I love food. I am an absolute foodie so there there is always a balance between trying new foods that excited my palate without depleting my bank account. Food is an absolute necessity, but often times, we tend to overlook the amount of money that can be spent solely on food. Read on for my top ten tips on how to avoid letting food eat away at the funds in your bank account while studying abroad.
1. Make a budget and stick to it
I spent $500 on food and drinks in one week abroad. I also spent $30 on food and drinks in one week abroad. Without a budget set in place, it becomes extremely easy to lose track of what you’re spending money on. A few bucks here and a couple of dollars there adds up quickly, especially when you’re becoming acclimated to new surroundings and all you want to do is to take it all in at once. But for the sake of your bank account and your stomach, sit down and be realistic with yourself. I allowed myself a maximum of $70 to be spent on food per week; I spent a range of $30-$40 on groceries and the remainder on eating out for meals. If I stayed under my budget it was a win and I saved a couple of dollars, but my overall goal was to never allow myself to spend more than the allotted $70. While savings might seem minimal at first, the dollars can add up to equate to an airplane ticket, a guided tour, or even the cost to rent a paddleboard for the day. Trust me, after you come home from a semester abroad, you’re definitely not going to remember that kabob that you just needed to have.
2. Don’t shop on an empty stomach
Never, and I mean NEVER, should you go to the grocery store on an empty stomach. This is a no brainer, whether you’re in your home country or abroad. You’re only setting yourself up for failure.
3. Stick to the basics
Limit expenditures on guilty pleasures and stick to the basics. I strictly limited the amount of comfort foods and junk foods that I purchased per week. The prices racked up my grocery bill too quickly and more than often I had to throw away half-finished bags because I never finished the food. Instead, I stuck to a couple of different sources of protein, vegetables, fruits, and bread. Yes, chicken and broccoli for dinner every night can get dull after a while, but my savings allowed me to spend money on fun activities in my new home.
4. Shop with the seasons
Yup, that means you’re going to have to give up avocados at some point. During the “winter” season the prices for some food items, such as fruit, tend to sky rocket, which can really add up on a grocery bill. At a certain point, you’ll have to come to terms with what I eventually realized: shopping locally and seasonally keeps you within your food budget.
5. Go to the grocery store with a game plan
I found that it was easiest to stay within my budget when I planned out meals for the week before going to the grocery store. Once I had a set grocery list of what I needed, it was easier to avoid temptations to buy other unnecessary foods and only stick to what I needed.
6. Pack meals ahead of time
People tend to underestimate how much food can add to the total expenses of a weekend trip. Between the three standard meals and snacks, it’s easy to spend upwards of and even beyond one hundred dollars. To save money, I would spend a quarter of that price at the grocery store and prepare my meals ahead of time. I was constantly living out of Tupperware containers but I saved hundreds of dollars.
7. Get creative
Get creative and cook what you’re craving. It takes a little extra effort but it can save you a little money here and there. For example, often times, instead of taking public transportation to go to a restaurant to spend money on French fries, I made my own by purchasing a potato at the local market for less than a dollar.
8. Plan your meals out
Set aside one or two nights per week to go out to dinner or lunch with friends. Chances are, you’re not the only one whose bank account is hurting. Once we realized how much of an effect going out for food had on our total expenses, my abroad friends and I planned to eat in a majority of the week with one or two nights designated for going out and trying the local restaurants. By making agreed upon designated times to eat out, we saved money as a group but were still able to coordinate instances in which we would all splurge a little on ourselves.
9. Take advantage of local deals
When you do go out, make sure to pay attention to what’s going on at the local restaurants. A lot of places will have promotional deals, you just have to know when to go based off of signs, word of mouth, and social media. For one day during my time abroad a local burrito place that priced over $15 decided to sell for $5 for Cinco de Mayo. You could buy three burritos for the price of one. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner anyone?
10. Don’t forget to treat yourself
At the end of it all, don’t forget to treat yourself every now and then. Because sometimes, an expensive pastry is worth it.