College life is a time of major learning, not only inside the classroom, practically every situation you find yourself in, you learn something. You become more independent as you start making decisions on your own as a growing young adult.
It is very common for students to go abroad to study. An international experience can be life-changing. To begin with, you are no longer staying with your parents but far away from home. You gain many new perspectives, meet people from different countries, experience different cultures and work with diverse peers.
While it is tempting to pursue an education abroad, we cannot deny the fact that it can be a costly affair. The United States (U.S.) is a top destination for international students even though the cost of education is also one of the highest. You will have to factor in the cost of living, health insurance, high tuition fees, and other educational-related expenses which makes the total cost of attendance extremely high (5 figures and more in US dollars).
The currency exchange rate is also a major concern. It will add to your expenses. You want to look for the best money transfers services that will provide the best exchange rates to get more value for your money.
There are scholarships, grants, student loans, and several other financing options for students to cover their tuition fees and certain other expenses, however, other personal expenditures have to be self-managed. If you do take student loans to finance your education, paying back the loan is part of your financial planning.
Managing your finances well is part of the experience of studying abroad. It is perfectly understandable to feel stressed out trying to manage your finances, while you study to earn your degree.
An important skill you need to learn as an international student is keeping track of your money and you do that by creating a budget. In today's time, there are tons of budgeting software/tools and mobile applications that help students track their spending and savings.
These applications can be easily installed on any smartphone or handheld device and also can be synced with a laptop or desktop. We will list the top budgeting apps for foreign students in the U.S. to help you stay on top of your finances.
Before we get to the list of top budgeting apps, let's discuss the basics of budgeting.
A budget is a plan that lists out all your planned expenses (can include savings/investments) for a certain period, based on how much you earn. The budget helps you prioritize your spendings on the things you need like books, food, rent, utility bills, credit card bill payments, etc.
Creating a budget is a proactive step in organizing your finances so that you have your basic expenses covered and knowing you can enjoy going out with friends, go for entertainment without worrying about money. It ensures that you are not spending more than what you earn and that you are not falling into a debt trap. Hence, budgeting is important for financial stability. Developing good financial habits will serve you well even after graduation.
It is easier to stick to your budget if you make specific financial goals. It can be short-term goals such as saving money for books for the next semester or a trip or paying extra on your student loan/credit card bill each month. It can be long-term goals like saving up for a down payment for a new car or paying off your student loans within the next five years or saving for retirement etc. Specifying why you are saving money keeps you on track towards your financial goals.
When you underestimate your income, you end up with a cash surplus which is way better than a budget shortfall.
Your income every month could be coming from your scholarships, grants, student loans, or your on-campus/off-campus jobs. Once you start making a budget, you will be able to see if your expenses exceed your income. You can reduce your expenses if you can differentiate between your needs or wants. For example, ordering food online is convenient but if you do it twice a week and repeat it every week, the expenses on food add up. Focus on saving more by cooking your food. Look for any cheap alternatives and avoid unnecessary spendings.
A budget helps you prepare for any unexpected expenses that can happen while you are attending your classes. It could be a job loss, illness, unexpected bills, phone repairs, etc. Life is unpredictable and unusual expenses happen. Keeping aside an emergency fund should be a priority. If nothing happens, it will be your savings.
Tracking all your expenses, spending, and saving habits while you study is not always the easiest or fun thing to do. That's why there are many budgeting apps to make life easier.
We have compiled a list of the best budgeting apps that can help you choose the one that is best suited for your needs.
Rated 4.8 stars out of 5 on the App store and 4.5 stars out of 5 on Google Play, Mint is one of the most downloaded free personal finance apps.
With the Mint app, you can integrate all your banking activity which the app tracks and categorize your transactions automatically. The notable features of the Mint app are customizable budgets and alerts. The app sends you alerts for any upcoming bills, low balances, or large suspicious transactions, or if you are about to go over budget. This way you can avoid paying late fees, overdraft fees, penalty fees, and more.
Another great feature is the personalized insights about your spending habits to suggest a budget goal and help you spend smarter and save more.
Students with a history of overspending can go for PocketGuard. It seamlessly links your checking accounts, credit, and saving accounts and keeps track of your spending. It estimates your income, tracks your expenses and analyzes your saving goals to help you stick to your budget.
PocketGuard automatically categorizes your expenses but you can also customize the categories. And set spending limits in the app as well.
If you link your recurring bills such as cable bills or phone bills, the tracking feature of the app helps you negotiate better rates on such bills. The Autosave feature helps you save money effortlessly (this feature comes with a $2 maintenance fee for the free version of the app).
You can upgrade to PocketGuard Plus for $4.99 per month or $34.99 per year.
It is rated 4.7/5 stars on the App Store and 3.8/5 on Google Play.
If you are looking to share your budget with a friend or a partner, the Goodbudget app is for you. You can sync the app with more than one person.
Goodbudget works on the envelope-budgeting technique which is dividing your funds into envelopes that can be categorized based on spending requirements such as rent, foods, entertainment, etc but it is done entirely digital. This is an excellent method to save for a large purchase, or saving for a down payment for a new home or a car.
With Goodbudget, you will have to manually add account balances, paycheck, cash, etc, to their specific category, since it is not synced with your bank accounts. Once added, Goodbudget can show how much you have spent and how much is left. The platform is accessible from a tablet or desktop also.
There is a free version and a paid version ($7 per month or $60 per year). The paid version offers unlimited envelopes and accounts and other extended capabilities.
The app has a rating of 4.7/5 stars on the App Store and 4.4/5 stars on Google Play.
YNAB, short for You Need A Budget is based on the zero-based budgeting system, meaning every dollar in the budget is assigned a task. It is strictly a budget planner.
There is a 34-day free trial after which you pay $11.99 per month or $84 a year. YNAB offers a 100% no-risk money-back guarantee if you cancel at any time before the trial ends. For students, the app is available for free for 12 months if they provide proof of enrollment.
YNAB app assists you with your financial goal setting and tracking and gives insights on financial habits. You also have access to free online workshops, budgeting advice, and support from YNAB staff.
The app works on desktops and even voice-activated devices. The app is rated 4.8/5 on App Store and 4.3 /5 stars on Google Play.
Primarily an investment tool, Personal Capital is one of the popular personal finance apps. You can link your checking, savings, credit card accounts, as well as student loans, retirement accounts, and mortgages. The app tracks your activity to provide your full financial picture, from your daily expenditures to your investment portfolio performance.
It tracks your day-to-day spending and lists all your transactions by category. You can customize these categories and see how much you spend each month on each category. It also tracks your net worth in real-time.
Personal Capital offers several savings tools that allow you to build emergency funds or retirement savings. It also has a desktop version.
If you are interested in investing on top of keeping track of your money, go for Personal Capital. The app is rated 4.7/5 stars on the App Store and 4.3 /5 stars on Google Play.
Budgeting apps are numerous and come with a wide array of features. To decide which app is the best for you, get clear about your personal financial goals. What will be the purpose of your budgeting app? Is it only to track your spending and build savings? Or is it to learn how to make a budget and stick to it? Do you plan to invest in the future? and so on.
Make use of the free apps or any free trial period before you start paying for such apps. No matter which budgeting app you use, you will learn how to manage your finances as a student and develop healthy financial habits that will serve you for life. Learning how to budget as a student will help you in achieving both your academic and financial goals.