As a foreign student, many people seem to have this expectation that I can take trips to amazing European cities and attractions every weekend. While I’d love to, the truth is that I can’t afford it. But for what my blog lacks in sexy travel photos, I hope it can make up for in practical tips for living abroad.
One of the main reasons I chose to further my education in Germany was because of the free tuition. However, free tuition doesn’t mean free living.
I still have student loans from my bachelor’s degree. I am not financially supported by my parents. I don’t have very much savings. I’m not qualified for many student jobs. I can’t get BAföG (German student loans that students only have to pay back half of after graduating).
So, I have had to work student jobs to support myself and learn to live frugally as a student in Germany. Here are the best tips I have learned during my past two years of studying in Germany:
Shop at a Discount(er)
Discount grocery stores are a German tradition (better known in German as “discounters”). Aldi, Lidl, Penny, Netto – no matter where you are in Germany, there is bound to be one nearby. Luckily, I live about 500 meters from a Penny, and it is where I do all of my grocery shopping.
Read Digital & Borrowed
In my experience, professors at German universities will do everything in their power to ensure that students do not have to spend (much) money on books and other materials for class. In fact, I have only bought one book (10€) during my entire Master’s program. Most professors would upload all the relevant articles and book chapters online for the students to download.
If your professor doesn’t upload the necessary materials, try asking them for their copy of the book (either to read or quickly scan) or check to see if there is a copy available in the library. I have had luck with both of these methods. So before spending a lot of money on books you’ll likely only read once, I highly suggest trying them out.
Use Your Student ID
From free local transportation to reduced ticket prices, student IDs (better known as “student tickets” in Germany) bring a lot of financial benefits for students. These benefits will depend on your particular Bundesland and university, so make sure to check your university website to see what benefits yours offers.
Join Rewards Programs
If you are willing to sell your personal data, then there are some rewards programs you can join to gain points or money back towards future purchases. The most popular include PayBack, a rewards card for many of Germany’s most popular stores (e.g. Rewe, dm, Real), and ShopKick, an app where you get points for entering and scanning products.
Get Free Stuff
I haven’t bought shampoo or conditioner in over a year. How? I participate in product trials with trnd. All you have to do is create a profile, answer a few questionnaires, and they will email you whenever you qualify for a product trial. In the past, I have tested Ritter Sport chocolate, paper towels, dish soap, shampoo and conditioner, and hair styling products. In return, you just have to fill out some questionnaires about the products. (By the way, I’m not getting paid for this. I just like the program.)
Check Sales Flyers
I feel like I’m about 100 years old when I check the sales flyers every week in the paper, but it’s worth it! Discount grocery stores (see #1) carry specialty products each week, and it is impossible to find a better deal on things like bed sheets, towels, furniture, and kitchen equipment than during these sales.
So, be smart, and find the sale. But be warned – the Germans love a sale, and if the sale on bed sheets starts on Monday, they will be mostly sold out by Monday afternoon. If you don’t get sales flyers, you can also check out your local sales ads with the app kaufDA.
If you are going to take a train journey inside Germany, book your train tickets at least 2 months ahead of time. Booking early will almost guarantee that you will find a train to your desired location for a maximum 29€ each way.
Graduate On Time
German students don’t like graduating on time. The pressure that weighs so heavily on students in the U.S. just doesn’t seem to exist in Germany, and it is very normal for Germans to take one (or two…) extra semesters to finish their degrees. In fact, I do not know anyone that started at the same time as me who is graduating on time from my program (besides me).
The problem with this is that taking extra semesters to finish doesn’t just cost you in semester fees. You will likely have to extend your visa (there goes 100€), and you will be entering the job market later. While I’m not suggesting you stress yourself out and rush your studies, be proactive from the beginning on, and try your best to stay in the Regelstudienzeit. You can do it! (But if you don’t, don’t worry. Only 40% of German university students graduate on time.)
Hope these tips help! Let me know if you have any more in the comments below!