Money Management for an International Student in USA
I have already spent a year of my PhD life after I joined the Dept. of Computer Science, University of Houston in the Fall 2019. By this time I have tried to figure out how to save more money for the future as we don’t have the opportunity to do any other work while working part-time as a TA/RA/GA.
So, if we want to see a decent amount of money at the end of our PhD, the only way to achieve that is saving more and more. Now, the real question is how can we save more.
Let’s take a look at the common expenses first,
- Home Rent
- Utilities (Electricity, Water, Wi-Fi)
- Insurance (Home, Health, Driving)
- Gadgets (furnitures/hobbies)
The best way to keep the cost minimum is selecting an average 1/2/3 bedroom apartment close to the campus or in a moderate distant location. Also, it’s better to share the apartment so that the rent can be shared. So, before coming to US, find the country community, and ask where to stay with a low house rents yet minimum security. Also, find other people who you want to share apartment with. And you can always move to new apartment after the initial lease ends.
In case of utilities, the more people share the apartment the more you can actually save money. For example, regardless of how many people are in the same apartment, the WiFi bill remains approximately the same. Before choosing your Electricity plan, ask other people from the community for best providers, deals, and plans.
In USA, the insurance policies are costly. For health insurance, most of the Universities require a minimum coverage with a particular provider and is almost fixed. So, there is little we can do as an international student. However, we can bergain on the home/car insurance costs. It is wise to get both coverages from the same provider (e.g., Allstate, Statefarm, Progressive, etc.) as the combined cost is lower. Most of the students just remain happy with what they are paying each month. But, it is only a few minutes away from achieving a lower price. All you need to do is get quote from each company and then bargain based on your preferred cost.
Food cost is lower if you can maintain some strategies. First, buy groceries, and cook primary meals altogether. It saves both time and money (sharing is caring!). Second, find supermarkets that sell groceries at a cheaper price. For example, in Houston, we buy groceries from
World Food instead of
Fiesta as we get quality items at a lot cheaper prices. There are some other supermarkets as well like
Costco, where you get good deals. Explore all before deciding to buy from a fixed market.
It is wise to avoid buying meals from restaurants or other food shops to save money. Instead cook meals and take to the lab. If our apartment is close to the campus, you get the advantage to have meal at home.
The best way to have furnitures or necessary items at low cost is visiting the thrift stores, and the dollar shops. We actually prefer visiting Good Will Store on a regular basis for buying second hand items at a very very low price point. It is actually a donation center where people donate there household items before moving to different places. So, before deciding to buy any particular furniture, visit
Good Will stores first. You can also keep an eye on the local
Facebook Marketplace or the popular
Craiglist. Do not waste money buying new ones.
We do not need to worry about it that much except submitting the tax return documents at the beginning of the next year. The only thing you need to find out is whether your resident country has tax treaty benifits in USA. For example, as a Bangladeshi, we can exempt up to 8000$ from tax each year. You can get a good amount of return after submitting the tax return documents each year.
Side Hustles/Passive Income
Here in US, as an international student obviously you are not allowed to drive Uber or Lyft before having the Greencard. The best way might be finding ways of passive income sources. For example, you can start your own blog and apply for Google Adsense. If your writings start attracting visitors, you can earn some. Blogs can eventually stand as a great investment as well if your writings are your subject/research-oriented and recruiters obviously priotize applicants with personal site/blog. If you are really good at something, you can start tutoring as well. Some students contact sellers to review items on Amazon. If the seller agrees on a new product they will give you it for free to get a 5-star review. Now, you can sell that product to someone else in close prices.
As checking accounts do not give you additional benefits (e.g., interest), you can simply invest half the amount in Robinhood or Webull stock trading app for completely free of cost. Because you do not want to take any risk, you can simply invest your amount in stable companies (e.g., Microsoft, Apple, etc.) by buying shares. You don’t need to worry about checking this on daily basis because you are not going to sell but hold for the next few years. You can simply check the market once in a week. Also, you don’t even need to learn a lot about the market or stock investment. In return you will have some divident money added to your account each year.
I recommend start investing from the second year as you may have little saving in the first year for expending more money setting your life here. And be careful, do not go for buying stocks for short-term gains and the stocks of companies that do not have growth potentials. Research on your own (some good YouTube channels are available), learn to invest to value companies, and then invest. If you don’t have an account, get a free stock in Robinhood by signing up using my Robinhood referral link and depositing $5. In Webull, you can get 2 free stocks valued from $8 to $1600 if signed up using my Webull referral link and depositing $100.
As you can see, I am a content creator and run this blog. I also have started a YouTube Channel. This type of content creation can be a good source of passive income either now or in the future. I already added adsense in my blog and get some little amount of money (approximately 30/40$) each month. Most of all, blog or vlog can help your own marketing and can lend you some small freelancing types of jobs as well. For example, several people got help on Latex from me and donated some amounts to my account. That is a good start. Also, if there are a lot of visitors, you can get advertising payments as well from different companies for promoting their services/contents.
Other Money Hacks in USA
- Utilize the referral programs
- Amazon Prime (free for students up to 6 months) and reviews ::wink::
- Buy things during thanksgiving/black friday
- Buy wholesale amount from Costco
- Find the nearby Dollar shop, for example, Dollar Tree
- Buy Used Items from Good Will
- Buy Amazon products for free (e.g., Rebatest, Cashbackbase, ShopRebates
- Get deals (e.g., Rakuten, SlickDeals)
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