During the first semester I keep a detailed account of everything I spent – literarily everything. At the end of each day I would record all spending for the day on a excel spreadsheet; I even organized the day-to-day expenditures into categories such as food, phone, travel, textbooks, durable items, recreation etc. This made me completely aware of what I was spending, and where.
With data from a couple months I found that on average I was spending about $9 - $12 dollars/day – in Singapore. (This amount excludes accommodation and transport to school, but includes two food court meals a day.) For a while after that I tried to pull it down to $7 on an average day. I know a few of my classmates were able to have lower spending figures.
Then all this data collection and analysis became too much effort. I had a good sense of my spending. So with a target figure of no more than $10 a day on average, I felt my way: If I over spent one day I would try to save the next. At the end of each month I would look at my bank statement to estimate the amount that I had spent for the month and understand whether I was on target or if I needed to spend less.
Here are some other tips with you may pick and choose from. Some of these are more applicable to certain cities than others.
- Don’t drink and don’t smoke. If you must, this may lead you to compromise on food spending; this compromise might be okay once in a while, but eating healthy is important.
- Find ways in which you can dramatically reduce spending for a short period if necessary: instant noodles, homemade sandwiches, cheap cereal etc.
- As a guy, there is no need for a large wardrobe; within reason, be content with the clothes that you have. A good idea is to do your shopping in the States before heading into unknown territory.
- Search for free events and things to do. A walk in the park with a book is a nice Saturday activity. In Singapore there is a free monthly classical concert at the Esplanade if this interests you.
- If you have to pay for gym membership, substitute running and stationary stretches/exercises for gym – not in Dubai. If you live within reasonable distance from campus, walk rather than bus. A 30 minute walk twice a day is good for you. Also walk to and from the store.
- Share textbooks with a classmate. Buy second hand textbooks and sell them after you’ve finished with them. Gumtree.com is a great site for this.
- Find a cheap recreational hobby to occupy your time with: video games / reading of library books / exploring a musical instrument you can find on campus.
- In Australia particularly, always have a good stock of food from the grocery store so that you don’t need to use the school canteen/corner store unnecessarily. Always have at least two snack bars in your bag. (You don’t need the nutrition bars, just the cheap granola stuff to ease hunger until you reach home.)
- Reward yourself: Have a cheap way to remind yourself that you are doing well with your budget. For me in Singapore this was a Bubble Tea.
- Keep an eye on those slightly bigger expenses: A restaurant dinner might throw your budget off for the week. This does not mean that you should deprive yourself, just realize what you can and cannot do on your budget. One way to manage this is to build in a bit of slack by spending well within your target budget so that you can treat yourself when the opportunity arises.
- Let your classmates know that you are living on a tight budget. They will understand and this will give you a legitimate excuse for not going out every Friday night.
~ Jeremy Lynch, GBBA10