Tips for managing your finances on a Year Abroad

Years Abroad are said to be one of the best times of your life and for those who get the opportunity to do paid work and live in a city with a cheaper cost of living it’s easy to do. You can eat (and drink) lots without having to worry too much about money. Not to mention the fact that within Europe you currently get an Erasmus grant each month to help pay for the costs of living (but probably not for much longer, thanks to Brexit). However, this is not always the case; I was placed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which is a city with massive variations on prices depending on where you are (due to the huge gap between the rich and the poor). Due to security reasons and the location of my university I have had to live in one of the more expensive areas and this makes everything (and I mean literally everything) cost more. In addition, in Leeds I had a job that gave me some extra income whereas here my visa doesn’t allow me to work. However, during my time here I have learnt a few things on how to manage my finances in Brazil, which should be applicable to anyone wherever you are heading.

  1. Try to find out what is expensive where you’re going and bring it with you if you can’t live without it. Do this by talking to people who have already been there and looking online if their shops/supermarkets have online pages. In Brazil I have found some things SO expensive, things that you wouldn’t even consider luxury items at home. For example, here in the main supermarket you’d have to pay $R23.99 (£6.43) for a pot of Nutella or $R31.99 (£8.57) for a small bottle (90g) of Batiste dry shampoo.
  2. Make sure you sign up to discount schemes in the supermarket! Many supermarkets abroad offer similar discount schemes to the UK, and in Brazil you can only take advantage of products on offer if you are a member – this can save a lot of money!


At many supermarkets in Brazil in order to make use of the offers you must sign up to their discount scheme and use your keychain every time you shop.

  1. If you can’t bring things with you try to find alternatives to things you like. Sometimes there will be different brands that you’ve never heard of which sell the same product at a lower price and shop around to see if you can get things cheaper, for example, here you can get sun cream for about $R30 (£8) for a 200ml bottle in the pharmacies but in their equivalent of Wilkinson’s (Lojas Americanas) you can buy nearly 400ml for just under $R30 (£8).
  2. In regard to food, some of your staple dishes may be either expensive to cook or impossible if you can’t find the right ingredients. Try to see what dishes local people cook because the ingredients for that tend to be the cheapest. However, don’t worry Casserole lovers, Brazil sells the equivalent of Lee & Perrins Worcester sauce at a surprisingly cheap price and Hellman’s mayonnaise is probably cheaper here than the UK!

molho ingles - English sauce

In Brazil Worcester Sauce is known as Molho Ingles (directly translated to “English Sauce”).


  1. Get a budgeting app! This really helps to keep on track of your spending as you can add every expense to your weekly budget, and if you want to save money. I would recommend the app “Daily Budget Original” which is free and offers a variety of currencies in its settings which is very helpful instead of having to try to convert every transaction into GBP.
    daily budget app
  2. During your Year Abroad your biggest expense will probably be your accommodation. When deciding on where to live the biggest factors to take into account are location and price. Although it’s great to live somewhere cheap, if you sacrifice on location it’s important to think about public transport / taxi costs. For example, here if you’re in Uni 4 times a week and have to get the bus to and from it would cost you a minimum of $R7.60 (£2) a day, which adds up to $R30.40 (£8) a week and $R121.60 (£32) a month and that doesn’t include costs of transport if you’re far from your friends or the bars where you might want to meet up with them!
  3. Get a currency card! They’re a great way to save money as you don’t pay transaction fees when withdrawing cash or paying for things using chip and pin. In addition they normally give you a much better rate than the average bank! I would recommend the Caxton FX currency card as it has a wide variety of currencies you can load onto the card at fantastic rates and there aren’t any charges to top it up like other popular currency cards.
  4. Check the currency rates daily! This may seem mundane and boring but it is so important! At the moment the value of the pound against other currencies fluctuates daily due to a variety of factors (thanks Brexit number 2), and so if you’re taking out your rent it could cost £50 more on one day than another. Therefore, check the rates on your currency card (as they’re the ones you’re getting NOT the generic ones on Google) and try to work out whether it’s a good day to take out a lot of cash or if you’re better waiting. This also helps with calculating your weekly budget because, if you’re going from GBP to the local currency, your budget may change each week.
  5. Finally, remember that it´s unlikely that you´ll be spending your year abroad doing the same things as you do in Leeds. AKA you most likely won’t be just studying, watching Jeremy Kyle all day then pre drinking very hard so you don’t have to buy any drinks in the club. You’re much more likely to be filling your days with cultural excursions, trips to other cities (or countries), drinks in cool bars and (maybe) a bit of studying. This is going to cost more, so don’t think that what you spend in Leeds will be a reflection of what you spend abroad.

view from the highest point on the Dois Irmaos hike

The view from the highest point on the Dois Irmãos hike.

view of the Selaron steps

The view of the Escadaria Seláron (Seláron Steps) which are a big tourist attraction Rio.

Beach in Arraial do Cabo

A beach in Arraial do Cabo in the state of Rio de Janeiro, it is famed for its extremely blue water and white sand.

Obviously it all completely depends on location and your lifestyle as to how much you spend. The most important thing to remember is that whatever your budget is you’re going to have a great time on your Year Abroad; just try to plan ahead and follow these pieces of advice and you’ll probably save yourself from the deep black hole which is the student overdraft.

Written by Julia Summers – Pontificia Universidade Catolica Do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


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