Where Did All My Money Go?

Budgeting Abroad: What to expect

“This is definitely enough money. I’ll only be gone for 3 weeks.” Before I left for Italy, this is what I said to myself and I could not have been more wrong.

The Budget

When I first decided that I was going to study abroad, I created a generic budget that I thought would be sufficient for my trip. This included food, spending money, housing, and my flight. I tried to over-estimate the amount I’d need for each, so it ended up looking like this:

  • Food: $300
  • Spending money: $500 (including gifts)
  • Housing: $700
  • Flight: $1200

Budgeting for flights

The flights estimate was from me searching by myself. At the time ISA offered a service with STA* that will connect you with a booking agent who finds the cheapest and most convenient flight for your needs. The best part? They have a book now, pay later program where you can put a deposit down and pay off your flight when you can! Going through STA, I was able to save about $300 on my flight. That freed up money for other activities.

Exchange money or use bank cards? Which is best?

Once I got there, I did not have any Italian money (aka euros), so I had to use my card for every purchase until I was able to get some. Even when I was able to exchange money, I only had $105 in cash which came out to about €90 (euro). When budgeting, you definitely need to keep the exchange rate and fees in mind.

Euros’ Money exchanged into Euros

If you’re planning to use a bank card, become familiar with any foreign transaction fees your bank may have. These may not seem like a lot, but I assure you that they add up. When taking money directly out of a foreign bank, the fees and exchange rate are especially high. My best advice is to bring most, if not all your money in cash an exchange it when you get to your host country! This will save you a lot of money in transaction fees.

Make a spending plan

After you’ve determined how and when you’ll get the local currency, you will need to focus on a specific daily spending plan. Budget for lunch and dinner each day and possibly add in an activity that you want to do. Other everyday expenses you need to consider when creating this plan are:

  • Taxi/Bus/Train
  • Shopping
  • Groceries/Snacks
  • Museums/Art galleries/etc.
‘Santa Croce’ An absolutely stunning church I came upon while exploring.

Creating a daily or weekly budget will help you stay on track. This is something that I did not do and by the end of the three weeks, I was left with a much different amount than what I had budgeted for. You never know what could happen on a day to day basis so it’s best to have a plan. For example, a trip to the mall could be €4 by bus or €45 by taxi- big difference!

There are so many resources for creating a budget that works for you. Use my tips above as well as the ISA Online Orientation when you create your plan. In my experience, it never hurts to bring more than you think you will need. With these tips, you will be able to enjoy your trip without worrying about money!

*ISA now partners with StudentUniverse

Lexi Johnson is a student at McKendree University and is an ISA Photo Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Florence, Italy.

2 thoughts

  1. Good tips!
    The budget is the first thing you need to think about when you are preparing for your trip. And it is almost impossible to do the right calculation when you don’t know prices.

    1. Thanks! Exactly, the budget was the first thing I thought of when I was deciding where to study abroad. It is definitely one of the most important aspects of study abroad!

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