5 tips for managing your money when you teach abroad

The ability to save money can be a make-or-break factor when you’re sizing up where to live and work. So once you’ve settled on a location, how can you make sure that you put some pennies away without sacrificing your quality of life? International teacher Annie Surdi shares her tips on making it all add up.

Firstly, you have to remember that you are working abroad and not on holiday. As most of us know, when we are on holiday, money is sometimes not such a big issue and we want to indulge ourselves.

From my own personal experience, this is the area that I really struggled with initially and it took me some time to adapt and change my spending habits. But, having said that, I also didn’t want to constrain myself from enjoying myself whilst teaching and living abroad. Here are some tips that helped me.

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1. Food shopping

I remember at the initial stages I hated the prospect of heading to the market, which was the best option to save money on fresh fruit and vegetables. I just didn’t want the hassle of bartering and I didn’t feel very confident so I opted for the big food chains, without doing any prior research that some were renowned just for their brand identity. I ended up spending way over my budget on basic produce. Nowadays there seem to be a lot of foreign chains that have discount prices so it’s worth considering. And some large supermarkets even have store cards so it is definitely a must have as you can get a discounted price if you are a store card holder.

2. Mobile and Internet services

I found this quite daunting at first as there’s so much competition and where do you start? If you’re foreigner it could be a nightmare if you don’t speak the language. However, the best option is not to rush into it – do some research and stay away from contracts as contract plans are much longer and there is too much bureaucracy attached to them, as I found in Italy. It’s best to stick to a pay as you go option where you can monitor your spending and they do have many deals on this service too. Customer service abroad is not at its best, they are extremely well trained when selling at stores but not as good and helpful when it comes to customer complaints, which are normally dealt with through a phone service. In my case, to avoid any misunderstanding I opted to take a native person along because as soon as they see that you are or you sound like a foreigner they seem be less eager to assist you regardless of your language command.

3. Wining and Dining

It’s quite normal at first – the full experience of both immersing in the culture and of being abroad starts off with eating out. In my case it’s Italy which as we know is renowned internationally for its cuisine. Italy, like Spain, has an “Aperitivo” culture which is similar to “Tapas” so you pay for a drink and there’s normally a huge buffet with various types of finger food. This saved me a fortune as I ended up eating out. When teaching abroad, depending upon where you teach, the work-life balance does vary a lot. And with the use of modern technology there are many websites that cater to offering you last-minute deals on dining. I discovered a site called “Groupon” which offers last-minute deals from dining to spas in each region. I found that I could both save a small fortune and enjoy the luxury of being overseas.

4. Hairdressers/Barbers

It’s best to check out prices and do research beforehand. I found I spent more in salons abroad. They have a tendency at times not to stick to the price list or don’t seem to have one. Locals generally go to a place based on word of mouth or if they find it’s too expensive they decide to take their custom elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to check out prices beforehand or even go online on last-minute sites which also offer “hot deals” on hair and beauty.

5. Accommodation

In most countries there isn’t the tendency or culture of house or flat sharing unless you are in a big city. So, before you make the move it’s worth researching cost of living as I was completely oblivious to this aspect. Although I could afford to pay the rent, I found the cost of utilities rather sky high. This could be down to the fact that if you are not a resident or citizen you pay a different rate.

For more money tips, why not read our related articles on how to earn extra income as a teacher, and how to save money on international bank transfers.

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Written by Annie Surdi, an international teacher who has lived and worked in Honduras, Australia, and Italy.