Going to University and managing your own money might seem like a daunting task. But do not worry, I’m here to share my advice on how to live at Jacobs University on a budget! Not all of these points apply to everyone but this is what has helped me throughout my studies at Jacobs so far:
Don’t be afraid to talk or think about money!
Trust me, you don’t want to be that person who is too afraid to check the bank account for 3 months. Blissful ignorance is wonderful until it comes around and causes trouble. If you check your bank account regularly and keep track of where your money is going, you’ll feel like you’re on top of things and in control of the situation. Likewise, if you depend on your parent’s money to pay for college then talk to them about your financial situation, in order to avoid unexpected surprises and payment deadlines. Also talk to the lovely people working at the financial aid office. They can help you with your financial aid package or give you advice on possible scholarships you can apply to.
Create a budget and stick to it!
Use the first 3 months of the semester to really analyze your monthly spending. The first month at university will be a bit atypical since you have many “first time” expenses such as furniture, decoration for your room, school supplies, etc. After your second month you should have a pretty good idea though how much money you need to pay for necessities.
These are a few categories that I set up when creating my budget:
- Health insurance
- Telephone bill
- School supplies
- cleaning supplies
- cinema, theatre, concerts
- dining out
- groceries (the Jacobs serveries provide three meals a day but sometimes you might just want to cook a meal with your friends)
- miscellaneous expenses such as birthday gifts, etc.
Now to keep track of your expenses there are many different options. You could either go old school and write down your expenses on a piece of paper at the end of each day or you can go high tech and download an expense managing app on your smartphone (there are many different ones for iPhones or Android). The advantage of this is that you can keep track of your expenses throughout the day. Additionally, you can create an excel table and download a budgeting template. After every one or two weeks you just put the data from your piece of paper or your app into the excel table and it calculates, how much more money you can spend.
If your schedule allows it, work!
Every semester there are several job opportunities on campus that you can apply for. Many departments are looking for student assistants, teachers are looking for teaching assistants, colleges are looking for people working in the college office, etc. The contracts usually vary from 10 to 50 hours a month. If you prefer working off campus, there are many opportunities as well, some of them however require a certain level of German proficiency. Depending on your schedule and your stress tolerance you can definitely manage working while studying at Jacobs. It’s a good way to earn some extra cash and having some work experience definitely does not hurt your CV!
“Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities”
We’ve all been there: it’s 4 am, you’re 8 hours into a hardcore study session in the library and a dash of procrastination and a large pinch of desperation leads you to think that your life would not be the same without a collector’s edition of Batman bed sheets (including a limited edition Joker pillow case, I mean come on!).
Even though I trust your judgment that the Batman bed sheets would go great with your fluffy IKEA carpet, step one to becoming a proper adult is making smart financial decisions!
Of course you can treat yourself to a new item of clothing/ a night out downtown with your friends/ a nice meal at a restaurant every once in a while but know that self-control and sometimes saying “no” to friends who want to go out is crucial for staying within budget. If you keep track of your money and budget properly you can set aside a bit of money each month just to spend on whatever you want (even collector’s edition Batman bed sheets).
While you don’t have to go as far as collecting coupons and driving to downtown Bremen to save 20 cents on a zucchini, a bit of smart shopping has never hurt anyone.
There are several supermarkets just off campus and all of them have advantages and disadvantages. The supermarket called “Marktkauf” has everything the heart desires: a large variety of food, some “international food” sections, a large selection of wine and liquors, as well as food for people with special dietary needs. However, it is usually the more expensive option. I would recommend going to a supermarket called “Netto”. Here you have a smaller variety of food, less name brand items, but a big plus is the cheap prices! So depending on your budget that month and the type of recipes you plan on cooking, you might decide on going to either Marktkauf or Netto.
Likewise, when looking for clothes and especially winter clothing items (people from warm countries who have never experienced winter – I’m looking at you), don’t let anyone tell you that you have to buy a 250 Euro winter coat! Compared to many places in the world and even many places in Germany, Bremen winters are mild. Going to H&M or C&A (two low to medium priced clothing stores) is a much more sensible decision and will not hurt your wallet as much.
Another thing you could do is to just ask a German student or one of the 2nd and 3rd years on campus, where they usually buy things. They will be happy to give you some advice on where to buy what!
German paperwork will not be ignored…ever
For the love of your newly purchased Batman bed sheets (congrats by the way!) DO NOT IGNORE LETTERS THAT YOU GET IN THE MAIL! Your health insurance provider as well as the bank and other authorities will send paperwork in the mail and you do not want to miss 6 payment deadlines, trust me. Possible consequences are horrendous fees and angry words written in German. Check your mailbox regularly and if you get a letter that you don’t understand just ask a German friend to translate for you or go to the Student Service Center on campus. The nice volunteers working there will be happy to help you with any documents that you don’t understand.
Some useful links:
- Our financial aid office: http://www.jacobs-university.de/study/undergraduate/fees-finances/financial-aid
- Jacobs Market, an online website where Jacobs students sell and buy second hand items: http://www.jacobsmkt.com
- Your Packing List: Deya, one of our lovely editors wrote a very useful blog post about what to bring to Jacobs. This will help you with budgeting as well: https://jacobsadmission.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/your-packing-list-for-bremen/