It’s been a month and a half since I first ventured out into living in Copenhagen as an exchange student. Over this time, I’ve myself struggled with managing my personal finances despite building out extensive spreadsheets that would only require me to plop in a few numbers as time went on. I’ve also spoken to many other exchange students who have crumbled and given up with managing their spending while studying (or travelling).
There are numerous reasons why this happens. Luckily, I’ve managed to pull through (somewhat) and figure out the main pain points of why it’s so difficult to keep track of my expenditures while abroad. Read on to find out what they are and how to overcome them!
Pain Point #1 – Keeping track of spending uses up your valuable time
As a student, especially one who is on an exchange abroad, time is valuable. From planning and booking flights to meeting other students and learning about different cultures (oh, and studying, if you get to that), free time is rare and the last way that you want to be spending it is in front of a computer looking at how much money you spent last week. Luckily, I’ve found my way around using solely extensive Excel spreadsheets by using simple mobile applications.
There’s numerous applications that you can use for this purpose but the two that have seemed to work best for me are Wally and Spendee. Wally allows you to easily input your spending in as your day goes on through their mobile application, and then you can view all of your spendings over the entire month. If you’re like me and have a job while abroad, Wally also can include track information about your income. Spendee is very similar in this respect.
Pain Point #2 – Forgetting what you spent money on
This happened to me numerous times – especially when travelling across Europe, outside of the country that I’m studying in. What tends to happen is you purchase something very minor and don’t collect a receipt leaving it to be forgotten over time. Even when collecting receipts, they may not be in a language you’re familiar with so you still don’t know what you spent your money on when you look back at it.
Using an application like Wally or Spendee allows you to easily keep track of your spending on the go so regardless of what you are doing or where you are, you can quickly pop the amount spent and item into your mobile application. It may take a few days to get used to this but once you’re used to it, it becomes easy to keep track. I tend to keep receipts and check them back later to make sure I haven’t missed anything in my app. That also gives me more content to toss into my exchange scrapbook once I get back home!
Pain Point #3 – Managing different currencies
If you find yourself travelling a lot, it’s going to get difficult managing currency conversions as you go to different countries. Personally, to date, I’ve had the struggle of trying to convert and keep track of Hungarian Forint, Canadian Dollars, Euros, Pounds, Danish Kroner, and Swedish Krona. Usually, you try to relate back these currencies to the currency of your home country but this still gets a bit difficult, especially when spending money. For example, since I’m Canadian, one Canadian dollar is worth ~0.68 Euros at today’s market rate. As a result, when I see an object for sale at 5 Euros, I think it is cheap, although it may not be given the conversion. These small things have a big impact on impulse spending leading you to rack up lots of extra costs that may not be needed.
To keep track, try to have a mental note of what the conversion rate is wherever you’re going. Usually, I check the conversion rate for one Canadian dollar to whatever currency I’ll be spending money in and use this as a reference to do conversions in my head before purchasing items. Spendee also has the ability to do currency conversions, which makes tracking money using it easy. Wally doesn’t, which makes it a bit more difficult to use, but still easy if you convert the currency manually.
Pain Point #4 – You don’t care enough to keep track of your spending
This one is true – the desire to keep track of your spending might be low. Heck, sometimes I feel that it isn’t too important to keep track and fall behind for a few days, at which point I have to search for receipts to get everything back in order.
I can’t do much here but provide some advice. Tracking your spending is pretty crucial to ensure you aren’t going to go over what your limit is, rather than finding out too late. Furthermore, by keeping track of your spending, you can decide where you’re spending too much money and cut back to afford that trip near the end of your exchange term. Without any sort of system in place to know how much you’re spending and where you may be spending more money than you think without knowing it.
And there you have it – my opinion on the pain points of why tracking your spending on an exchange term is so difficult and how to solve them. Usually, once I have everything in my app, I cross check it with my credit card statement and plop figures into a pre-made Excel spreadsheet. This helps me stay organized and keep track of how much exchange has cost me in total thus far!