5 Common Money Mistakes Students Make Overseas (And How To Avoid Them)

By Tao Ming Hui

Exchange programs, summer schools and cultural immersions have become increasingly popular among Singapore tertiary students. Around 8 in 10 NUS undergraduates study abroad in over 300 partner universities. SMU and NTU have expanded their overseas entrepreneurship programs the past two years, and half of Nanyang Polytechnic students go on overseas exchange programs.

While an overseas experience is priceless, it can be extremely pricey for your wallet. Here are the common money mistakes students make while studying abroad, and how to avoid them.

#1 Buying All Your Textbooks at the Campus Bookstore

Growing up in Singapore, many of us are used to getting textbooks from our school bookshops. University textbooks can be very expensive. Moreover, some professors don’t even use the textbooks for their modules, leaving students with hundred dollars worth of untouched books at the end of the semester. For exchange students in particular, lugging heavy textbooks home could incur additional baggage fees as well.

Once you get the book list, avoid being kiasu” and buying the books right away. You should wait a few days into class to check with the professor if the book is mandatory for class to make an informed decision.

If you decide to buy, know that school bookstores have a monopoly over textbooks, allowing them to charge exorbitant prices. Many books actually have free or cheaper PDF versions online. Amazon Textbooks also rent textbooks for reasonable prices.

Alternatively, you can always borrow textbooks from the school library or other public libraries. Loan periods are relatively long and you could renew when your loan period is up. Buying second hand textbooks from school Facebook groups, or getting PDF versions from your seniors are other alternatives as well.

#2 Not Tracking How Much You Spend

As an international student, it can be tiring always be multiplying or dividing what you see to get the price in SGD. Without proper planning, it is easy to spend a ton on small items without noticing.

Discounts and sales are a huge thing both in the US and the UK. Subscribe to student-friendly newsletters such as studenthut and studentbeans in the UK, or Dealsea and Couponcabin in the US. The honey chrome extension also allows you to get immediate coupon discounts upon checkout.

Also, waiting for seasonal sales like Black Friday to buy things you want (but don’t need) is a great strategy. Be sure to track of your spending using a tracking app so you’re conscious about your spending.

#3 Paying Tuition by International Wire

Paying university fees can be a confusing process. Schools usually request students to pay bills using international wire transfer or credit cards. Try to avoid using using wire transfers, which charge up to 5% of the transaction amount. So if you are paying $60,000, the fee you’ll be pay is $3,000.

Instead, you can apply for a local bank account once you reach and transfer money into that bank account to save on transaction costs. A local bank account is really useful for other reasons too. In the US, online stores usually only accept US credit cards, and popular social payment apps like Venmo also only accept US credit cards.

#4 Not Being Aware of Foreign Exchange Rates

Foreign currency exchange rates fluctuate daily. When you’re transferring monthly allowances for living expenses, being aware of and taking advantage of favourable exchange rates can save you hundreds of dollars.

Obviously, you will be exposed to the spread and fees by the bank, but having a rough idea when is a decent time to be sending money over can pay off. You can use websites like Yahoo! that has daily exchange rates for most currencies. This way, you’ll be getting the most value out for your dollar.

#5 Eating Out for Every Meal

One of your biggest expenses come from food. In many popular study abroad destinations, dining out is typically more expensive than in Singapore. Adding tips to every restaurant meal just makes it worse. Tipping is a minimum 15% in the US and with additional taxes, it can drive up your expenses.

You can avoid this by sharing groceries among your roommates and cooking regularly instead. This way, you get to create memories of be huddling around a hot pot of Laksa on a snowy day, or learning a native dish from your new friends!

This article was first published over at the Dollars And Sense blog on 26 January 2018. It is reproduced with permission.


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