Studying abroad can be expensive if you aren’t planning or utilizing the resources available to you to save money.
Here are some tactics I have learned during my time studying abroad in Florence when it comes to saving money.
1. Mind your gelato.
We all know gelato becomes a daily meal on an Italian diet! We students are all thinking we need to get as much in our system as possible before we fly home to the thick and heavy, yet delicious, American ice cream. Here, you can find a gelateria around every corner. There are glass cases holding intricate piles of brightly colored gelato that immediately make you salivate. These piles of brightly colored gelato are an Italian “no no.” Good gelato is kept covered up and not exposed to the elements while keeping a natural, creamy color. Those bright colors are intended to attract tourists, and it probably costs you an arm and a leg (actually around €7 in some cases). My advice is to take the time to wander down a side street far from the busy streets around the Ponte Vecchio or the Duomo, and discover the tiny gelato shops that are hidden gems. It should only cost €1.50 to €2.50 for a small cup. If you take the time to do this, it could become your daily snack (or lunch) and it won’t break your bank.
2. Shop smart.
Warning: Shopping can be an addiction that only gets worse in Florence. Streets are lined with designers, genuine leather, and Made In Italy stores. Arriving in Florence, I immediately felt the need to stock up on Italian clothes and souvenirs. As someone passionate about travel, I am usually in the mindset that I am in one place for a couple days and need to get something to remember the city. Being a study abroad student, it’s important to take a step back and remember that this is your home for three months. Many students forget that, and find their bank accounts quickly depleting. Instead, scout out the best souvenir shops for those small presents you want to bring home to your family and friends. Talk to locals and find out the best Italian fashion stores at a good price. Barter with leather sellers and discover the best prices for quality leather. I am not easily stopped when it comes to clothes shopping, but something I found to help me out was to limit myself to one article of clothing a week, a piece of clothing that I wouldn’t be able to find in America and would be representative of my time in Italy. Keep an eye on that spending and remember you have plenty of time to get the best finds in Florence.
3. Get an Italian SIM card.
A question many students have is how to communicate with their friends and family back home. There is wireless internet i in the apartments and most cafes have it too. This will allow you to get online and message back home. The only catch is communicating when not in these Wi-Fi hot spots. My suggestion is to get an Italian SIM card. I used Vodaphone, but TIM and Wind are other phone providers. I paid €30 for the first month, and €10 every other month I use the SIM card, coming out to a grand total of €50! That got me 300 minutes and 3 gigabytes of data. It lets me communicate with friends in Italy and at home in the United States. It definitely beats the international plans the American phone companies offer.
4. Get creative with travel plans.
Skyscanner is an amazing website that finds you the cheapest prices for flights. A few tips: try flying from Pisa rather than Florence, it’s almost always cheaper and then take a bus or a train to Pisa. Flex Bus is a company that will take you to so many places, and you can get tickets for less than €20! The train is another way to get around quickly. Do your research and don’t buy the first ticket you find! There are always deals.
5. Try an apertivo.
Apertivo: one word that will change your life. Go into a bar or café in the early evening basically anywhere in Florence and you will find this wonderful event. Apertivo is a time of the evening, usually from 6:30 to 9:00, where you pay around €8 to €10 as a fixed price for a drink (usually a cocktail) and you get rights to an entire buffet. We aren’t talking Golden Coral type buffet, but a delicious set up of pastas, breads, vegetables, cheese, and so much more. Italians usually use this as their appetizer, before dinner at 9:00. I go up to the buffet about three times, make it my dinner, and my stomach is pleasantly full… for only €10! If you go around a busy time and in a small group, you may even get to know some locals. Even if you don’t, you’re sitting around a table with friends, a drink, and some great food.
6. Utilize the grocery store.
If going to a restaurant is not your style and you enjoy cooking, you can save money by buying groceries once a week at the Conad. The Conad is a cheap grocery store with locations all around Florence. Put away a weekly stipend, and stick to it. You would be amazed at the massive amount of food you will get for less, especially compared to at home in the States.
7. Work out for free.
There’s no need for gym memberships when you’re living in Florence. Some good ways to exercise is to join a local soccer team (AIFS has their own) or run in your off time. Gym memberships in Florence can be up to €100 a month, sometimes more. You can also get an app on your phone to get great, quick ab workouts to do in your room!
8. Stick to the basics.
The key to studying abroad is to becoming fully immersed in the experience. Keep everything basic and try to spend most of your time acclimating to the new culture around you, rather than fighting to bring the American culture to you. Spend money on traveling, taking a wine tasting class or going to local events. Don’t waste your time searching the stores for a hairdryer when you could have been watching the nearest street performer. The important thing is to keep everything basic… except for your memories!
This post about saving money in Florence was contributed by Ginette Andre, who is studying abroad with AIFS in Florence, Italy.