So you’ve been accepted on to an international placement scheme, hooray! Now comes the arduous task of planning exactly how you’re going to do it (no sugar coating here). Budgeting can be a difficult task – throw in a foreign currency and it gets even harder. When I moved to South Africa for my placement, I had no idea how much things costed and I ended up overspending. So, here’s my advice on how creating a budget can work for you!
Research cost of living
Research is your biggest tool. A good place to start is on forums like Reddit. There is often a page dedicated to the country or even city you are moving to. You can ask questions about cost of living and get direct responses from people who live there. Research room rental costs on Facebook and letting agents but be aware that often letting agents will be more expensive and sometimes more complicated. From my experience, travel costs are one of the most important. Issues such as safety and reliability can arise, so it’s best to bear in mind the following: How will you travel to work on a daily basis? Can you rely on public transport? Can you walk around at night? Currently living in Cape Town, I personally decided to rent a car due to the unreliable buses and trains, so this may be another option to look into.
Saving is hard, but in the long term will be key to you making the most of your placement year! Exactly how much you need to save depends on whether the placement is paid or voluntary. In my experience most international placements are paid something, but it is important to make sure you clarify this from the get go. It is true that international placements are usually costlier than local ones, but more often than not, the value of the experience that you gain is worth every penny. If your degree has a placement scheme, I would advise to start saving as early as you can. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.
Often, Student Unions offer flexible jobs to students allowing them to work whilst studying. These jobs can vary from bartending to being a store clerk or even providing social media management. I made sure I earned money for my placement by working as a bartender at my university nightclub. It was definitely handy to know someone behind the bar on a night out, but also helped me meet new people and settle in.
Find the right bank
Most international placements are usually a year or less in length. Therefore, it can be more hassle to open a bank account for such a short period of time and you may encounter difficulty doing so as a foreigner in some countries. You may even be charged to keep it open! So, it’s a must to have at least two bank cards. That way, if one gets lost or stolen you’re not completely stuck. Getting a travel card that doesn’t charge you for making purchases in a foreign currency is one of the easiest ways to take your money with you.
Another option is opening a new bank account with mobile based challenger banks. These allow you to open a bank account on your phone. Cards like Revolut and Monzo do not charger international fees for card transactions or ATM withdrawals which is a huge bonus. Revolut also offer no charges for bank transfers to foreign bank accounts, making it a convenient way to pay rent. Like I said before, do some research and try to find out what works best for you.
Figure out a base conversion
Once you’ve worked out a rough budget, you will need to start tracking how much you are spending in your native currency. The mental maths can sometimes be quite difficult (depending on the exchange rate), but it is really crucial when making sure you to stick to your budget. Luckily Monzo immediately translates the expense into your native currency but another handy trick is to find a value of the foreign currency that corresponds to your local one. For example, in South Africa, 100 Rand roughly works out as 5GBP. Using this quick equation, I can easily guesstimate the cost of an item to ensure that I don’t overspend. So, for example, my gym membership costs 700Rand, so if I multiply 5 by 7 I can budget 35GBP for this expense. This quick system has helped me stay within my budget and not overspend.
Speak to the locals
Now you know how to find out how much something costs, you need to find out how much something should cost, to make sure you’re not being ripped off. Your most valuable asset will be the people around you; never be shy to ask questions. Where’s the best place to do grocery shopping? Best takeout spot etc. Gaining locals’ insight is invaluable and will allow you to acclimatise to the local norms quickly and make sure you learn the best places for bargains!
Keep track of your spending
Most banks nowadays have an app which allow you to track your spending. Utilise these to ensure that you don’t max out your monthly budget. Like starting a new semester, in the first couple of weeks one-off purchases will arise, but once the teething period has passed and you have settled into a routine, budgeting will get easier. If, like me, you have spread money out into a few bank accounts, you can track your overall spending using ‘Yolt’. This allows you to keep track of how much money you have overall, and then categorise different expenses. It even to allows you set budgets and targets, notifying you when you are nearing them.
Sticking to a budget can be a challenge, especially when you want to make the most of your placement and the opportunities it provides. Therefore, it is important to set money aside for big experiences and opportunities that will come your way. With the right approach and some careful planning, you’ll feel comfortable in the knowledge that you won’t run out of money, allowing you to make the very most of your placement.
My name is Charlie and I am a Consumer Behaviour and Marketing student currently on placement in Cape Town with Avirtual as the SEO manager.