Carpe (per) diem

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As college students, we always seem to be complaining about our lack of money. Budgeting is really just an added burden to studying, sleeping and doing laundry, and it’s all too easy to open our wallets and let those little green papers take care of our troubles. No wonder students find themselves short on cash too many times to count.

There’s only one thing that would make this entire situation even more difficult: being abroad.

Now, on top of the typical monetary student struggles, I have to be very careful to not waste money on trivial things, as it could be spent on other worthwhile experiences abroad. Because of this, I have learned ways to live the best of both worlds by having adventures while keeping pennies in my pocket.

Visit a market

If there’s anything college students complain about, it’s being stressed, tired or hungry. Money may not be directly associated with the first two, but eating out is probably one of our biggest culprits regarding having low funds. After a long day of classes, work and extracurricular activities, it’s always easy to walk down the street and buy dinner; most of the time, our exhausted selves can’t even be bothered to distinguish costs, and we spend more than we really needed to.

Cooking every day is definitely not easy, but it can be fun and will always be rewarding. Make it even more exciting by creating events that require cooking to eventually take place. For example, the next time you find yourself wanting to get out on the weekend, round up your friends, find a farmer’s market or food fair nearby and surround yourself with fresh produce. The sights, sounds and smells (definitely smells) will entice you to make a delicious meal from the fresh ingredients around you. Not only will you spend less than if you bought lunch for a week, but you’ll also be eating foods that’ll keep you healthy and energized.

(Extra tip: Why not make your trip to the market a celebration and host a potluck with your friends? The catch? Everything can only be made from the fresh foods you all bought together.)

Make it a game

Just the word “budget” brings a sense of dread to the best of us, but why not have a little fun with it? Set yourself small targets throughout the month and try to reach or even surpass them. For example, if your electricity bill was $100 last month, challenge yourself and keep a conscious eye on things that drive up costs. You don’t have to become a hermit and live in total darkness, showering with only cold water, but even saving $10 a month is better than nothing. Just always keep in mind that everything adds up. Plus, minigames and challenges like this are handy because you only need sheer willpower. Whether you walked past your daily coffee cart with your homemade brew in hand or double-checked that all the lights were turned off before leaving the house, you’re making small, but significant, improvements that your bank account will soon thank you for.

Do it for free

Of course we love to catch up with friends over brunch, go to the theaters or explore the city, but alas, we know all too well that these things cost money. Because of this (and a tight budget), more often than not, we find ourselves passing up fun outings because we’re trying to save money for more dire expenditures.

But fun doesn’t always have to come with a price tag. There are so many free or cheap things that every city provides, and it usually just takes a quick Google search to find out what’s going on. With one click, you can choose from free comedy shows, outdoor movie screenings, slam poetry performances — the options are endless! Plus, it’s a wonderful way to become familiar with the city you’re in. A lot of these events are usually put on in places that aren’t huge tourist spots, so getting to explore the quirks of a city will make you feel like a true local. And who knows, maybe you’ll find that the café you always walk by has amazing live music every Thursday night (along with killer hot chocolate).

Now that I’m abroad, budgeting has had to become a very real concept to me. What’s even more gratifying is that it doesn’t have to be as boring, dry and consequential as it’s usually described to be. Budgeting can actually be fun, and, when combined with motivation, it can result in some really exciting and innovative experiences. Budgeting really does “pay off.”

Jenisha Sabaratnam writes the weekly Travel column on her study abroad experiences in Australia. Contact Jenisha Sabaratnam at [email protected].