This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please read my disclosure for more details(Last Updated On: December 2, 2019)
This post talks about how to save money living abroad. I currently live in beautiful Switzerland which is also widely regarded as one of the most expensive countries to live in. Its 2 largest cities, Zurich and Geneva respectively, consistently rank among the top 10 most expensive cities to live in. The cost of living in my city, Lausanne, is not very far away from the top 10.
Needless to say, it is definitely difficult to live in such an expensive country on a student budget. In the 1.5 years that I’ve lived abroad, I have actually managed to GROW MY SAVINGS ACCOUNT.
So far, I’ve accumulated more than 11,000 Swiss Francs (1 Swiss Franc = 1 US Dollars) in my Swiss bank account!
I’d say that I lead a simple and frugal lifestyle. At the same time, I still manage to enjoy life’s simple luxuries. I live in my own studio apartment with a spectacular view and within 5 minutes from the lake. I have extra spending money which I use to travel once in a while and even buy some luxury goods.
My friends often wonder how I manage to live such a comfortable lifestyle abroad. Today, I am going to give you some smart and effective tips to save money whilst living abroad. If I was able to save $11,000 while living in the most expensive country in the world, why can’t you?!
1. I use my student discount whenever possible
Before making a purchase, I always ask if student discounts apply. Many restaurants offer student menus and you can eat a whole lot for a very low price.
When I bought my new iPad Pro, I was also able to save 3%. It’s not much, but it adds up in the long run. And since the value-added taxes are so low in Switzerland (merely 8%), I was actually able to save money by buying my iPad in Switzerland rather than back home!
I also got a free student bank account and a discounted student rate for my monthly phone plan and insurance plan (saving me hundreds of dollars per month)!
2. I found a part-time job
As a non-EU student, I have the right to work in Switzerland after 6 months of residence. The catch is that I can only work for a maximum of 20 hours per week (this varies by canton).
At the 5-month mark, I started looking for jobs. I was extremely lucky. One of my professors decided to hire me as a Teaching Assistant, and I have been working for her for over a year now. The work is enjoyable and very flexible. I can work from home and on my own schedule. And it basically pays for my rent.
During the summer holidays (June-August 2017), I found a summer internship. As a foreign student, I am allowed to work up to 100% during the holidays, as long as I am returning to school in the Fall. I found an internship in a packaging company in Zurich. The pay was pretty shabby, but I basically managed to put most of my 3-month’s salary into savings.
3. I cook my own meals and rarely eat out
I rarely eat out in restaurants because it is super expensive to do so. In Switzerland, you’re looking at anywhere from 30-50 Swiss Francs for a basic meal. Also, I find that Swiss restaurants don’t really offer very much variety (it’s mostly cheese and meat). My cuisine of choice is Asian (of course!) and the “Asian” food here is just downright awful!
One exception though is that I do occasionally eat out at the university cafeteria, though that does not really count as a restaurant. And the meals are highly subsidized. Sometimes I also splurge on a burger and fries when I’m lacking self-control. I’m a huge sucker for fries!
In any case, I prefer cooking at home a lot more than eating out. It’s healthier and helps train me to be a better cook. Not to mention, it really helps with cutting down my monthly expenses!
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4. I try to walk as much as possible and avoid using public transportation
The public transportation in Switzerland is top-notch. It’s reliable and you can get pretty much anywhere using the train or bus, even if it’s in the middle of no where. Like literally in the middle of no where, up 3,000m (9,842 ft) in the mountains!
In Switzerland, you can buy a “half-tax card” which allows you to purchase all the tickets at half the price. It’s a hefty sum (180 Swiss Francs for one year) but if you travel a lot within the country, then it’s totally worth it. For example, if you do Geneva-Zurich round trip, you will already save yourself 75 francs. The card is valid for one year and renewable thereafter. I’ve purchased this card as I travel quite frequently between Lausanne and Geneva.
The SBB, which is the national train company, also offers discount train tickets if you purchase via their app at least an hour in advance. I usually don’t take advantage of these deals. I’m too much of a last-minute girl. But if I know in advance which train I plan to take, I try to find these discounted tickets online. These discount train tickets are especially great for those who don’t have the half-tax card.
5. I don’t drink or smoke
I’ve never liked drinking or smoking. This has its benefits for my pocket, of course. Whenever my friends and I go out, my friends could end up spending anywhere between 50-100 francs (drinks can get expensive – think 10-15 francs a beer in some bars). Since I don’t drink or smoke, I often end up going home without spending a single penny.
In Switzerland, smoking is a lot cheaper than in North America. The taxes aren’t as high. You can literally buy cigarettes from vending machines for as little as 3 francs. They even sell them at the university campus. You would be shocked at how many Swiss (and Europeans in general) smoke! They even allow smoking on the train platforms! Yuck!
6. I cut down on meat consumption
I’m not really a fan of meat in the first place so this one wasn’t difficult at all. I avoided eating meat for a few reasons. First, it’s very expensive. Second, I’m a terrible cook and cooking meat adds a whole new layer of complexity.
Why is meat in Switzerland so expensive? Well, the Swiss are extremely proud of their grass-fed cows, and they will charge a premium for it. I have to say though, Swiss beef does taste a lot better than anything back home! If you get the chance, you should definitely give it a try!
Related: 62 Ways To Save More Money
7. I plan travel early in advance
I love travelling and I have done a fair bit of travelling while abroad. The nice part about living in Switzerland is that it’s smack in the middle of Europe and you can get anywhere within Europe in less than 2 hours.
In my first year, I visited France, Italy, Sweden, Croatia, and then I flew back to Canada. For my Christmas holidays, I spent one month exploring Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.
Surprisingly, my travel expenses have remained relatively low. For “local” trips (i.e. to neighbouring countries), I try to use the cheapest options available – trains, busses, or even BlaBlaCar (rideshare).
I also constantly monitor travel deal sites like SecretFlying and FerienPiraten (TravelPirates in USA). One of these travel deal sites actually posted an insane flight error to Thailand. I paid only 250 euros for a round-trip flight from Geneva to Bangkok during the high Christmas season!
For my flight back to Canada, I took advantage of my Aeroplan miles and basically the flight was free.
8. I made a budget and stuck to it (most of the time)
I’d say that, on average, I spend about 70% of my monthly income. In other words, 30% of all my income goes straight to my savings. Though my income at the moment isn’t super high, it still adds up.
I have prepared a rough budget of the amount I wish to spend per month. I then track all my spendings against it. There is some sophisticated software that do this for you, but I prefer to do it the old-school way using Excel. I am a huge Excel nerd and I enjoy spending time looking at my expenses. I will detail my budgeting process in a later blog post.
9. I buy my groceries at discount retailers
I didn’t discover Switzerland’s discount grocery chains (Aldi and Lidl) until almost a year after moving there. But once I did, it became the only place I’d go to for groceries. In doing so, I was able to cut my grocery bill in half.
That is not to say that the food quality is bad or that the food is rotting. You can still find very high-quality items. For instance, I am a huge fan of the Skyr (an Icelandic yogurt) and mozzarella balls that they sell at Aldi.
Another way I save on groceries is by buying items on sale. If you go at the right time, the retailers will discount the perishable food. A lot of grocery stores close super early (around 6-8pm on weekdays and totally closed Sundays). The Migros right by my apartment, for example, are closed by 8pm on weekdays and are closed on Sundays. This means that going shopping on Saturday right before close will yield a lot of discount stickers on perishable items, sometimes up to 50% off. Ditto for going on weekdays just an hour or so before closing.
10. I buy big-ticket items abroad
When I need to buy something, I often check the price in neighbouring countries or in countries that I will be visiting very soon. If it can wait, I’ll hold off on making a purchase until my trip.
For example, on my trip to Thailand, I spent the equivalent of 8 USD on a haircut. In Switzerland, that would have costed me well between 50-80 francs. When I needed to buy vitamins, I bought them back in Canada, where the price is more than half of what they sell the drugs for in Swiss pharmacies.
11. I do sports through my university sports centre
I try to take advantage of the sports centre at my university. There are hundreds of classes offered for free or at a highly-subsidized price. There are many local partnerships and I can buy sports equipment and ski passes for a discounted rate.
An example of how I SAVED BIG: I joined the sailing club and only had to pay 400 francs for the entire season (8 months)! This included unlimited private lessons and rentals of all the equipment! In case you’re not into sailing, this is a STEAL! Some sailing clubs were charging 100 francs PER SESSION!
Well, there you have it. My “secrets” to saving $11,000 after moving abroad to Switzerland. I hope that you can see that most of these “secrets” are totally doable and implementable in your daily life as well! Shoot me a line if you need help!
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