You literally can’t afford to be careless about how you budget your money when interning abroad. It’s daunting enough dealing with culture shock, work, and living arrangements – never mind figuring out public transportation. The good news is that money management doesn’t have to be a cause for stress. With the right system in place, you can easily save enough money to enjoy every minute of your time abroad.
Before diving into the meat of this post, you need to understand the “hidden fees” in U.S. shopping. The biggest one being the sales tax. If we look at the all-reliable Wikipedia, sales tax is defined as:
“…a tax paid to a governing body for the sales of certain goods and services. Usually laws allow the seller to collect funds for the tax from the consumer at the point of purchase.”
So, add a little extra onto that price tag.
To find out what sales tax you’ll be paying, you can use a sales tax calculator like this. Simply plug in whatever value you want, and the tax will be calculated automatically. As an example, sales tax in California is about 6.5%. So, if you buy a pair of shoes that cost $1500.00, expect to pay $1597.50 in total (please don’t spend that much on shoes).
The next point of contention is tipping. For most countries around the world, it’s included in the bill. In the U.S., however, it’s left to you to calculate. Thankfully, Business Insider has a handy guide on tipping.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the saving plan.
Fixed Values First
Before you start pinching pennies, establish recurring monthly costs. Rent, utilities, transportation, and food are probably your biggest expenses. Keep in mind that rent changes drastically across states. Search google or use a site like Zillow to see what an average place costs too rent.
After establishing your fixed values, figure out what kind of payment system you want to use. Paying by card is by far the easiest method, as you can set up recurring monthly payments. This ensures things are paid on time and avoids late charges. Checks are also a generally accepted alternative. Cash is on the way out in most areas around the U.S., so we recommend keeping that for emergencies only.
Establish your post-tax budget
This one is self-explanatory: calculate what you’re taking home every one or two weeks, then subtract your rent, utilities, transportation, and food. Whatever is left (assuming you don’t have anything else to pay off) is your allowance. Keep in mind that as an intern/trainee you will not be paying certain taxes, so your take-home pay will be slightly higher than a native citizen. Refer to our tax page to see what you are exempt from paying.
Getting the most out of your allowance
Now that you know what your base allowance is, it’s time to start cutting non-essentials!
Firstly, do not go food shopping when you’re hungry. That is a recipe for overspending and needless splurging on snacks and candy. Save your money (and your teeth) and eat something before going to the supermarket.
Bring Lunch: It might feel like school again, but this is one of the biggest ways to save on the food budget. If you can afford to prepare lunch for only $2.50, and eating out is $6.00, you’re saving almost $840.00 in a year!
Drink Water: Restaurants and fast food chains charge extra for soda and juice. Save the money (and again, your teeth), and just drink water.
Plan (and stick to) your grocery list: Make a list of what you need and stick to it. Pay attention to prices and compare them between stores. If you can get it cheaper somewhere else, the extra trip will be worth it.
Utilize the freezer: Buying in bulk is both a time and money saver. Cook double or triple portions and freeze what you don’t eat. Also, having something ready-cooked for breakfast makes those early mornings a lot more manageable!
Eat out only once per month: It’s tempting to try every restaurant you see. Your time in the U.S. has an expiration date, after all. Limiting how often you eat out, however, will save you money for traveling or buying souvenirs.
Home Saving Tips
Cut laundry detergent and dryer sheets in half: The detergent sold today is highly concentrated, meaning you don’t need to fill every load to the rim. Use as little as you can get away with and save yourself a trip to the store. Also, cutting your dryer sheets in half avails you the same result at half the price.
Keep the sun out (or in!): Keep windows and blinds closed during hotter seasons to maintain a cooler atmosphere. If that isn’t working, try lining the windowsills with rolled up towels or old clothes. That can prevent excess heat from escaping. The same applies for colder seasons, just in reverse.
Use less water: Invest in low-flow showerheads or faucet aerators. Both are inexpensive and can save you a lot in the long run.
Monthly Passes: Taking an Uber or a Lyft to and from work every day is a great way to rack up a good transportation bill. Instead, figure out if your city has a monthly pass you can buy. The prices are more affordable, and they typically allow you to autoload the card.
Local Discounts and Free Entertainment
Take advantage of the library: Libraries are chock full of almost every sort of media you can imagine. You can check out movies, books, audiobooks, sheet music, and a host of other items for the grand total of a free library card.
Discounted movie tickets: Aside from matinee prices, most theaters will offer a discount day. If the discount is not listed on the website, email or call the theater to find out.
Nobody likes having to abstain from things they enjoy to save money, but doing so prevents you from racking up needless expenses. And next time, you’ll have a plan in place and won’t feel quite as overwhelmed.
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