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So You Want To Study Overseas
That’s quite the dream, isn’t it? Living away from your parents, making day trips out to the countryside over weekends, enjoying the cool weather and making your friends back home jealous with all the amazing experiences you get to have. Of course, you have lectures to attend and examinations to sit for, but what a whole lot of living in between!
Except there’s one big warning sign that comes attached to an overseas education: the scary financial burden it comes with. Besides the actual school and tuition fees, and even if you’re on a full or partial scholarship, the rent of your apartment, cost of your groceries and home supplies, daily transportation costs, phone bills and more can add up to a hefty amount that could take you months to pay back even after you've started on a full-time job.
Don't get us wrong: studying overseas can be a fulfilling, enriching experience; it opens your mind to different cultures, lifestyles, and ways of doing things, lessons which definitely go beyond your classroom and our shores. Consider these pieces of advice if you’re planning to go abroad to make sure you don’t end up getting yourself schooled in ways you don’t want.
The Supermarket Is Your Best Friend
We all get excited when there’s that must-go-to restaurant or fast food chain in whichever country we’re visiting. There's nothing wrong with indulging once in a while, but it takes discipline to keep yourself in check to make sure you're not eating out every meal. The supermarket or local grocer is the place to go to keep your expenses on food down; S$15 can either go towards one gourmet burger or a bag of rice to keep you fed for a couple of weeks. And even if you’re not that handy in the kitchen, most supermarkets stock plenty of freshly-made, ready-to-eat food options that will leave you more than content. Look for the supermarket's house brand for even more savings—Tesco in the United Kingdom, for example, carries a range of large soups at £1.50 each, making for a pretty decent lunch along with a sandwich and salad.
Stay Sharp For Sales
Our innate Singaporean-ness comes in handy when it comes to savings. In places like the United States, where portion sizes can be massive, try asking for only half of your food to be served at the restaurant, and take away the other half for another meal. Seasonal sales often mean massive discounts on clothes or products, and you can keep an eye out for fliers and mailers to score cheap deals. Stock up on canned, frozen, or dried foods when a sale is on; you’ll also find discounts on items on the clearance shelf, and, like in Singapore, heading to the supermarket in the evening means better chances of scoring a deal on food that needs to be sold by the end of the day. Just make sure you take note of the best-before date and times before you purchase!
Find A Friend—Or Many
On that note, it pays to be social. Having a few friends that you can share groceries with means that you can buy in bulk and split the costs. Artist Zi Xi, whom we interviewed here, would go to weekend markets for better bargains and share the cost with her housemates while she studied in London. You can also help to keep each other’s spending in check—Zi Xi would go around Chinatown with her housemates to find the cheapest places to eat at, strengthening the habit of being thrifty which she later brought home with her. Our tip: although we might sometimes find it difficult to remind our friends to pay us back for things they owe us, it’s important to keep tabs on what’s been bought and the money that's been spent. Make it a culture—pay up promptly, and gently nudge them to do the same. It's alright to give your friends a treat now and then, but when it comes to household expenses or costs that were agreed upon, waving off every little amount spent on the context of ‘being friends’ eventually adds up to hidden costs. That leads us to...
Counting Your Pennies
We’re pretty comfortable here. Most of us who live with our parents don't have to pay rent. You can get a decent meal for under S$5, while a bus or train ride doesn’t usually cost more than S$3. Heck, some of us still don’t even have to pay for our own phone bills, but all that changes when you’re out in the world, all by yourself. Keeping track of what you're spending on might not be second nature at first, but it's a habit that's important to cultivate before you start wondering where all your money’s gone. There are many handy applications that you can use on your phone to tally your daily expenses; alternatively, allocate your money at the start of each month. For example, take note of your fixed expenditure like rental or bills, set a cap for the amount to be spent on groceries, put aside a sum to be saved for a rainy day, and give yourself some money (within reason!) to enjoy. Also, some banks charge a transaction fee for international ATM withdrawals, so it's good to check with your bank and limit yourself to monthly or bi-monthly withdrawals.
Wield That Student Power
Make full use of your campus’ resources: to save money on a WiFi router, use the network in school, and check if your university has any partnerships with shops, restaurants, or brands to offer student discounts. A lot of schools also have Facebook pages or groups where students buy or sell things second-hand, or rent or find places to live. Those groups are a good place to find pre-used textbooks and school materials too, which can be quite costly. Otherwise, check out your options online or in second-hand bookstores. And while you may baulk at eating food at the school canteen, you might be surprised at the quality it can offer, and at a much lower cost too.
Most countries that have well-developed public transport systems should have our equivalent of an EZ-Link card, or a travel pass that allows you to travel on their buses or trains at a discounted rate for a certain period of time. These are no-brainers for long-term travel, but you can also ask if there are special student passes that allow for even bigger savings. International students might also get lower rates at tourist sites or museums—it might not be as low as what local students get, but hey, every bit counts, right? Just remember to ask, and bring along proof of your student identification when you’re out and about. If you’re planning to take a trip out of the city, a bus will get you there for cheaper than what a train ride would normally cost. Again, ask if there's a student discount. It might take you longer to reach your destination, but there's a certain charm in travelling along the city’s routes like a resident would, and enjoying the sights along the way. Read about more ways to save on your travelling here.
Save Money—and The Earth
Walk where possible—the less-humid weather overseas usually makes for more pleasant walks, so you get in a bit of exercise while saving some cash. It might even make sense to buy a bicycle to get around, especially in countries like Europe and Scandinavia with plenty of safe cycling routes. Scandinavia even has machines that give you cash when you recycle items like cans and plastic bottles, and bringing your own bag to the grocery store saves you the fee they’d otherwise charge for a plastic bag.
You might dream of studying in a far flung locale, but it's also important to be realistic—is your choice of university simply for the experience of going abroad, or is the education you're getting the most crucial? The cost of living can vary quite widely—a month’s worth of lunch meal groceries can go up to S$560 per month in the United States, whereas the same might cost only $480 in Australia. Public transport in the United Kingdom could cost you S$180 each month, while you’d pay only S $160 in New Zealand. Of course, there are many variables to be weighed, and while the differences might not seem huge between some countries, it all adds up—not to forget the cost of any flights back home for those holiday visits. You’ll also find that some of the world’s best universities are actually pretty close to home: the Australian National University ranked 20th in the world this year; the University of Hong Kong ranked 26th; while the University of Japan ranked 28th. Our very own Nanyang Technological University ranked 11th, so it’s possible to get a quality education within the region. Of course, it depends on the type of course you’re hoping to pursue, but consider these options before making your choice.
Get Some Help
Now that you've got some handy tips for saving money on the ground, you still need to take that first step in getting there. If you need some support, find out more about our study loans, including some things you should take note of before applying, here. With low interest rates and flexible payment options, our Education Loan for overseas study allows you to have peace of mind, money-wise, so you can focus on what really matters.