Budget Tips For Exchange Students In The US

Studying abroad as an exchange student in the US is the first taste of the independent life for many students. It’s a really exciting period of your life. A lot of changes occur and you discover many new things. Moreover, you have your own money and can decide how to spend it! But once you realize that everything is different, things in the US are more expensive than back home and you don’t have too much money, what should you do? Here are some information that may help!

First spending’s as you come to the US.

Your first month or two are usually pretty stress-free. You have enough finances to afford whatever you want to get and you just don’t worry about the long-term expenses. Considering the fact that there is so much new cool stuff to get, money doesn’t really matter to you at that moment. However, this euphoria is temporary and you don’t want to get too much into it. These are some tips that can help:

  1. In your first month, try not to buy too many things. Just get what you really need. As time goes on, you’ll explore more and more places and better understand what is worth buying and what is not.
  2. You’ll have enough time to buy souvenirs and other “cool stuff”, don’t rush your spending in fear of having no future opportunities to get certain things. You’ll have plenty of time, believe me! Exceptions only include places where you may travel and know you’re not going to come back to again this year. But still be selective and careful with souvenirs you buy!
  3. Starbucks and other fancy places are not your finances best friend. It’s a really nice experience to get a coffee from there a couple times, but not on an everyday basis. If you really like having coffee with you, buy a thermo mug and fill it with coffee from home.
  4. School lunch is not really expensive (at $2-$3 per meal), but if buy it 20 days in a month, that’s $40-$60 gone. That’s why it’s better not to be lazy and prepare a sandwich and a snack in the morning before you go to school.
  5. Cellular service is really expensive in the States (around $20-$50 a month). So, rather than buying your own number, see if your host family has a “family subscription”. It will be much cheaper to choose this option.

Budgeting money throughout the rest of the year.

If you successfully got through your first months and you’re not broke, congratulations! Now it’s time for more serious expenses that you’ll probably have to face. As your exchange year goes on, depending on your state, the weather effects clothing needs; so, it’s time for some smart shopping!

Before going shopping, make a list of what you need; you don’t want to buy something just because you saw it. I recommend you visit stores like Kohl’s or Marshalls as they are affordable and have some good stuff. If you did not find something you like, look it up online! You can find all kind of things on Amazon.

Another important part of this experience will be spending time with your new friends and host family. You’ll probably go to quite a few fun places, so enjoy as much as you can, but remember that you have a financial limit. Don’t forget about the school yearbook (which can be $70-$100) and prom (around $30-$50)! Both are really cool experiences and great memories, so that’s why you’ll need to save some money if you want to get them!

About part-time jobs.

If you come to the realization that you don’t have any money left, there is a chance for you to get a part-time job somewhere in your neighborhood. Usually, the only real part-time job for high school exchange students (or J1 Visa holders) is babysitting and in non-official form. However, it’s hard to get a babysitting job because of a couple of reasons:

  1. You’ll need to have someone who has a baby in your neighborhood and trusts you enough for this job.
  2. You’ll be pretty busy and many times it will be impossible to be there at the needed time. So, don’t put hope on getting a part-time job during your exchange year.

However, for college students on different Visa’s, such as: F1, M1 or F2/M2/J2, employment conditions are different. For instance, if you’re a student on F1 or M1 Visa, you cannot work off campus. Yes, it’s true that you can work on campus, but for no more than 20 hours a week as an F1 student and with the purpose of temporary training for M1 students.

Think this is rough? F2/M2/J2 students are not allowed to work in any form, any time. Even though college students do have more job opportunities than high school exchange students, they are really limited. It’s created in a way to give students more time for studying  and some time for part time jobs to cover small expenses, but definitely not for serious expenses.

Don’t rely on the idea of getting a job and making money as a student in the US. Spend your stipend wisely and fully enjoy this exciting year!

budget tips for exchange students Enjoy 


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Edy from Moldova is currently finishing up his year-long exchange at North Carolina as a FLEX Program exchange student. Follow his adventures on Instagram at @edwardxd!

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