How to Budget as College Student Overseas

Why do I need to budget?

As you are preparing for student life abroad, managing your money is one of the most important skills you need to learn. 

Otherwise, you could end up in unwanted or unpleasant situations by the end of the semester.

Let me give you a cold hard truth.

Budgeting sucks.

Even so as a college student.

Sure, we all want to live without money problems.

But, budgeting can save you from even more money problems.

Student loans, expensive living costs, running out of money by the end of the month.

You see where I’m going?

So, do you need to budget as a college student?


It helps you now and helps you shape healthy financial habits in the future.

Remember this when you start hating budgeting “budgeting sucks, but having no money is worse”.

How to budget for a college student

1. Have the money talk

Who is going to be your source of financial support?

Go discuss over some important details and your situation so you understand and know what to expect.

  • Talk about what expenses you might need to pay other than tuition fees.
  • Make a list of likely expenses and estimate the costs.
  • Choose a bank carefully, preferably one that offers low or no fees.
  • Find an app that can transfer your money from Indonesia to your new bank with low fee and fast delivery. It will help you save more money and time. 

Remittance apps like Transfez offers low international transfer fees up to 91% cheaper than bank fees. 

You can get your money as fast as 10 minutes. 

Perfect when you’re in an urgent situation.

2. List and overestimate your expenses

College-related expenses can give you a headache.

Especially if you underestimate your expenses.

It’s better to overestimate and end up with a surplus than scratching your head when your money can’t actually cover all your expenses.

Make sure you have listed these expenses to determine what you will spend each semester:

  • Textbooks and school supplies. 

School materials can eat up a large chunk of your budget.

Find out how much the average estimated costs for textbooks at your institution.

Don’t forget to make a budget for laptop, backpack, notebooks, printer, and any other supplies that you need.

Find out if your tuition fee has covered the fee for printing so that you don’t need to buy a printer.

  • Room and board.

Plan where you live carefully according to your needs and budget.

Compare the cost of living on your campus with meal plan versus renting an apartment and budget for groceries.

You can find a friend to rent a room for a cheaper alternative.

Make a meal plan to help cut down the grocery budget.

Use your campus facility as much as you can to help save money.

You’ve paid so much for that anyway.

So, why not use them?

  • Transportation

If you live on a campus, transportation can be cut out from your budget.

If you choose to live outside your campus, how will you go there?

By walking, biking, taking a bus, or driving a car?

Remember, if you choose to have a car, your budget might blow up.

You need to prepare for gas, maintenance, and insurance.

  • Clothing.

Make a budget to buy seasonal clothing and formal clothing for a job fair or other formal occasion.

  • Miscellaneous expenses.

Maybe you need a break.

Maybe someone invited you to a party.

Maybe you want to take a trip.

Being a college student is hard already.

Don’t make it harder.

Leave room for doing fun stuff like eating out, socialize, taking a trip, or any other entertainment that you want.

3. Track your spending

Now comes the boring part of budgeting.

Keeping track of all your expenses.

I mean, who has time right?

Between mountains of essays and stressful classes, who in their right mind would remember to keep track of their spending?

Yeah, you’re right.

But, this is your test to see if you can develop a good habit.

Track how you spend your money as soon as you use it.

Use a tracking app, excel sheet, or manually write them down on your financial planner.

Leave no room for forgetting to do it, being too lazy or too tired to do it.

4. Revisit and adjust.

As with everything in life, income and expenses can change.

Your landlord raised the rent, you received a scholarship, you needed a new laptop.

Revisit and adjust your budget accordingly.

5. Take it to the next level. 

Once you are in better financial shape, prepare for your future.

Create a plan for paying off student loans.

Create an emergency fund for bigger and urgent financial needs in the future.

How to save money for college student

1. Differentiate between wants and needs

Need means essential things and you need it to survive like food, transportation, shelter.

Want means things that increase the quality of living like travel, designer clothes, eating out, or gym membership.

Make a plan for your  wants and save up so you can buy them without hurting your budget plan.

2. Buy used textbooks

Avoid buying new textbooks if possible. 

Many local bookstores and online sources grant a discount for gently used books.

Digital copies usually cost less than physical copies.

You can also rent textbooks and return them once you finish your courses.

3. Find free food

In college, you can almost find free food all the time.

Check your campus calendar for food giveaways, parties, or any event that gives out free food.

Use this free food event to stretch out your budget even further.

4. Make a meal plan and shop accordingly

When you shop without a plan, most of the time your groceries are left wilted and rotten.

Then you order take out or eat out.

More money going down the drain.

Make a grocery budget per week or two to avoid over budget.

Make a habit of creating your meal plan based on what food you want to eat and cook that week.

Make a grocery list based on your meal plan and shop accordingly.

5. Use student discount

Small businesses and large corporations usually offer discounts for college students.

Always bring your college ID wherever you go.

Stores typically offer 10-15% student discounts.

Most online subscriptions also offer student discounts so check your deals to get the most of your money.

6. Use your college gym and library

You pay for them so use them.

No need for expensive gym membership when you are only available once a week.

Why buy movies and books when you can borrow them from your library?

Use the free wifi and free books to help with your research.

7. Sell items you don’t need

Your textbooks can be one of them.

Don’t throw or give away unwanted items.

Use your social media or any student platform to sell items you no longer need.

Extra bucks and extra space, why not?

You also save money on moving expenses with fewer belongings.

Getting in the habit of creating and maintaining the budget during college can help you manage complex finances better and easier after graduation.