Financial Tips for International Students
Guest Post by Jun Wen
When international students come to America for their studies, they will often be confronted with high tuition and living costs. This can catch many students off guard without knowing the best way to budget and save money to avoid added costs on top of their education. However, there are tips and strategies that are not known to all international students that would help to save a lot of money.
First, I suggest that students should get to know the local standard prices for general products, and how these prices change with differing variables. If this can be done before arriving, it would greatly help you stay organized. For example, we decide to buy new iPhones dependent on which companies and locations have lower prices. I am from China, and I forgot to compare iPhone XR prices in America with my country’s before I came here. This resulted in my losing $150 when buying a new phone. If I had done research prior to making this purchase, I would have helped to save myself money that could be going towards my tuition and other associated costs.
Second, in the United States, you should apply for credit and debit cards. You can use the debit card to pay apartment rent and school tuition. Doing this, you could save 1%-5% just by avoiding unnecessary fees. If you find a part-time job in the U.S., you would have a social security number or SSN. Using this, you could apply for a credit card with perks, such as one with Walmart having a 10% discount when you use it to pay for items. Though the perks and benefits are helpful, it is important to remember that credit cards must be paid back regularly every month, otherwise, you will create a bad credit history and will be limited in what you can do that involves credit checks. With a good credit history of more than a year, you'll be eligible to apply for other credit cards with lower interest rates, cash returns, and perks such as airline miles and discounts when getting gas or dining out. If you have a credit history, you can benefit when buying a car or renting a house in the future. And if you have an SSN, you could buy a contract phone for a lower price. All of these benefits associated with various cards as well as credit history allow for opportunities to save money as a student. There are many resources available online to students when coming to the U.S. for our education.
For the consumption of bulk goods, I also suggest you set a small plan to save money. For example, you can start by calculating your monthly living expenses, such as rent, utilities, daily necessities, and food expenses. Then, look at other costs you expect to pay such as dining out, entertainment, and travel expenses to find numbers you are comfortable with spending. This allows a budget to be created for each sector of expenses to help you better manage your finances.
In terms of food, eating at home is much cheaper than eating out. In the supermarkets, if you are attentive you will find that they often have older food at a half-price discount. There are a lot of special activities during the holidays and different deals or coupons that can save you a lot of money. Walmart's food is cheaper than Wegmans, but the quality is not as superb as Wegmans. Wegmans is a popular grocery store in the Syracuse University area, though the same goes for many other name brand grocers. On a broader scale, I suggest students buy food, cleaning supplies, and other consumable necessities at the lowest price possible. This helps students to save small increments of money on items that can add up to large sums. When occurring larger expenses, such as purchasing furniture or a car, you could buy secondhand items. These are often much less expensive because they have been previously used. Additionally, it is helpful to wait for major sale days, such as Black Friday, that provide additional discounts.
Accommodations should not be taken as a light expense and depending on where you decide to live could save you hundreds of dollars per month. There are basically two forms of accommodations for studying abroad: living on campus and living off-campus. The advantage of living in an on-campus dormitory is that it is convenient and can save transportation time, but most on-campus dormitories are priced at $800-900 per month, which is relatively expensive. In order to save money, many students choose to rent a house off-campus. Off-campus housing is divided into apartments and houses. A few Chinese students here would usually rent an apartment together, which is a common form of accommodation. In this way, each student can be paying about $300-500 per month. However, when choosing off-campus accommodations, you must pay attention to safety and must ask more about the surrounding security situation in an attempt to stay away from the high incidence of various crimes.
If you take the time to do your research and learn about your new community, there are many ways to save money as an international student. Prior to coming on campus, you could contact your professors about opportunities to work as a Teaching Assistant, or TA, to earn additional income. This, along with many others, are some ways I have used to save money as an international student that I hope will help you to do the same.