School Estimated Budget vs. Reality

August 25th, 2006 by IEFA

When you are admitted to a US institution, take a close look at the international student budget provided by your school. These estimated expenses will also appear on your I-20, and they are usually accurate insofar as they go. International students are required to prove that they have funds to cover the full amount shown, and you cannot arrange for more financial aid once you arrive at school. Click here to see three samples of school-estimated international student budgets from our last post.

Although the summary budget provided by your school and shown on your I-20 is helpful in outlining some of the bigger expenses, like tuition, fees, and if you live on campus, room and board, it does not tell the full story. For instance, if you are not planning to live on campus, you should check carefully what your accommodations will cost. There is always a range of off-campus housing, and costs vary widely. Some students want their own luxury one-bedroom condo, while some are happy to share an old 2-bedroom apartment with 3 other students. Perhaps the biggest variant is the “Personal/Other” category, for which most schools include a budgeted amount between $1,000 and $2,000. For many students who intend to travel, who may need clothes, who have taxes to pay, who call home frequently, or who like to eat out, or who spend money in any other myriad ways, this number may not be realistic at all.

Use this list to help you think about all the possible expenses you may have. When you prepare your own realistic budget, make sure you have considered all of the following categories:


* Tuition
* Fees
* Rent
* Meals (Board)
* Health Insurance
* Medical costs (doctor visits, prescriptions, dental and eye care)
* Books and supplies (computer equipment, etc.)
* Communications (cell phone, internet, home phone, international calling)
* Utilities (electric, water, gas, cable)
* Car ownership (insurance, registration, gas, parking, repairs, etc.)
* Other transportation (buses, trains, etc.)
* Clothes
* Personal Expenses (laundry, haircuts, contact lenses, eyeglasses, etc.)
* Family Expenses
* Entertainment (shows, restaurants, nights at the pub, dates, movies, cds, music, parties, etc.)
* Recreation (gym fees, club dues, hobbies, teams)
* Travel
* Taxes (you will pay US taxes on assistantships, scholarships, job income, etc.)
* Bank fees, credit card payments, etc.

Preparing a realistic budget can be an uncomfortable experience, as it forces you to examine how you spend your money. However, going through the process will ensure that you have a good handle on how much money you actually need to live. Or you will understand much better that you’ve really got to cut back in certain areas to make your budget hold up in the US.

Having a US bank account can really help you stick to a budget. You can set bills up for automatic payment, write checks or use a debit card instead of carrying cash, and track all of your expenses much more accurately and easily.

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