An international student’s guide to managing finances

Money Management Tips for International Students

A Step by step guide to Money Management for College Students

As an international student, you should have a solid financial plan to help you manage your budget. Sometimes keeping your bank balance under control may be overwhelming. To help you, we have combined a few guidelines that will keep your bank account in a healthy state.

Before you arrive

1. Look up and apply for a scholarship.

Make sure they are available for students who are not U.S. citizens first. A scholarship is the ultimate way to cut off the tuition fee, so it’s worth trying. If you don’t receive any financial help the first time you apply, don’t give up! If you are motivated and have good grades, you have the chance to get one next time. Sign up for a newsletter, so you don’t need to spend extra time researching the best option.

2. Research and figure out your expenses.

Research the service costs in the area you’ll be living in, the room and board costs, books, university materials and other expenses, such as entertainment, sports, shopping – anything you’re likely to spend your money on. Try to estimate your expenses as precisely as possible, using online research, tips, and reviews from fellow students attending the same university. This pre-arrival research will help you to plan your budget for the moment when you arrive at the university and get an idea of the actual situation.

When you come to the U.S.

3. Make a budget.

You will probably arrive at least a week or two before your classes start, so use that extra time for setting out your budget. Once classes start, adapting to your new environment and activities may be time-consuming and may leave you with little time to address personal admin, like finance and budgets. Visit the places you have outlined in your research, check the prices and quality and see what fits you best. Consider any sorority or fraternity membership costs and ask your room-mates for advice – if they are not freshmen, their feedback may be very useful. Don’t forget to plan filing your tax return with Sprintax – you will not only save time and maintain your visa status but could also get some money back!

4. Take notes and adjust to the environment!

Make a spreadsheet with all your income and expenses. Put down anything you pay for – this is the easiest way to highlight how much you spend on unnecessary things, which you can cut down on. Try some money-saving options like buying used books, sharing meals with your room-mates and cooking some basic things. Research the student discount options – most of the restaurants, bookstores, cafes, and clothing stores offer student discounts. Don’t be afraid to ask, they have some really good offers most of the time!

5. Buy used textbooks

With student loan debt at an all-time high, the costs of new textbooks hurt even more. This year, save yourself a ton of money by buying used textbooks. A mildly beat up book will serve you as well, like a shiny new one, plus you might even find some helpful notes in it from the previous owner! You can check out: BigwordsCampusBooks, Amazon, eCampusTextbooks.com for decent second-hand books.

6. Shop for school supplies in bulk

These are the items you know you will need for at least a couple of years. At most, they are all going to be the same: pencils, paper, notebooks, etc. Buying school supplies in bulk quantities will ensure you get a great deal. Whether you get them all for yourself or take along a friend and split the costs, you will save money either way.

7. Split expenses with your friends or roommates

Need cleaning products for the bathroom? TV on the fritz? Gather your roommates and split the expense. It’s only fair, you do live together after all and your roommates probably want these things too! Not only that but going on a trip with your friends can be a great way to have a blast and split the expense too.

8. Secure yourself with an emergency fund

Start a savings account – try to set aside a bit of money each month in case of an emergency.  As an international student with your parents and friends abroad, you definitely need one. Try to save at least 10% of your ‘pleasure’ fund – entertainment, sports and other expenses that you don’t need that urgently. If you have started a job, try to put away a little extra just to be on the safe side. You never know when you may need extra money – things happen and you should be ready for an emergency situation at all times.

9. Use cash when possible

Avoid using your debit card. Paying for everything on your card makes it harder for you to keep track of your finances and easier to overspend. Withdraw the amount you plan on spending during the week and leave the debit card at home. It’s all too easy to blow the budget when you feel like there’s a seemingly endless supply of plastic money sitting in your wallet.

10. Avoid getting a credit card

One of the worst mistakes college students make is getting a credit card. While the interest rates on credit cards are reduced for students, the reality is that even still, students usually don’t make enough money to pay back their credit card bills on time. Often, they pay off the minimum amount they can while the interest piles up, meaning they end up incurring more expense in interest than what they’re actually paying off! It’s a risky business.

11. Find a job.

If you still think that you need more money or you have some free time, find a job. Different types of international student visas have different restrictions, so you should keep that in mind. If you feel confused, the International office advisors will provide you with all the information you need. There may be some good job opportunities on campus – check in with the Career center’s job board or sign up for their newsletter. The good thing about campus jobs is that the employers are flexible with the hours you can work; you can get an extra discount at the coffee shop and even read or do homework while you work at the library.

If you follow these simple rules, you will definitely do better and even become friends with your credit card balance. If we have helped you even a little, let us know! Tell us what your best tips are to manage your money as an international student!

(Last Updated: 2 Apr 2020)

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Stacy
Hey I'm Stacy! I'm dealing with US taxes and can't wait to help you prepare your tax return! I've been working with taxes for like forever, so you can totally trust my expertise. Sprintax can make things much easier for you. Check out my blog posts and feel free to ask me any questions.
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    cpa in California says:

    Amazing tips, especially the job part, If a student gets a job on campus then he/she can definitely take the advantage. Extra discounts and flexible working shifts are very helpful. Also, you don’t have to spend extra money on traveling and all. Thanks a lot for the ultimate post, being an international student it really helps.

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