How to finesse your way through study abroad in Amsterdam (broke student edition)

Living and studying abroad is already expensive, and unless you’re able to get a part-time job/paid internship alongside your university contact hours (which are 5x that of Manchester’s), having fun while still maintaining a sustainable living situation can be tricky. I had heard that Amsterdam was an expensive city before I got here so I was ready to spend mindfully in an attempt to budget but I failed within the first two weeks of getting here. I found it too easy to get caught up in spending on little things and forget that a few euros here and there adds up really quickly.

Writing this post has made me beyond thankful for my Erasmus grant, but there is only so much that this will cover, especially when you’re broke but living in a city that has so much going on – like Amsterdam. So I’ve decided to put together a little list of tips that have definitely helped me save a substantial amount of euros here and there. Some of them might be a bit extra…but desperate times = desperate measures!

1.Buy a bike and an ISIC mobility card

As mentioned in my previous blog post I would highly recommend buying a bike as public transport here is super expensive. However for the days when you aren’t going to cycle it is really important that you get an ISIC mobility card as this can be used on all forms of public transport and is basically the equivalent of a railcard in the UK. Especially if you have friends/family coming to visit, you are able to rent a bike with the card for around €3 for 24 hours which is significantly cheaper than other places that rent bikes.

2. Open a Dutch Bank Account ASAP and transfer your Erasmus grant

It is super helpful having a Dutch bank account as not all places take monzo cards or visa. But if you are planning to do this, think ahead and book an appointment in a branch for as soon as you arrive. Appointments get booked up really quickly at the beginning of the semester because all the other students are also trying to set up a student bank account – I had to wait 3 weeks to get my appointment! This was really annoying as if you keep using your UK bank account card you’ll keep getting charged the conversion rate every time you use it to pay for anything. This ends up really adding up, especially if you don’t feel comfortable taking out a big wad of cash to start off with and keep making small transactions instead – Before I opened up a Dutch bank account, I already somehow had £20 worth of conversion fees! What I also found super helpful was transferring my Erasmus grant from the card it is loaded on and onto my ING account card as the Erasmus grant card also charges every time you use it at an ATM.

3. Do not do your weekly shops at Albert Heijn

Albert Heijn is like the equivalent of a Waitrose. Yes, the shopping experience is amazing, yes, their pesto hummus is beautiful, yes, it is massively overpriced, yes, you will convince yourself you need the pesto hummus a second time this week and yes, people have had their wedding photoshoots in there. It is a beautiful supermarket I won’t lie and I don’t blame you if you can’t avoid the temptation but then please please please go to their customer desk and get a ‘bonuskaart’ because this is basically the equivalent of a Nectar card and is very worth getting as they do good(ish) deals. But supermarkets like ‘Jumbo’ and ‘Dirk’ are more student friendly.

4. If you’re into the gym then get the promotional offer @ the beginning of the year

At the beginning of the semester the university gym does a really good promotional offer of 3 months for €30. This includes access to all the different university gyms across the city and classes/saunas included!

5. Obvious one but…Open your mail

This one is important because if you’re living in a studio, you are required to pay electricity and water bills. I got mail saying that my estimated bills to pay would be €90/month but luckily I translated my mail and realised that you can oppose to this using a form you fill out by post, so make sure you check all your post, even if it is in Dutch. Google translate is a life saviour.

6. Volunteering is a good way to get free meals

If you want to be a part of the food waste revolution, I volunteer at a great place called ‘Taste before you Waste’ which is an initiative focused on the prevention of food waste. We pick up surplus food from markets and make a big meal out of it which is then served to the public and runs on donations. As a volunteer you are able to take home whatever surplus veggies are going as well as leftovers from the meal. This has really helped me out when I can’t be bothered to go meal shopping/prepping and want to avoid eating out/going to Albert Heijn or ordering a take away.

7. Capitalise on free experiences/food

If you’re feeling peckish but you don’t want to spend money, you only need to make your way down Kalverstraat to enjoy all the free tasters and samples on offer (the cheese shops are amazing). Also, don’t let money get in the way of going to events around the city. Most daytime events are free and sometimes offer a complimentary piece of merchandise or in one rare case an unlimited amount of free G&T’s!

8. Get your flights refunded

Don’t forget you can get up to 3 return flights refunded at the end of your time abroad. The Travel Grant Claim Form is provided by SFE and can be downloaded from here.

9. Plan your events and get to know TicketSwap

You can still attend all the events you want whilst keeping to a budget. Plan ahead and try to buy tickets to events when they’re on first release as this can actually save you looaaads of money. Events in Amsterdam are more expensive than Manchester e.g Nights out here are roughly €14-€17 on average. You can always use Ticketswap sell tickets if you change your mind and sometimes buy cheaper tickets if you missed first release. You could even make re-selling tickets a bit of a business and make money from it if you know the event is going to sell out, I have done this for Warehouse Project in Manchester for example and made £50+ quickly and easily.

10. Sign up to Beauty freebies! (Both guys and girls)

So I’ve signed up to this website called ‘From Sam’ in The Netherlands that basically sends you samples of new beauty products that need reviewing. You enter your details all online (e.g gender, products you use, brands you’re interested in, hair and skin type and colour etc). They then generally send you 2 samples of the same product per month. So far I have received samples from Rituals and La Roche Posay. As the queen of freebies I’m really happy I stumbled across this website and is definitely worthwhile if you’re into beauty products but want to save money.

Finally, I’ve found that it’s really easy to get stressed out about how much money is being spent while abroad. However, it’s helpful to remember that in five years I probably won’t remember the price I paid for a ticket to an event or dinner with friends, but I will remember the memories that the experience gave me. Always try to picture what you’re actually spending within the grand scheme of things. Your year abroad is a time for personal growth and if you’re able to juggle a part-time job/paid internship on the side then that’s amazing, but if you can’t don’t worry- there is so much you can still do at a very low expense or for free, and I hope you find these tips somewhat helpful whilst on your year abroad! 🙂

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