My study abroad spending diary

Crosby Melendi on study abroad

See how one junior spends and saves while studying abroad in Seville, Spain.

Crosby Melendi is a junior studying strategic communications and Spanish at Elon University. She’s taking classes in Seville, Spain, for her fall semester and living in a homestay with two parents and three little kids. She says studying and traveling throughout Europe over the past few months has been a dream come true, but it’s definitely taking a toll on her bank account. Here’s a look at one college student’s real spending habits while studying abroad.

Day 1: Friday

After having breakfast and coffee at my homestay, I headed off to class then met up with my mom, who was on her last day of visiting for a week. We grabbed lunch and she paid for us both.

Later that night, after seeing my mom off, I went out to dinner with a friend who was visiting from Madrid. I wanted to take her somewhere a bit nicer, so we settled for an upscale tapas place where we each got a drink and split two plates. This ended up being about 12 euros each.

Afterward, we went to my favorite plaza to get a cappuccino and a slice of cake. We each paid 4 euros for the drink and cake.

Total spent: 16 euros ($18.03)

Day 2: Saturday

This was actually my 21st birthday! To celebrate, I booked an excursion to Ronda, Spain, through my study abroad program and spent the day exploring the city. Thankfully, my program covered all transportation costs and provided a free walking tour, but I did have to pay for my meals.

Breakfast at the bus station was only 2.20 euros for an Americano (coffee) and a medium tostada, which is like an open-faced sandwich. This is a very typical breakfast for the area — not to mention crazy inexpensive.

Crosby in Ronda, Spain

After a few hours exploring the cobblestone streets, my friends and I stopped for a quick lunch at a casual outdoor café. I ordered a Spanish omelet for 6.50 and an Americano for 1.20, coming to 7.70 euros total. Oh, and I grabbed a little souvenir to remember my day: two coasters from a tourist shop for 5 euros, which I put on my credit card. The only time I really use credit is when I’m shopping, and I always make sure I choose “euros” when paying (there’s the option to pay in euros or dollars) to make sure the store doesn’t charge me the conversion fee. 

Later that night, I went out for a birthday dinner with friends at a cool tapas place near my house. I ended up paying 11 euros. My friends and I finished up the night at a few local bars where I spent about 8.50 euros. Afterward, I took a cab home for 9 euros. This is something I very rarely do since Seville is so walkable, but hey, it was my birthday.

Total spent: 43.40 euros ($48.91)

Day 3: Sunday

After my busy and slightly expensive weekend, I dedicated Sunday to two things: homework and saving money. My host mom and I enjoyed homemade tostadas together in the morning. My host family is given a stipend for housing me, and they use it to buy a lot of the groceries that I (and the family) eat. I buy my own toiletries and other personal items. All students had the option of living in a home stay or the dorms, but most students in the program chose a home stay (it’s highly encouraged).

Afterward, I headed to a nearby coffee shop to get some homework done. Sometimes I do work at home, but the kids were being noisy and I needed to concentrate! I ordered a large coffee with steamed soy milk for 2.50 euros, which basically paid for my use of the café’s WiFi for the next two hours.

Lunch and dinner were both prepared and eaten at home with the family, and I spent the afternoon doing work in my room and getting a quick workout in. Here’s to productive Sundays!

Total spent: 2.50 euros ($2.82)

Day 4: Monday

I spent the day studying for midterms and eating all my meals at my homestay… and I spent NO MONEY!

Total spent: 0 euros ($0)

Day 5: Tuesday

Tuesday was just another day of classes, studying, and eating at home. Gotta love midterm season, right?

I did swing by a coffee shop after class to grab a midmorning pick-me-up of a café con leche and a banana for 2.30 euros. Then I headed off to the gym before hitting the books.

After a shower and some lunch, I camped out at another coffee shop (as you can see, this is a trend for me) and got a large coffee for 2.20 euros.

My cell phone bill was also due today. I pay 15 euros per month with Vodafone. I can text and call people in Spain, use iMessage with people internationally, and have unlimited data for some social media apps like Instagram and WhatsApp. This plan works in all European countries I travel to. I got a new SIM card and international phone number when I signed up for the plan but can use my phone from back home. I’ll switch back to my American SIM card once I leave.

Total spent: 19.50 euros ($21.98)

Day 6: Wednesday

I spent the first part of the day in classes — treating myself to a 1.30-euro coffee between them — before running a few errands in preparation for the weekend. I spent 20.84 euros at a popular Spanish department store called Corte Inglés on some necessities like shampoo, conditioner, and makeup.

I stopped by an ATM to get money for the weekend. I almost always pay in cash for food. Spaniards simply prefer it to credit and it’s easier when splitting meals and drinks (you will very rarely split the check; everyone tends to pool their cash). I also like paying in cash better because it holds me accountable for how much I spend, and it helps me avoid any conversion fees.

That night, a group of us got dinner with my friend’s mom who was visiting that week, and she ended up paying for all of us! We then went out to a bar where I spent 5 euros. We finished the evening at a nightclub with a 10-euro cover charge that included a “free” drink.

Total spent: 37.14 euros ($41.86)

Day 7: Thursday

Today was a huge travel day which naturally turned into an expensive one as well. My flight to Marseilles, France, was 177.44 euros, which is obviously a bit pricey, but I justified it because my flight back to Seville was only 15 euros!

Overpriced airport food is not my friend. Here is what I ate over the course of two flights and a three-hour layover to France:

  • Ham baguette sandwich and gum: 50 euros
  • Fast food chicken strips: 55 euros
  • Pasta salad and coffee: 55 euros
Crosby in Marseilles, France

We arrived in Marseille and I bought a 5.80-euro bus ticket to get from the airport to the city center. Once we checked in to our Airbnb (72.49 euros per person for all three nights) and unpacked, it was late and we were starving, so my friends and I treated ourselves to a French meal and some ice cream, totaling 16 euros for me.

Total spent: 43.40 euros ($48.91) and 264.93 euros ($298.59) paid in advance for the flights and Airbnb

Day 8: Friday

Our first day in Marseille was fun but definitely more expensive than I would like to admit. I grabbed coffee, orange juice, and a croissant at a cafe for 6 euros, followed by lunch a few hours later for 9 euros.

We explored the city all day and spent 3.50 euros each on a round-trip metro ticket to Parc Longchamp. Afterward, we each grabbed a pastry (mine was delicious and only 1.50 euros) and split a bottle of wine from the supermarket for 1.50 euros each.

That night, I begrudgingly agreed to eat dinner at a nice restaurant in Vieux-Port (I knew it would be expensive) and I spent 22 euros.

Total spent: 43.50 euros ($49.03)

Total spent this week, excluding prepaid travel: 205.44 euros ($231.54)

What I learned:

The most obvious lesson I learned is that food will make or break your budget — I spent 148.80 euros just on food this week. Thankfully, I live in a homestay that provides three meals a day, which saves me a ton of money during the week. But on holidays, birthdays, and travel weekends, I usually spend the bulk of my money on food and drinks.

Spending habits also vary by country. In Seville, everything is relatively cheap; cash is preferred to a credit card; coffee, beer, or wine accompanies every meal; and walking is the primary mode of transportation. I constantly take cash out of the ATM and have to think about conversion prices (100 euros = roughly $114) and withdrawal fees, which often range from 2.50 to 5 euros. Living in Seville also allows me to save money on transportation because I can walk almost everywhere.

While I worked when I was home in the U.S. to save up for my time abroad, I do not have a job in Seville. I wanted to focus on school and travel, plus it would have been very difficult to obtain a job without being completely fluent in Spanish.

And then, of course, weekend traveling is a big spending trap. Without including airfare and housing costs, I easily spent more than double this weekend what I normally spend in a week in Seville. Traveling during your time abroad is an incredible experience, but keep in mind that you will end up spending a lot more than expected. In Marseille, I wish I ate more meals in my Airbnb instead of at restaurants — and refusing a drink at dinner would have helped me save, too.

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