I do not like to waste time worrying about money. It comes and goes like the tide, I just want to ride the waves. But when I consider the tsunami of debt that will come crashing down on me a few short months after graduation, I’m as broke as the promise to my late father to stay with the family in the Midwest.
When I first decided to study abroad, one of my biggest worries was that I would not be able to afford to live comfortably. I had a few thousand to my name that I earned walking through corn fields and waiting tables all summer, but slowly I hemorrhage my hard-earned profits as I drift listlessly from one expense to the next.
It certainly is not cheap to come abroad, but that should not stop you. It is worth every euro, and there are many ways to have fun and live comfortably without breaking the bank.
First, you should apply for scholarships. Free money is free money, take it. I was lazy and did not apply to as many as I should have, so I missed out. I tell people I don’t need handouts in the form of a scholarship, but I am lying. I could use an extra thousand dollars right about now.
The first few weeks here were the most expensive. We lived in a hotel and ate at restaurants every night, plus there are lots of random things we had to buy (like an Italian cell phone, which I rarely use) to get settled in. But once I moved into my own apartment the hemorrhage slowed.
Now I live like a real broke Italian student. There are cheap grocery stores where I usually buy vegetables, pasta and sauce which I can make into a good meal once a day for less than five euros. In the morning I pack a meat and cheese sandwich with an apple so I don’t have to buy lunch at a café, and I force myself to only eat when I’m really hungry and not just bored.
Beer is much cheaper at supermercatos than at the clubs, so I pregame like my wallet depends on it. But here drinking is legal on the street so when I go out with my Italian friends we usually just buy cheap beers and find somewhere to post up in the park or street.
To earn back some beer money I got a job tutoring English a 7-year-old Italian boy named Filippo. He is full of energy after going to school all day when I get to his house every Tuesday afternoon, but the babysitter is there watching his 3-year-old brother Pietro, who is just a much younger Italian version of myself. They are fun, Filippo and I play UNO (which I make him call ONE) and foosball and ‘headball’ (literally just soccer but with your head). I talk to him in English and teach him new words as we play, and he likes to hear me read out loud. He picks up new words in English faster than I can in Italian and he rolls his eyes at me when I translate what I said into Italian as if he couldn’t understand.
It is one of the most relaxed and fun jobs I’ve ever had, I almost feel bad when his mom hands me 30 euros for two hours of work, but I run down the stairs onto the street feeling like a rich man.
The money comes…
After my hunger and thirst are quenched and my textbooks and rent are paid for, the rest of my money slips frivolously away. I try my hardest to not buy clothes, but often I succumb to the fashionable pressure that comes from the stores that line the porticoed streets. I’d rather wear my money than eat it; I’ll be damned if I die with money in a ragged pocket.
But most of my money is spent on travel. Once you’re in Europe, it is comparatively cheap to travel, and I want to see as much as I can before I’m hundreds of dollars back across the Atlantic. But still there are ways to save money as you go.
Last weekend I went to Lyon, France to see the Flatbush Zombies, a group of incredibly talented rappers from New York. When they announced a European tour a few months ago I immediately booked the closest show to Bologna, deciding it would be a good chance to see France and one of, in my opinion, the most creative and underrated groups in hip hop right now.
I was back at the Bologna Autostazione at 10:30 on Friday night, wearing a backpack with my laptop, a shirt, some books, my toothbrush and some cous cous I made to eat on the way. FlixBus is one of the cheapest and most convenient ways to move through Europe. The 10-hour ride from Bologna to Genova to Torino to Lyon cost about 30 euros, but I take it over night and sleep on the way which combines the cost of transportation and housing.
I get to Lyon on Saturday morning and I’m alone with a strange city and a foreign language. Cool. I walk around. Everyone rides scooters and there are merry-go-rounds and crepe stands along the bank of the rivers over which a huge church juts from a tree-covered slope. My hostel costs 25 euros a night, which isn’t bad, and from there I take a tram and a bus to the concert venue.
I spent Sunday wandering around the city eating crepes, killing time as I waited for the 8:30 bus back to Bologna. I was sitting at a bar watching a bike race in Bern when I heard a familiar accent lamenting the Brewers, who had lost the National League Championship the night before. He was wearing a Packers hat and told me that he grew up in Mt. Horeb and graduated from UW Madison five years ago. We bonded immediately, like distant relatives who meet for the first time far from home. “Le monde est petit”, said his French fiancé.
We talked for a long time about life abroad and our favorite spots in Madison, I took another beer which was stupid, and I really should’ve gotten on the bus instead because by the time I reached the station I saw my bus pulling out of the parking lot. I shook with the frustrated anger that comes with spending money that could be saved and was forced to buy the next bus to Bologna for 80 euros. Pro tip for saving money: don’t miss the bus.
I try to save money however I can, but sometimes I have no choice but to let it go.
… and the money goes and goes.