Personal Finance
Nov 11, 2020

Managing your finances when studying abroad in the US 

If you’re studying abroad in the US this semester, you’ve probably got a huge amount to think about. You’ll need to settle into your dorm, tackle a massive pre-term reading list and meet a ton of new people – not to mention staying in touch with friends back home.

With all the excitement of the new semester, managing your student finances may be the last thing on your mind. But a little work sorting out a student bank account and budget now will make your time studying in the US a lot more relaxing – and a lot more fun. 

Wondering where to start? Just follow our seven simple tips for getting your student finances in tip-top shape. 

1. Get a US-dollar bank account or credit card

Accessing money while studying in the US can get super expensive. Most banks tend to whack huge fees on top of foreign transfers and cash withdrawals, meaning your money won’t stretch as far as it should. And with the need to pay student loans and rent and receive funding in dollars, securing a US-dollar bank account is an absolute necessity.

The problem is, many US banks ask you to have a Social Security Number before offering you an account, and most credit card companies require a good US credit score

To get around this, we recommend getting an account that’s designed for people studying abroad in the US, like Sable Card. You just need your passport and a valid visa, and you’ll have access to dollars in minutes. You can even transfer money from your home bank account to Sable at the current exchange rate using TransferWise: check out our ‘How-To’ guide to find out how.

2. Set a monthly budget 

When studying abroad in the US, it can be hard to get a clear picture of how much money you have. You’ll probably pay a big lump sum for your tuition fees and receive any funding or loans at the start of each semester or year. So how much do you really have to spend?

To avoid confusion, create a budget that works out your expenses on a monthly basis. As debt advice service Money Management make clear, there several ways to do this: you could create a vague ‘big picture’ budget sketching out your income and expenses, or you could get hyper-detailed and plan for every dollar of spending or saving. 

Whichever way you prefer, the important thing is that you have a clear picture of incomings and outgoings every month. $10,000 in savings may sound like a lot, but over the course of a year, that’s only around $830 or so every month for rent, books and food. If you’re not sure where to start, there are a huge number of great budgeting apps currently on the market that should make budgeting and managing student finances a doddle.   

3. Research financial support schemes

As an international student studying in the US, you may think you’re not entitled to much financial support – but that’s simply not true. With a little bit of research, you may find out about scholarship and prize schemes aimed precisely at you!

Keep an eye out for competitions like Sable’s Wilen-Qureshi Scholarship Award, which ran this year and offered up to $1,000 in prize money for international students. A lot of people studying abroad in the US aren’t aware of what’s out there, so the competition for scholarships might be smaller than you think. 

4. Pay rent and tuition fees on time 

Unless you’re a multi-millionaire in the market for a Ferrari, your biggest outlays while studying in the US are likely to be tuition fees and rent. It’s important to pay both of these things on time to avoid serious penalties like the cancellation of your enrolment at the college. 

When setting up a budget for the year, prioritize tuition and rent, and make sure you set aside money for those crucial outlays before spending on anything else.  

5. Consider a part-time job on campus 

If you’re having trouble managing your student finances and feel like money is always tight, consider getting a part-time job. Under current visa rules for international students, you can generally only take jobs on-campus – working up to 20 hours a week during term time, and 40 hours a week during the holidays.

Look out for “Staff Wanted” signs in your on-campus café, book shop or canteen. Working a few hours at the weekend can add a much-needed boost to your income, giving you spare cash for socialising or buying course materials. 

6. Track your spending

In an ideal world, you’d set up a budget and your student finances would be sorted. In reality, life always gets in the way – so it’s a great idea to track your spending to see how it measures up against your budget.

It’s possible to do this manually with an Excel spreadsheet or notebook, or you can link up your bank account to money-management apps like Mint or Clarity Money. Alternatively, credit cards like Sable track everything for you automatically. By opening the Sable app, you can easily see how much you’ve spent, what you’ve spent it on, and how much of your balance you have left. Easy!

7. Work out where you can cut costs 

Studying abroad in the US can get expensive, but with some money-saving know-how, you can always cut costs. Once you’ve got your budget and know what you’re spending, look at your major outlays. Are you spending a fortune on books? Are food costs adding up? Is your bar tab higher than it should be? (Don’t worry, we’ve been there!)

If you don’t have a pre-paid meal plan on campus, it could be cheaper to cook in your dorm. International stores selling pulses, grains, canned food and vegetables can be an affordable way to stock up on essentials - and if you’re not a great cook, the internet is your friend. You can find thousands of blogs and vlogs online that’ll give you easy, nutritious recipe ideas fit for a student budget. 

For books, we recommend scouring online thrift-stores like Ebay and ThriftBooks where you can pick-up second-hand texts at a fraction of the cost. Your college may even have a Facebook group where students sell the coursebooks they don’t need anymore. 

And whether it’s learning basic bike maintenance or beginner sewing skills, getting some practical know-how could end up being a lifesaver.

Seeking out bargains and cutting costs can actually be kind of addictive and fun. So just get creative! With your finances all in order, you’ll be set up for an incredible year studying abroad in the US. 



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