Saving Money on Your Food Budget

February 18th, 2013 by Ben Cohen

For international students who are working hard just to make ends meet as they go to college in the US, one large and constant financial burden is food. Whether you’re on a college meal plan or not, there are plenty of things you can do to get started saving money on your food budget.

  • Make your own food

This may seem like a very obvious way to save money on food, but students on meal plans often forget that they can still save money by staying in and making their own food some of the time. Meal plans usually have limits to the amount of times you can use them – so lean on them too much and you’ll find yourself paying up for every meal at the end of the semester.

Instead, work on saving money on your food budget by making your own meals a couple times a week. Don’t have a kitchen in your small dorm? You can still throw together small breakfasts and lunches just with basic ingredients that can go in a mini-fridge.

  • Save at the grocery store

Even once you’re making your own meals, you can still save money on food by cutting down on the costs of the food you’re buying. One of the best ways to ensure this is to buy food at wholesale grocery stores, but the cost of membership and the amount of food you have to buy at once will deter plenty of students who have little to no storage space. See if any grocery stores offer savings cards that get you better deals or regular coupon mailers to get you saving money.

  • Snack more

You can cut down on the size of your meals – and thus the money you spend on them – by keeping some food in your belly throughout the day. Be careful with what you buy for snack food, though, as individual bags of chips, candy, and so on can be costly and unhealthy.

If you follow the above tips to save money on food not only will you have less stress about your financial burden, but you also may be eating healthier and feel better in general. Get started on your new eating plan today!


5 Financial Considerations When Choosing a School

February 5th, 2013 by Jennifer Frankel

student in libraryOne of the most important decisions international students will face is what school they choose to pursue their degree program. This is one of the most critical decisions since it will financially determine the costs over the next few years. The school you choose can determine whether you are set up for financial success – or failure.

Think about it. If you are an international student planning to study in the US, there are over 2,000 universities that you can go to that accept international students. Your primary purpose is to enroll, get an education, and translate that into the opportunity to have a good job that will allow you to earn even more money (not to mention, a rewarding career!). College costs money, especially for international students, and the costs can vary greatly. You don’t just have to worry about tuition, but there is the cost of textbooks, housing, food, other educational fees, health insurance, electronics and more.

To help you out, here are 5 financial considerations when choosing a school:

  • Evaluate the tuition costs

If you’ve done your research, then you know that US public colleges tend to be more affordable than private universities. Even though international students can expect to pay the out-of-state tuition at a public institution, this tends to still be more affordable than a private school. If you have a list of schools you plan to apply to, create a cost comparison chart and see what makes financial sense to you!

  • Find out what financial assistance is available

No matter if you are looking at private or public university, financial aid for international students is limited. That being said, however, schools have different budgets allowing some schools to provide more financial assistance to international students than others. Check with your potential schools to see what financial aid is available. Ask questions like, do they offer need based aid? Is there an opportunity to get on-campus employment (and if so, what’s the likelihood of being able to do so?)? What is the likelihood of getting financial aid, even if it is not need base? If so, how much can be expected?

  • Check to see what employment opportunities exist

Some colleges and universities have a budget that allows them to hire international students part time. US students have what’s called “work study” which allows federal funds to pay for student employees. While this is not available for international students, some schools allocate funds to allow their international students to work in compliance with their visa employment restrictions. Check with your school(s) to see whether this is an option, but keep in mind that the amount you’ll make will be small and only cover miscellaneous expenses.

  • Consider the cost of living in the area

New York City, San Francisco, and Washington DC are some of the key cities international students dream of living. Did you also know that these are some of the most expensive cities to live in as well? New York City is ranked #1, San Francisco #2, and DC is ranked #7 as the most expensive cities to live in throughout the US, according to Kiplinger. If you are looking for a high quality education but don’t have a lot of funds to support your education, be sure to consider the cost of living of the town in which your school is located. This will also affect what you’ll be able to do off campus, because the less expensive the town, the farther your money will go.

  • Compare your projected income to your total degree cost

If you have your heart set on a top, ivy-league school, do a cost-benefit analysis to see what the costs will be – and then see how it compares to your projected income According to Mark Kantrowitz, founder of FinAid.org, “if your total student loan debt is less than your annual income, you’ll be able to repay that debt in about 10 years.” While it may be difficult to forecast your projected income, it’s worth the research to ensure a good investment. Check out Salary.com to see what your projected income would be if you land a job in the US after graduation. It would also be advantageous to evaluate your projected income in your home country as you will still be responsible for paying back any money borrowed.

* Photo of girl in library courtesy of Shutterstock


Wiring Money From Home

December 31st, 2012 by Jennifer Frankel

shutterstock_118480012International students studying in the United States may find themselves needing money from home for a variety of reasons. Students could need the funds to help with some sort of unexpected emergency, or wiring money from home could just be a regularly scheduled part of their family’s contribution to their education. Either way, there are a few main options that students should know.

Perhaps the most well-known method of wiring money from home is through retail money transfer companies like Western Union, RIA Financial Services, and Money Gram. While the exact logistics and fees differ from company to company, these retail money transfer companies let customers go in to one of their locations and transfer money from cash, a credit or debit card, or even a bank account. Delivery options are just as varied: the transferred money can be put directly into a specified bank account, wired to a certain city for pickup at a location with the recipient’s legal ID, or even delivered in cash to a residence. Multiple delivery speeds are also available, with the faster methods incurring higher fees. Also note that transferring money from a credit card tends to cost more, so try to use a bank account instead!

Another option for wiring money from home is to wire money directly through your banking company. This is often possible even when the sender and recipient have accounts with different companies, but check your company’s policy just to be sure. The advantage of a bank-to-bank transfer without a middleman is usually a lower cost and faster delivery time, while the obvious disadvantage is that you need to have an account with the institution involved (whereas with a retail transfer company you can wire cash with no account involved).

Recently, Paypal has also risen as another form of wiring money from home. Paypal transfers function much like bank-to-bank transfers, except they can only go between Paypal accounts and not to multiple financial institutions. Paypal transfers are almost instantaneous and are a great emerging option as more and more people get accounts.

Wiring money from home is a simple process, with plenty of options to make it work best for you!

* Money Transfer Picture From Shutterstock


International Student’s Guide to Christmas Gift Giving

December 17th, 2012 by Jennifer Frankel

Winter is here, and Christmas is fast approaching. Depending on where you’re from, you may be surprised to see how much the city that you are staying in changes during the winter months. Lights and decorations cover the houses of many neighborhoods and city streets, and friends and families buy one another gifts. If these customs are unfamiliar to you, or if you’re just unsure about what to get your newly found friends, then this international student’s guide to Christmas gift giving is for you.

The most important part of this international student’s guide to Christmas gift giving knowing that you aren’t obligated to buy gifts if you don’t feel comfortable with it. Some friends buy each other gifts and others don’t, but no one will judge you either way.

If you do decide to buy someone a present, you don’t have to spend a lot of money. Just get something thoughtful, possibly even homemade. Gift giving is hard though, so if you’re having difficulty thinking of something, here are some cheap ideas:

Food
If you’re short on money, you can always bake something, like cookies or brownies, as a gift. Everyone likes sweet things!

Crafts
Another inexpensive gift idea is to get creative and make something. From picture frames, to candles, there are all kinds of quick easy, and cheap gifts that can be made.

Christmas Ornaments
If your friend has a Christmas tree, then an ornament is something that your friend will use and keep with them for a long time to come.

Gift Cards
If you’re completely out of ideas still, go for a gift card! Of all the gifts in this international student’s guide to Christmas gift giving, it’s definitely the most expensive. However, it’s a sure fire gift that the person will be sure to like. All you have to know what stores the person shops at!

* Gift picture courtesy of Shutterstock


Going Out to Eat Without Going Broke

December 14th, 2012 by Jennifer Frankel

There is a huge number of restaurants in the US, and you should really make time to try out some of what your town has to offer. Although eating out costs more than eating at home, there are several ways to save money. Here are a few tips for the person interested in going out to eat without going broke.

Research Online First
Most restaurants have their menus online. Being able to look at the prices of different restaurants allows you to compare different places without leaving the house. If your plan is going out to eat without going broke, then the first thing you need to do is find out what places fit into your budget and which places you should avoid.

Food Trucks
Speaking of finding places within your budget, big cities usually have really good food trucks scattered across places with high foot traffic. The food choices are usually as affordable as they are diverse. You’ll find trucks with sandwiches, burgers, tacos, falafels, hot dogs, and many other quick and delicious food truck staples. Not only that, but depending on the city you live in you can usually fill up for less than $10!

Find Deals
Local restaurants will sometimes advertise special offers online and in print to motivate people to try their food for the first time. Whenever you see a deal like this you can use it as an excuse to try something new! Going out to eat without going broke sometimes means trying something new and unexpected. Even if you’ve never tried the type of food that the restaurant sells, you should use this as an excuse to expand your palate!

Avoid Drinking
Restaurants make a lot of money off soda, beer, and liquor. If you’re looking to cut back on the price of your meal, then just order water. No matter where you go it will almost certainly be free. Most places offer free refills on soda, so it’s not terrible to order a coke, however, drinking liquor and beer is an easy way to double the price of your meal!

* Man with groceries picture courtesy of Shutterstock


Saving Money on Your Utility Bills

December 4th, 2012 by Jennifer Frankel

The main goal is to avoid using your heater when you don’t need it. It sounds simple enough, but many times people unintentionally drive the bill up simply because they aren’t mindful enough. The best thing you can do is simply pay attention to your usage. Below you will find five tips to help you in your goal of saving money on your utility bills:

1. Turn down your thermostat when no one is home. This one is the most obvious and underutilized way to save money. When you leave for class during the day, turn your thermostat down. There’s no use keeping a house warm if no one is home!

2. Wear socks and sweaters around the house. If you wear comfortable and warm clothes around your house, you can reduce the thermostat even when you’re home. Just a couple degrees can mean a big difference in your monthly bill.

3. Have someone come out and check your house for insulation issues. Many states will send out someone from the utilities company to check out the house or apartment you are staying in for free. The person will make sure there are no obvious insulation or wiring issues and give you even more helpful tips on keeping you bill low.

4. Open the blinds during the day and close them at night. Letting the sun in during the day can increase the temperature of your house quite a bit, even when it’s cold outside. Just remember to close them at night though to help insulate against the cold!

5. Lower the temperature on your hot water heater. Having to heat your water contributes to the power bill quite a bit too. Make sure your hot water heater is set low enough that the faucet doesn’t burn you when its on its hottest. There is no reason to heat the water to a temperature that is so high you can’t use it and by turning it down it can ultimately help you in your quest of saving money on your utility bills!

* Icon of four power services thanks to Shutterstock


How to Organize a Winter Vacation Trip on a Budget

November 19th, 2012 by Jennifer Frankel

Winter is in the air and that means spring semester will be over shortly. With all of the free time between semesters, many international students use their winter breaks as an excuse to travel the country!

Depending on where you are studying and what your opinion of cold weather is, winter vacation can be a great time to travel north to some snow covered destination, or to head south to escape from the cold as quickly as possible. No matter what you choose, if money is an issue then you are going to want to know how to organize a winter vacation trip on a budget.

The first thing you will need to do to keep your costs low is plan ahead. If you wait until last minute to decide where you are going things can get confused and messy real quick. Not only that, but if you plan on flying anywhere then your tickets may be more expensive than if you bought them ahead of time.

Now that you’ve planned ahead and decided where you want to go, the next step on how to organize a winter vacation trip on a budget is to find things to do that are cheap but still fun. Of course it would be great to stay in five star hotels and eat at the fanciest, most expensive restaurants, but not everybody can afford such luxuries. Luckily, there are all kinds of ways to cut costs. There are all sorts of websites that compare the prices of hotel rooms and offer user reviews from people who have stayed in the past. The same goes for local food. If you’re looking for a great place to eat while you are traveling, don’t trust tourist guides or advertisements. Go online and see what people have to say about the place first!

You’re going to want to do more than eat and sleep when you travel. No matter where you decide to visit, there are always fun and, more importantly, affordable things to do. Museums are often free or cheap, and so are historical tours and other educational exhibits. If you decided to head south you might even consider the beach. Miami, for example, can stay around the high 60s and low 70s all through winter.

If you’re interested on how to organize a winter vacation trip on a budget, the amount of ways to save money is only limited by your creativity and willingness to look for the best deals online.

For more information, check out the Student Travel Center.

*Winter Landscape picture thanks to Shutterstock


US Tuition Increase

November 5th, 2012 by Jennifer Frankel

It is no secret that going to college in the US can be expensive. Not only is the cost of living higher here than many other countries, but college tuition has also increased more than inflation every year for over a decade. Unfortunately, the US tuition increase is a trend that does not seem to be going away anytime soon. So what does this mean for you as an international student?

Most US universities require that prospective international students prove they have enough money to pay for classes and living expenses before accepting them as students. With tuition increasing, the amount you will have to raise will be higher, making it harder for many students to attend school. Fortunately, there are things you can do to mitigate the effects of US tuition increase.

Scholarships are a great way to ease the financial burden of school. To apply for scholarships you typically need to write an essay explaining why you are a good candidate and fill out some basic paperwork stating who you are and where you’re from. If you are in need of financial assistance, scholarships can really make the difference between having enough money and not having enough money to attend your school of choice.

Another way to help ease the increasing financial burden of studying in the US is to apply for student loans. Unlike scholarships, you will have to pay these back after you graduate, but luckily you’ll be much more likely to land a well paying job at that point.

Because the cost of US tuition increases each year, scholarships and loans are now more important than ever. Thanks to these two options, people who would otherwise be unable to attend college in the US now have a chance to go to any school in the US!

* School tuition rising picture provided by Shutterstock.


Last Minute Halloween Costumes

October 29th, 2012 by Jennifer Frankel

Halloween is right around the corner, and if you haven’t bought your costume yet you have probably noticed how hard it is to buy last minute supplies – not to mention how expensive it can be! Costume shops are picked over, prices are at its peak, and ideas can be hard to come by. Don’t worry though, because there are all sorts of last minute cheap Halloween costumes you can make without much money and often with things you already have around the house.

Toilet Paper Mummy – This is one of the ultimate last minute Halloween costumes. Simply take a roll of toilet paper and wrap it around yourself. You can even make this costume after showing up to a party! Just make sure to ask the hosts permission before you use all of their toilet paper.

T-shirt Ninja – Everyone likes ninjas, but not everyone likes paying a lot for a costume that is essentially just a pair of black pants, a black shirt, and a black hood. As an alternative to buying a costume, just wear all black and put a shirt over your head so that you eyes peek out of the shirt’s neck hole.

Grown up Baby – If you already have one-piece pajamas all you need is a pacifier and a teddy bear for this mildly creepy adult baby costume. As a guy you can just mess up your hair like you just got out of bed, and girls can wear their hair in pigtails.

Work of Art – This is one of those last minute Halloween costumes for people with larger than average egos. All you have to do is bring an empty picture frame with you and when people ask what you are, tell them you’re a “work of art”. If you’re an art lover (or don’t have a large enough ego) try dressing up as a famous work of art. Some paintings, like the Mona Lisa, would be pretty easy to do.

Zombie – This one takes a little more time than the other last minute Halloween costumes, but it is worth it. To be a zombie, either buy an outfit from a thrift store or get some clothes you no longer want together. Cut and tear holes in the outfit and throw some paint or makeup on them so they look old and worn. Then buy some white and black makeup and fake blood. Give yourself big black rings around your eyes and make the rest of your face white so it appears pale. If all goes well, you’ll look just like a living dead person!

* Happy Halloween Pumpkin picture courtesy of Shutterstock


How to Budget So that You Can Travel for Winter Break

October 1st, 2012 by Jennifer Frankel

One of the best things about studying in a foreign country is that everything around you is new and exciting, making every day seem like a mini-vacation. To make the most of their time abroad, many international students decide to travel during their time off from school. If you are one of those students, then you might be wondering how to budget so that you can travel for winter break.

Set Incremental Goals

One of the single best tips on how to budget so that you can travel for winter break is to set incremental savings goals. This way you can make sure you are on track to saving the amount you need by winter. These goals should be set up as weekly or monthly dollar amounts that, if met, will result in you having enough money when winter break comes.

See What Your Bank Can Do to Help

Most banks have savings programs to help you save money, so if you’re trying to decide how to budget so that you can travel for winter break, you should check online or ask in person at your bank to see what is offered. For example, some banks will transfer whatever change is left over from a debit card transaction and automatically put it into your savings. If you use your debit card a lot, the occasional 25 and 50 cents being put into to your savings account can really add up in the long run. Other banks have a way to automatically move a set amount from your savings to your checking every month. This method is a great way to make sure you are keeping up with your monthly goals!

Remember What You Are Saving For

Sometimes, after saving for a while, it can be tempting to dip into your money and buy something expensive for yourself. You might tell yourself that you’ll make up for it by saving more in the future or that you deserve to cheat a little. This is because people are good at tricking themselves into spending money, and you should definitely avoid this pitfall if you plan on traveling over the winter. Whenever your temptation to spend some of your savings rises, visualize how amazing your winter trip is going to be and let that image keep you in line and on budget.

There are many other methods on how to budget so that you can travel for winter break, and in the end some will work for you more than others. The best thing to do is to try out several savings methods and seeing what works for you the best!

* Picture of male hand putting a coin into piggy bank courtesy of Shutterstock