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How to live on a budget as an Au Pair

by Julia on Nov 05, 2019
How to live on a budget as an Au Pair
Congratulations! You found a suitable Host Family and will move in with them in the near future. But now you’re wondering: how to live on a budget as an Au Pair? As you might have read in our Au Pair Wiki, Au Pairs get weekly or monthly pocket money which they can use in their leisure time or for some extras like clothes, make-up, freetime activities and souvenirs for their family and friends at home.
 
As an Au Pair you have a striking advantage: you don’t need to pay rent or afford daily meals because your Host Family will cover that for you. Additionally, in some countries, the Host Family also pays (partly) for the language course and your insurance. But let’s be honest - you’re not going to become a millionaire as an Au Pair. However, you can save more money than you might think. We compiled the best tips to save money for you!
 

1. Prepare your meal at home

Who doesn't know this situation? You’re planning a day out, be it a sightseeing tour or just taking a walk around the local park. After awhile you get hungry and find a nice restaurant. What sounds very nice becomes a nightmare when you get the bill. 14€ for Spaghetti? 18€ for a cutlet? You can prevent those shock moments very easily by preparing your food at home. You will get three meals a day at home so just prepare a little snack like a salad or maybe a sandwich when you’re on the move. This way you won’t need to buy expensive food at a restaurant! You think you’re already saving money by just buying snacks at the local fast food restaurants? In fact, you’re not actually saving if you think that McD & Co are cheap. First of all, you’re going to pay with your health since fast food is very low in vitamins and very high in calories and saturated fats. Furthermore, most fast food doesn’t have much fiber so you will be hungry right after a huge meal. A better option is to stay sustainable and prepare a healthy alternative at home. 

2. Don’t buy drinks

Very similar to the first point, you save a lot of money if you avoid buying drinks. Whenever you’re moving around, don’t forget to bring your water bottle with you! In most countries you can fill it up with tap water or with at local drinking water fountains. You can either use an old plastic bottle or - even better and more sustainable - buy a glass bottle which will last forever. Buying such a bottle might seem like an expense at first bit only after a few days of not buying additional drinks in bars, restaurants and your local kiosk, it will pay off. You’re not only doing good for your wallet but also for the environment because you don’t consume unnecessary plastic this way. 

3. Visit free cultural events

Did you know that a lot of museums in European citiesare free? Search for public and municipal museums and cultural locations like churches or city halls. During my stay in France, I didn’t pay for any cultural activity that I visited. Of course there are also private exhibitions but in this case they might have a discount for young people, students or even Au Pairs. Look for local events like city festivals, markets and traditional feasts like Carnival or Christmas markets. Visiting them is free and if you consider points 1 and 2, you can easily resist the temptation of buying food there. 

4. Wait before consuming

We’ve all been there: you discovered the fanciest shopping mall in your new home or walk down the local shopping promenade and see the perfect skirt/trousers/dress. You need this item right now! You decide to buy it, you bring it home and suddenly it disappears...because you don’t like it anymore. It’s very common to be satisfied after shopping but you need to understand the mechanism behind this. During shopping your brain is flooded with stimuli. You see so many beautiful things, smell perfume and listen to happy music that keeps you happy and ready to shop. Once you understand that this setting is intended to manipulate you to buy more than you need, you can break the cycle. Window shopping is the keyword. Write down what you like and take photos. But wait before consuming! Go home and see if you’re still thinking about a certain item and if you really need it. You will be surprised how much money you can save by using this easy but very effective method.

5. Always pay cash

There is no doubt that we’re living in a virtual world. You can talk to friends that you don’t see, you can paint pictures that can’t hang on the wall and you can buy things without handing over touchable money. And that’s the point! Try to buy something that costs 50€. Taking the bill and handing it over in real life hurts if you need to save. Once the money becomes material again you understand its worth. But paying something with a click online or with your card in a shop feels way easier. It tricks you into thinking that you didn’t spend as much money but you certainly did. Furthermore, paying cash has a nice side effect. If you withdraw a certain amount every week and stop spending money when you’re wallet is empty you just can’t spend more than you wanted because it’s physically impossible. Step out of the virtual world if you live on a budget. It will definitely help you achieve your financial goals. 

6. Second hand and share instead of brands

Listen carefully: many brands produce in the same factories and under the same conditions than so-called no name labels. This means that you will only pay more because of the brand’s name on your shirt. Ask yourself: do you really need the sunglasses from an expensive brand? Why do you want it anyway? Impress people with your special personality and a big smile and not with expensive clothes! If you still like fancy brands, don’t worry: you can find a lot of second hand shops and flea markets in many countries. There are different levels for each budget. Real vintage shops cost a bit more but you might find quality clothes even from certain brands for 50% off. If you prefer an individual style try to shop at flea markets. Here you will find a lot of fashionistas who want to create space for new clothes in their wardrobe and give their old stuff away for some cents. Third idea: just share! You and your friends have the same taste in fashion? Then begin to share your items. This way you spend more time with your loved ones and less money on clothes you don’t need.

7. Write down your expenses

This is maybe the best tip that you will ever receive when it comes to living on a budget. Write down every single expense that you have in your life. Keep the receipts for everything that you buy and in case you don’t get one, take a note in your phone. At home you’ll make a list (I myself prefer Excel or Google sheets because it’s neat and easy to understand). On the left side you insert the date and then you insert each expense in a new column. As you might know there are different functions in those calculation programs. One of them is to calculate a sum. You can use this function to calculate how much you spent on a single day  and for the whole month. This is the way to go! During my stay in France I definitely lived on a very small budget and I survived with this trick. I knew how much I could spend each month and each week and then I kept track on everything. In the cell which indicated the overall sum I could always see how I’m doing and if I could achieve my economical goal. Extra tip: subtract your monthly expenses from your predefined target sum. You can either save this money or spend it on some extra items the next month without having a bad conscious. 

8. Party at home instead of going out 

Of course, you would need to ask your Host Family for this, but it’s way cheaper if your friends just come over instead out going out every weekend. Food and beverages from the supermarket that you would need for a nice evening are not as expensive as in restaurants and bars plus you can avoid entry fees for clubs. And let’s be honest: you can’t really talk to your friends in a club anyway, right? Many Host Families even prefer their Au Pair to bring friends (maybe other Au Pairs) and meeting them in person

9. Try to stay away from ads

Ads make you want things which you didn’t even knew before. But once you see that there are wireless headphones your old ones appear out of style. And once the fashion industry labels red the new color of spring your yellow skirt is useless. I know how hard it can be to resist well made advertisement. It’s subconscious and feeds the human need for new and exciting things. But believe me: if you try to oversee ads in your environment your life gets so much easier. Your headphones will be just fine and you can still wear and love your yellow skirt which reminds you of your last holiday. Especially for the younger Au Pairs among you it’s tempting but the older you get the more you know that it’s you who makes the trend for your own life. And that new things don’t promise satisfaction but an empty wallet which will make you even unhappier in the end. If you need some support, watch some documentaries about the fashion or entertainment industry and gain insight into where your product is really coming from. I don’t say that you shouldn’t consume at all. But especially as an Au Pair with limited financial means I highly recommend you to consume wisely. 

10. Save a fix amount every month

The Au Pair program is a beautiful time in your life. You’ll meet interesting people, learn a new language and experience so many things that you will always remember. But the program won’t last forever. It will eventually end and then you will be happy if you’re not broke. Make sure to save a certain amount each month in order to save for your education after the Au Pair program or to afford the first month’s rent of your new apartment back home. Whatever your plans are you will thank yourself if you’ve always saved some Euros/Dollars for the future. Now being equipped with our tips and tricks this shouldn’t be a huge deal anymore.
 
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