How I live and study in Europe on a tight budget (it is really not that hard)

living on a tight budget

We live in a society that wants you to want stuff. But even though stuff is nice, it’s just stuff. The sooner you realize this, the sooner will be able to let go of our society embedded idea of having more and more stuff.

Of course, we all need some things though: a place to sleep, clothes, food, some technologies, hygiene products, and some infrastructure. But that’s about it. We don’t need dozens of pairs of jeans, shirts, and shoes. We only need a few. We don’t need to buy a new smartphone every year. We only need to buy one and use it until it doesn’t serve us anymore. Same goes for other electronics. Same goes for kitchen supplies, cosmetics…

In Europe, as a scholarship student, I don’t have the luxury to spend much because I don’t earn much. So not buying is not actually a choice. I have to be careful with how I spend. But even so, I can’t afford living month by month without having some backup money because, well, we never know.

One of the first ‘laws’ of personal financing is that you have to pay yourself first, right?

That’s why no matter what, I save 10 to 20% of my earnings. So I start the month with only 80%. The thing is I don’t spend everything that is left. I spend about 50% of that in a month.

So my rule of thumb is saving at least 10% of my income of the month and spending only half of what is left. How do I do it? I set up a savings account with my student account.

When we are a student living abroad, we don’t tend to think too much about savings because we get so little anyway. But saving has to be part of your routine, no matter how much you get. It’s all about paying yourself before bills and expenses.

It’s also about not shopping that much


Being able to spend less means that I don’t really go to shopping malls to spend time or when I’m bored… I go to parks and free or cheap museums. I also don’t really eat out often. But when I do, I try to go to a place that matters to me: vegan, local, or to meet friends.

Parties and happy-hours happen occasionally but not several times a week for me. When I travel, I always stay at hostels. I have used Couchsurfing on a few occasions as well, when in Munich, London, and Amsterdam. Couchsurfing is free, and usually, you have the help and attention of your host. It’s about connecting and making friends while traveling and saving money on a place to stay. I like taking the bus when it’s cheaper than trains, or even Blablacar. Blablacar is paid, but it is often cheaper and faster than buses and trains. Give it a try if you haven’t already.

When I visit a city, I take free walking tours. I eat out only once a day and buy food in supermarkets. I take public transport only when needed (I prefer to walk) and mainly, I don’t buy stuff in gift shops.

I don’t refrain myself of doing the things that I value. Trips, cultural activities, a vegan restaurant one in a while, weekly groceries of healthy food… those are the things that truly matter to me.

But still, I have more than I need

When I moved from Salzburg to Brussels, I realized how much stuff I have and it made me wonder why the hell a 24-year-old single woman living abroad has to have 17kgs in her dispatched luggage and who knows how many kilos in a parcel box sent in advance.

I’m very far from being unattached from material goods. But at least I’m conscious about how problematic it is to be attached too much. We don’t need most of the things we think we do.

I hope to become a more conscious buyer, one day at a time.