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Budgeting as an International Student in America

When you come to the USA as an international student, one thing that is sure to be different from your home country is money! Some things will be more expensive than they were at home, and some things will be cheaper. As you get used to the changes, it will be helpful to keep a monthly budget to make sure that you are not spending more money than you have.

When making a monthly budget, the first step is to assess how much money you currently spend each month and what you spend it on. Once you know that, you can make a plan for how much money you want to spend on different things each month, and then do your best to stick to the plan!

So what might you spend money on? Here are some common categories that college students spend money on:

  • Food
    Eating on campus, cooking at home, eating at restaurants
  • Fun/Entertainment
    Going to the movies, going out with friends
  • Rent
    Money you pay for your apartment or dorm room
  • Utilities
    Electric bill, water bill, natural gas, internet, cable TV
  • Cell Phone
  • Transportation
    Car insurance, car, gasoline, bus pass, Uber fares
  • Travel
    Trips during school vacations, trips home
  • Clothing
  • Furniture and home supplies
  • Unexpected expenses
    Medical expenses, new computer, car repairs

One easy way to track your spending is by using a phone app like Dollarbird or Mint. If you don’t want to use an app, you can just track your spending for a month with a pen and paper. If you are spending at a good level, keep it up! Try to keep spending the same amount in future months. If you feel that you are spending too much, try to reduce your spending in the categories that are more flexible.

Here are some final tips for managing your money as a college student in the USA:

  • Cook at home whenever possible. In the USA, it is almost always cheaper to shop at the grocery store and cook meals at home compared to buying food at a restaurant. If possible, cook a lot of food on the weekends and bring it with you to campus.
  • Set aside money for emergencies. Medical costs in the USA can be very high compared to other countries. Even with insurance, you could have to pay from $500 – $1000 for a visit to an emergency room. If you are sick, try to visit a doctor on campus first, which will be much cheaper.
  • Purchase comprehensive car insurance if you have a car. Many international students are new drivers, and unfortunately, new drivers get into car accidents more often than experienced drivers. If you are a new driver who has just bought a car, buying comprehensive car insurance means that your insurance will pay for the damage to your car if you get in a car accident. It would be very discouraging to spend all your money on a car and then not be able to afford to fix or replace it after an accident.
  • Get together with some friends and purchase a family plan for your cell phones. Family plans can save a lot of money on your cellphone bill compared to purchasing your own plan. Some phone carriers allow up to 10 people in a family plan, and you don’t have to be actual family members!

What questions do you have about budgeting and managing your money as a college student in America? Write a comment below and we will try to answer your questions! Here at Bridges San Diego we want to help you have a good experience while studying in the USA.

Bridges International

Bridges International

This blog post was adapted from bridgesinternational.com/blog