For some students, a global study semester may be the first time you are solely responsible for budgeting for food, grocery shopping, and preparing your own meals. However, all of these things will be an everyday part of your life after graduation—so it’s a great time to start developing these skills now! Check out some of the resources and tips below for staying healthy, happy, and not hungry on a budget.
Creating a Budget
If you are on a program where you prepare your own meals, you will receive a weekly meal stipend or a meal credit that has been applied to your Student Account (visible on the Payment Understanding in the CGE Dashboard).
If your program requires you to prepare your own meals, creating a budget ahead of time will be a good way to predict and track your expenses throughout the semester. The first step is to break down how much you anticipate spending per month or per week during your semester. This exact amount can differ depending on the cost of living in your host country as well as your personal diet needs and preferences. For students who receive a meal credit applied to your Student Account, you can divide this by the number of weeks on your program. This can be a good benchmark of how much you can estimate to spend per week on food in your host country. Keep in mind, the meal stipend/credit you receive is for food only, not additional personal care expenses such as shampoo or detergent.
The next step is to create some way to track your expenses each week. Microsoft Excel and other similar programs can help you create tables/charts to track how much you’ve spent on meals/dining out, with automatic equations that calculate sums, averages, etc. There are also apps you can install on your phone to record costs.
Grocery shopping for the first time can be a little overwhelming, and grocery shopping in a new country can be especially so. While you will quickly get a feel for how much/what kinds of foods to purchase, below are a few tips for starting off:
- Buy less, go frequently. In many countries, it’s common for people to stop at a grocery store every day or every other day. Especially as you first begin grocery shopping, you may be tempted to buy more food than you can actually eat—which can lead to wasted food and wasted money. Going to the grocery store for smaller trips a few times per week will help you understand how much you actually eat, and prevent you from buying too much and letting it go bad. Keep in mind that depending on where you are studying, refrigerators may be smaller than you are used to and warmer climates may mean that fruits/vegetables can spoil more quickly.
- Actually cook! Pre-packaged foods or frozen foods keep for a long time, but may not be the most healthy or cost-effective. For example, buying a whole chicken instead of frozen chicken fingers or pre-cut chicken cutlets will be much less expensive and can be used in a lot of different creative meals. Buying smaller amounts of fresh, seasonal produce keeps your diet varied without worrying about it spoiling.
- Make a list, and stick to it. Impulse buys are a quick way to spend too much money while forgetting to buy the things you need. Plan out your meals before going shopping so that you can confidently walk into the grocery store knowing what you need.
- Get to know your community. There may be some grocery stores that have a wider selection or better prices on specific items. Many grocery stores also offer discount cards or have coupon circulars that you can and should take advantage of. Seasonal produce at farmer’s markets is a great option as well.
- Talk to locals. Where do your friends/roommates/neighbors shop? What grocery stores have sales or where do they learn about sales?
- Cook with friends! Buying foods in bulk is often less expensive, but it can be repetitive to eat the same meal over and over. By preparing meals with friends, you can share the costs of food while still having variety in your diet. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn local recipes and foods specific to your host country and culture.
Preparing your Own Meals
If it’s your first time cooking for yourself—not to fear! There are lots of great recipes out there that don’t require culinary expertise, costly ingredients, or fancy kitchen equipment to prepare.
Check out some of the resources and lists below for simple recipes to try:
This website includes a search tool where you can select the items you already have on hand and foods you want to avoid. Then, it generates a list of recipes specific to you!
In addition to having lots of great information about every country in the world, each page on CultureGrams has a list of recipes specific to that country! If you cultivate a love of cooking during your global study semester, collecting recipes from your global study semester is a great way to remember your experience.