1 Sep 2015

How to Survive Abroad with the Falling Ringgit

As you may be aware, the ringgit has been taking a plunge against major currencies, such as the Singapore dollar, US dollar and UK pound sterling. What this means is that students who are studying abroad or are planning to do so, will be paying a lot more than in the past.

While you (and your parents) may have cause for concerns, there are ways for you to survive abroad by making a few lifestyle changes.

Here are 7 ways for you to manage your money and expenses despite the declining ringgit.

1) Keep track of your budget

Let’s start with the basics — managing your budget. Trust us when we say that this is one habit that will be tremendously helpful to you later on in life, especially once you start working!

The first step is to set a limit on how much you can spend in a month, and then break that down into weeks. Work with your parents to see how much they can support you financially, as well as any extra financial aid that you are able to secure, and see how much that ends up in one month.

From there, you can use various apps and calculators to plan and monitor your expenses to ensure that you are not overspending. Having a weekly budget helps you in your decision-making process too, such as whether you should go ahead for a fun night out or stay at home instead.

Here are some great budget calculators for you to check out:

Alternatively, you can also use a simple Google spreadsheet which you can easily customise!

2) Buy and pack only what you need

Packing for your studies abroad can be a daunting task, especially if you’re moving from hot and sunny Malaysia to a country with four seasons, and you’re not quite sure how it’s going to be!

For starters, don’t buy too many winter jackets in preparation for the cold — these take up a lot of space, and you will be able to find good bargains abroad. Similarly, unnecessary items like an extra pot, tonnes of Maggie Mee or even bottles of shampoo shouldn’t be bought unless you really need it. Instead, stick to travel-sized items, sensible amounts of scrumptious Malaysian food and basic clothing and jackets that can be layered.

So don’t get carried away and pack too many things from home. You don’t want to end up unpacking your suitcase at the airport, or having to pay extra charges for overweight luggage!

3) More home-cooked meals

One of the biggest expenses that you will undoubtedly incur while studying abroad is food. There will be no cheap mamak or ‘mixed rice‘ options for you in countries like Australia, UK or USA.

Instead of eating out and spending a bomb, try cooking your own meals instead. It’s A LOT cheaper this way, and you pick up a life skill at the same time! If you’re staying with a few mates in an apartment, you can even take turns to cook and split the grocery bills amongst yourselves.

Now, I know what you’re thinking — you don’t know how to cook!

Well, if you’re a noob in the kitchen like me, check out these websites that offer simple recipes using affordable ingredients.

I promise it’s much easier than it looks. Plus, think of how impressed your parents will be when you come back and cook up a storm during the summer holidays!

4) Get a part-time job

Saving money isn’t the only way to survive — you can also try making some money too!

Most student visas allow you to work up to a certain number of hours a week. Whether it’s waiting on tables, working in a department store or doing some data entry work, these few extra bucks can go a long way!

Remember that you are not just limited to physical jobs. With the advent of the internet, there are many companies who are looking to hire people for one-time or freelance work, and you can work from anywhere in the world. Try out sites like Upwork that hires freelancers and Fiverr that allows you to sell small tasks and services.

Working part-time not only helps you financially, but you’ll also be gaining work experience too! This can be a helpful addition to your CV when you’re job-hunting after you graduate.

5) Make use of student discounts

One of the greatest things about being a student is getting student discounts!

Whether it’s transportation, food and drinks, books, or even tickets to events, always be on the lookout for student discounts as they can add up to quite a bit. Establishments around your campus may also offer discounts for students, so don’t be afraid to ask! Just remember to always have your student ID at hand.

Also, don’t forget that there’s also the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) Card that offers a range of discounts and benefits that you can make use of all around the world. It will cost you some money (currently priced at RM21.20 including GST), but it can be well worth it.

6) Book your trip home in advance

Once summer starts, many of you may choose to return home for the long holidays to visit your friends and family.

If you do plan to travel home, book your air tickets really early and keep an eye out for airfare promotions. Many business travellers often book their flights at the last minute, so prices of airfares tend to increase closer to the day. Booking your flights early can help you save some serious money (sometimes even up to 50%!), so it’s well worth planning way in advance.

Make sure you use sites like Skyscanner and Google Flights to compare prices and to ensure that you’re getting the cheapest fares.

Also, do note that for full service airlines (i.e. airlines that are NOT budget or low cost carriers), it’s always best to book return tickets, as one way tickets are usually more expensive.

7) Look for scholarships or financial aid

Most universities will have some scholarships allocated for international students, so ask your university counsellor to find out what the requirements are. While you may not be eligible for it in the first year of studies, you may find yourself eligible for it in the subsequent years.

In addition, some universities may also have financial aid grants.These are usually grants that are offered to students who are in dire need of financial aid, and are typically one-off payments with varying amounts depending on a student’s needs. So, do check with your university counsellor about this as well.

You can also try securing scholarships from Malaysia. Companies such as Great Eastern provide scholarships for students to study abroad via their Great Eastern Supremacy Scholarship, so it’s worth applying for these as well.

We hope these tips have helped! Need some life learning tips from a pro? Check out this article: 7 Life Learnings from Dato’ Seri Nazir Razak

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