Often time, going for summer exchange is associated with high cost. While I am the lucky few that have been sponsored by school, I am still broke, just like other university student. To make things worse, during the first week of the trip, my laptop is broken. Thus, I have embarked a desperate journey to find ways to save more money. As an experiment, I have also tried to see if it is possible to survive with what the school have provided for us (SGD$8700 in total).
Here are some strategy/tips I used to save money and survive in Berkeley on a budget:
- Keeping track of your expenses
How do we save money when we do not know where our money is going? In Singapore, I would usually use an app to keep track of my expenses. However, I do not wish to keep mix my expenses due to the complication of currency conversion. Instead, I opt for a simple Google Sheet. It works great, and it goes about showing that we do not need complicated tools to save money. In fact, I will encourage all of you reading to make it a habit keep track of your expenses (even in Singapore). You will be surprised how much you can save just by knowing how your money flow.
- Explore for more accommodation
Whether you like it or not, accommodation will make out a large portion of your expenses. Unfortunately, housing in Berkeley is expensive. The option recommended by UC Berkeley, iHouse, also cost a bomb. Rather than restricting myself to iHouse, I decided to explore to see if there is any cheaper alternative. In the end, I have chosen Regent Housing. It is relatively near to school, rental is on the cheaper side (Around USD$1200 per month, which is considered one of the cheaper one) and comfy. It has all the basic things you will need in the house, such as cooking utensils, TV (with Netflix), printer, Wifi + Ethernet, washing machine with laundry detergent and more. What’s more, there are a bunch of other SUTD peers staying there as well!
For those who are interested, please find out more at https://www.regenthouseberkeley.com
- Always have some cash with you
Unlike Singapore who is slowly moving towards to become a cashless society, there are still a lot of places that still uses cash. In fact, for some places, it can be more expensive to pay with card as compared to paying with cash or having a minimum purchase for you to use card. This may seem small, but all this can add up to become a substantial amount. Not to mention, some cards have platform fees or conversion rate.
An additional benefit of paying mostly by cash is the ability to control your spending. By spending cash, you get to see and feel the cash physically, making you more conscious of your spending.
For exchanging cash, I personally head down to The Arcade at Raffles Place. The place is basically a mall filled with money changer, so you can go around and shop for the best rate. Do take note that most stores close in the evening, so head down before 5pm.
Here is the address to The Arcade:
11 Collyer Quay
- Multi-currency Mobile Wallet
While it is wise to bring along some cash, there are also places that only accept card payment. While such shops are rare, it is good to have a usable debit or credit card with you. You may need it for other form of purchase, such as Uber and online shopping while you are there. I would recommend mobile wallet, as you must top up before you can use it. This minimizes the chance of you overspending on something. In addition to that, multi-currency mobile wallets such as Revolut and YouTrip often offer competitive rate compared to conventional multicurrency debit or credit card.
Please do your own research before applying for any of the mobile wallet. If you have friends or seniors that is already using Revolut or YouTrip, do join in via their referral code/link! Both parties will likely benefit from it. Personally, I applied YouTrip through my friend’s referral code and gotten SGD$5! Do apply early as it takes some time for them to send the card to you!
If you are interested to find out more about Revolut and YouTrip, find out more on their website:
- Cook more
Unlike Singapore, there is no such thing as coffee shop there. This means that it is hard to find cheap food options. A typical meal outside will cost at least around USD$10, often time being more than that. Imagine eating 2 meals a day (Lunch and Dinner), just eating out would have cost USD$140 per week. Thus, if the accommodation you are staying in have the tools to cook, I highly recommended doing that. Why? Because it is so much cheaper to buy groceries in bulk. For instance, I would typically spend between USD$30 to USD$50 for one week worth of groceries. I eat out around once a week, so that will make the total to USD$60 per week. That is a lot money you save by cooking!
If you do not know how to cook like me, use this opportunity to learn cooking! There are a lot of simple and easy recipe out there on the Internet, or alternatively, you can learn how to cook through your friends! After 8 weeks, I can’t say I am an expert but at least my food is edible (which is equals to not having food poisoning).
Here are 2 dishes to get you started:
Spaghetti Aglio E Olio: https://youtu.be/Wu_ZfLtgshk
Tomato Egg: https://youtu.be/Wn8ox93Qhus
I would also like to recommend my favorite supermarket in Berkeley, Berkeley Bowl Market Place! They have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as a decent selection of Asian products within the supermarket. For those who are more health conscious, they offer a huge variety of organic products. Meat based product is slightly more expensive, so you may want to check out other supermarket chain (such as TraderJoe and WholeFood).
Here is the address to Berkeley Bowl Market Place:
2020 Oregon St
Berkeley, CA 94703
Milvia St & Adeline St
- Make full use of your UC Berkeley Student Card
As a UC Berkeley student, you enjoy a lot of benefits. Other than free bus ride around Berkeley, you also have free access to some of the attractions that belong to the school, such as Lawrence Hall of Science and Botanical Garden. Some places also offer student discount, so just flash your card and enjoy a discounted rate. There are also events organized by school that is free for students (Public who wish to participate would have to pay for it). One of such events I attended is the night kayaking, where I manage to catch a glimpse of the moon.
Do your research and enjoy all the benefits!
- GoCity Tickets
What is an exchange without any tourist attraction? Before you drop by Sans Francisco during the weekends, do checkout GoCity. You will purchase a pass that allows you to access a certain number of attraction from a list of attractions over a period of 2 months. The pass consist of a QR code, where you just show the staff at the attraction you are going to on the day itself. The list consist of popular tours and attraction in Sans Francisco. They have other plan as well, and offer group discount if you make a mass purchase of a particular attraction. You will generally pay for half the price of what you supposed to pay with GoCity Pass. Here are some photos of the places I visit via GoCity Pass:
If you are interested to find out more about GoCity Pass, find out more in their website: https://gocity.com/san-francisco/en-us If you decided to purchase a GoCity Pass, feel free use my referral link to get 10% off! Subsequently, you can share with your peers your own link with your peers!
Here is the link: https://mention-me.com/m/ol/jv8ma-yu-quan-tan
After applying all this, the question comes: Is it possible to survive with the amount of money given by the school?
After compiling all my expenses related to this GLP trip, I have left around SGD$1700 remaining. This amount helps to reduce the possible financial burden needed to purchase a new laptop. Sure, some compromise had to be made, such as not able to join my peers for some of the trip to other region and not trying the food there much. However, some of this skills of researching, tracking and managing my personal finance made me more confident in handling money. This will definitely help me in the long run, as I start earning money. That said, I will not recommend going this extreme during a summer exchange. If you have some cash to spare, use that money to enjoy and get the full experience. I am sure some of my tip will help you maximize your money, getting more experiences there. However, if you are somehow in a financial situation like mine, it is possible to enjoy yourself there on a budget.
Tan Yu Quan (1006355)