can be fun and creative without needing to empty your savings.



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