I was in my final few weeks of a pediatric clinical during the Summer term, when my nursing friend, Grace, gave me a piece of advice. She had just returned from studying abroad in London, and was a great sounding board for some of the issues I was facing in preparation for Australia.
Out of 15 students from Drexel who were bound for Australia, I was the only student to be randomly selected by the Australian consulate, to complete a $400 physical examination and chest X-ray, in addition to the cost of a visa and health insurance. It was going to cost nearly $1,000 to just enter the country, and I hadn’t been financially prepared for that reality. As I shared with Grace my reservations, she told me not to allow this unexpected cost to be the reason I forfeit such an incredible opportunity. She said that once I returned from Australia, I wouldn’t think twice about that additional $400 cost.
Grace was right and wrong in the same breath. She was right that $400 shouldn’t be the reason I forfeit fulfilling a dream. However, I’ve thought several times about that cost. It taught me two things:
- I need to learn how to ask for help from others without feeling ashamed, and
- When making financial decisions, don’t forget to consider what’s to gain from the investment.
Lesson Learned #6 —Knowing the difference between mindless spending and thoughtful investing is foundational for increasing wisdom.
There is nothing wrong with building and applying financial wisdom while abroad. Everyone may not be doing it, but if that’s something you’re hoping to learn or practice, the study abroad platform is certainly one place to start.
In an effort to be intentional with my spending, I created the following approach to investing. This is what has worked for me, and it is in no way, shape, or form an exhaustive list of how to invest while abroad. Additionally, the investments mentioned throughout this post are a mixture of time, money, change in personal habits, and education.
- Budget, Revise, and Keep Revising as Needed
- Start with a plan. I made a budget before I started my study abroad application. Once I arrived in Australia, had a greater sense of the exchange rate, and compared that against the cost of living on the US Dollar, I was able to re-adjust my budget. Studying abroad is not a vacation, or holiday, even if the destination looks that way. It’s an extended time in one place, and for me that meant taking care not to spend all the money I had, within in the first three weeks. I purchased a budget planner, so that I could monitor my spending habits on a daily basis. It’s the perfect place to see each purchase, line-by-line, and compare the price against its value.
- Make Certain That Each Purchase Aligns with an Overall Goal
- Intentional spending is purposeful. I set out to achieve three goals this term: 1) make it to my dream destination—Australia 2) study journalism 3) focus on personal development. Even when I’m buying food, I approach it with intentionality and categorize it within one of my three goals. Rather than investing in Maccas regularly, I invest my money in food experiences. It’s also my favorite way of expanding my cultural palette. I’ve found myself at restaurants I wouldn’t think to try in America. I’ve even had the chance to speak with restaurant owners and head chefs about the culture that fills their menu. I invest regularly in an Opal Card, so that I can easily get around Sydney on public transport. The Opal Card is far-reaching. Every Monday, I take time to hop on some form of public transport, and explore a new suburb in New South Wales (NSW). I’ve traveled two hours via the train for a horseback riding session in Campbelltown. The train ride cost no more than $8 USD roundtrip, and the session was $35 USD. The train rides in NSW are peaceful, as the backdrop transitions between water to pure greenery. It feels almost like a steal to see so much for so little. Busses typically reach many of the major beaches near UNSW, such as Bondi, Coogee, Maroubra, and the Bay at La Perouse.
- I’ve also invested a great deal in exploring new books. My linguistics textbook was my first purchase, and for the past few weeks, I’ve brought this book nearly everywhere I go. I also have two leisure books I’ve been exploring—The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho and 7 Myths About Singleness by Sam Allberry. There’s a new adventure with each flip of the page. The weekend is the time I invest in leisure activities, like sunrise kayaking beneath the Sydney Harbor Bridge and later climbing its arches with a Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb tour guide. These investments have been nothing less than rewarding.
- Invest in Scholarships
- I made time to apply for scholarships before my departure date. Since I’ve arrived in Australia, I’ve continued to invest time in submitting scholarship applications. Not only has the aid helped to offset the cost of tuition and living expenses, but it forces me to be less prideful, and ask for help.
- Have Multiple Accountability Buddies
- Birds of a Feather Invest Together—I have been lucky enough to be surrounded with mates who are mindful of their spending habits, but willing to invest in worthwhile purchases. They are also unafraid to hold me accountable. My travel buddy, Charlotte, has held me accountable financially, often times without even realizing it. Her smart habits have personally challenged me, and even prevented me from splurging unnecessarily or overspending.
- Leave Room for Emergencies
- While I wouldn’t say the $400 physical exam and chest X-ray were true emergencies, they were certainly unexpected costs. Those tend to arise, especially when away from home, potentially away from everyone you know. I’ve heard stories that people study abroad without a credit card and manage. That, however, was not my method. I applied for a credit card with American Express. The benefits of this emergency card is that there is no foreign transaction fees, and I can also build up rewards points. It’s a good tool, when used appropriately.
I’ve been to Maccas 4 times within the last six weeks, BUT my goal is to stay away for the remainder of my time in Oz. Have you heard of Maccas before, and if so, can you tell me what it is? Check your answer below!
Hopefully you find a tip or two helpful as you plan for your study abroad experience. I know I often hear Grace’s words echo in my mind, telling me to look past the initial cost and decide if there is longevity in my purchase. It’s made spending money that much more intentional, enjoyable, and less worrisome.
Quick Trivia Answer: Maccas (pronounced: mack-uhz) = the one-and-only, McDonald’s