Managing Money in South America

Noa Leiter
April 11, 2019
Colorful building in La Boca

Studying abroad involves immersing yourself in a new economy, which brings new challenges, rules, and strategies for managing money. Especially with the constant temptation to splurge on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, tracking the money I spend and maintaining a budget has been crucial to ensuring I don’t go broke while in Buenos Aires. These are some tips I have used while abroad to save money and stay organized.

Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Although the fees may seem small, 3% of every transaction can add up of fast. Especially in large cities like Buenos Aires, most restaurants and stores accept cards, and paying with a card comes with its advantages─you get the most up-to-date exchange rate, and you avoid the hassle of carrying around large amounts of cash.

Bring LOTS of cash. In the city, I have only really found myself in need of cash for taxis, street vendors, and at markets/craft fairs. While traveling, however, I have consistently underestimated how much cash I would need. In both Uruguay and Iguazu many restaurants, transportation services, and smaller shops were cash-only. It’s ideal to plan ahead and bring a lot of USD abroad because ATM fees can be very expensive, and spending money on nothing is one of the worst feelings. If you decide to bring cash, I recommend exchanging a couple hundred at a time and monitoring the exchange rate to ensure you are getting the best deal─XE Currency is a great app to have handy to calculate and keep track of foreign exchange rates. If you end up having to withdraw money from an ATM, take out the highest possible amount because the fee is often fixed, so you will save money in the long run.

Create a budget. It is important to think about how much money you have and are willing to spend abroad before you get there, but also it can be difficult to estimate what is a realistic budget before you settle in. I found that after monitoring my spending for the first couple weeks, I was able to extrapolate that behavior to the rest of my time abroad. I ultimately decided to have two separate budgets, one for daily spending and one for big expenses, which mostly consists of flight and hostel costs.

Track your spending. Debatably more important than having a budget is actually tracking how much you’re spending. It’s hard to remember to write down everything you buy, but it is really useful to be able to look back and understand where all the money is going. I’ve been using an app called Tripcoin to keep track of all my spending. My tracking is definitely not perfect, but it has allowed me to stay organized and justify my spending to both myself and my parents.

Lend and borrow money smartly. It is inevitable that you will have issues with your credit card, run out of cash or have some other money issue while abroad. No worries, because everyone experiences it and it becomes normal to lend and borrow money as necessary─this can range from buying a friend a coffee because she forgot her wallet or paying for a friend's flight because his card won't go through. Either way, tracking all the money exchanges can get complicated quickly. My friends and I have been using the app Splitwise, which keeps totals of everyone’s debts and ensures that everyone gets paid back. You can even create groups on the app, which come in handy when you’re traveling or continuously splitting costs with the same group of people.

Noa Leiter

<p>I am a junior at The George Washington University majoring in psychology and organizational sciences with a minor in Spanish. I am passionate about sustainability and over the last three years I have been working to both decrease my own ecological footprint and advocate for sustainable development on campus. I am also an art enthusiast; I love exploring galleries, finding new street art, as well as creating my own photography and multimedia projects.</p>

Home University:
George Washington University, The
Newton, MA
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