Graduate student personal finance (living abroad edition)

I’m a grad student again! First stop is Singapore. And that means a few things: different schedule (more and less flexibility in many ways!), taking classes again, moving expenses, and reassessing my monthly budget. Oh yeah, and making new friends. (I miss my old friends, so don’t worry, I’ll be back again!).

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term personal finance, it just means tracking your money and what you are worth, including financial goals and life plans.

I’m excited about having a different schedule. Office life is a bit monotonous, and I was getting a little tired of it. But with the new schedule comes different challenges, such as having irregular meal times and work schedule.

The last time I was a graduate student, I was able to live at home with my family in New York City, so my budget wasn’t so tight because I didn’t have to pay rent or spend a lot on food. I didn’t have an income though, and did have to pay tuition, so that put some debt on my back and also made me lean a bit on my parents. I started thinking about personal finance when I started paying off my student loans. I didn’t know much at the time, but I knew that I wanted to pay them off as quickly as possible. I was still living at home, so that made it easier to pay more than the monthly minimum on my loans.

Thinking about how lucky I am to not be in poverty, my parents believe in helping their children with paying for school as much as possible. They helped me pay for college and for graduate school the first time, and for that, in addition to raising me of course, I’m in their debt and love them for sacrificing in order to help me move up in life (but that could be a whole book of stories in itself). I didn’t want to lean on them again, so I made sure that I saved up money and applied to programs with scholarships if I wanted to go back to school.

This time around, I’ll be getting a scholarship and I’ll be living abroad (Singapore and the UK). I won’t have to pay tuition, and I’ll get a decent monthly stipend for living expenses. Both places are a bit expensive to live in, but I will be able to manage. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do a little bit of travel here and there with what I’m able to save up.

This is my monthly budget so far in Singapore Dollars (SGD):
Rent: hoping for 700-900
Utilities: 70
Mobile phone: 17
Public transportation: 125
Groceries: 150
Social/food outings: 180
Ultimate and miscellaneous: 70

Total for expenses: SGD$1512 (This is about $1240 USD.)
Total for savings: SGD$488 (About $400 USD. Part of this will go towards mid-term goals like travel and ultimate tournaments!)

I’ve mostly decided against living in dormitories because I would like to have a kitchen and a comfortable space, that is close to the train (MRT). I know it would have been the cheaper option (if available), but I think I’d be happier in a nice apartment with a few other people that are interesting.

This budget is going to change around a bit since I’m only estimating, haven’t found where I’m living yet, and haven’t been here long enough to really get a sense of my actual spending. I’ll update in a month or two and see where I’m at. I also have a little bit of cushion from my savings that I brought over to cover moving and settling in costs like getting basic cleaning supplies and other start up items.

One of the things that is really great this time compared to when I was a grad student in New York City is that the food here in Singapore can be very very cheap. Lunch in the university food centers can be as cheap as SGD$2-4, whereas in NYC you could pretty much only get a slice of pizza for that cheap. I enjoy pizza tremendously, but I can’t eat it every day, and I’m sure my body would not appreciate that very much either.

As for social outings, I haven’t been out to bars or clubs here yet, but I imagine it might be similar to NYC in that you can find places with cheaper options and also places that are priced through the roof. Singapore is known for the nightlife, and I’m sure I’ll figure it out soon. 😉

For mid-term goals, I’m hoping to go somewhere during my spring break week. A few friends are also planning on visiting Singapore, so it would be nice to do some special events or outings with them!

As of tomorrow, I’ll officially be a student and have my ID card and everything!