Let’s talk about money for a minute.
When you go abroad, it becomes rapidly apparent that you’re not going to be spending money in the same way as in Burlington. Almost from the moment you enter the city, you are bombarded with a thousand great ways to spend your time. Some, like enjoying a walk in the park, are free. Others, like feasting on all-you-can-eat sushi, are not. The fact that the Canadian dollar is, at the moment, significantly lower than American dollar can make budgeting and good purchase decisions difficult. Not to mention Montreal is so full of tempting things to buy and do, you’ll almost certainly be spending more money than you anticipated originally.
So what can you do to avoid being overwhelmed?
First of all, you should establish how much money you’ll absolutely need to spend for your trip. How are you getting there? How are you getting back? How about tuition and room and board costs? Are you going home for Thanksgiving or Spring Break? How much for public transit? After calculating these things, next up is figuring out how much you want to spend on groceries. This article has some great tips for budgeting your groceries while in Canada, but as a baseline expect to spend about $50 CAN per week on groceries. I’ve been known to get by on about $30 a week, myself, but you’ll be eating out so often while here that that you may not need as many groceries as normal.
Speaking of eating out, the next step is determining how much money you have for leisure each month of your stay. Honestly, don’t skimp out on this part. You’re abroad! You’re in a brand new city, full of unknown experiences! You’re here with your friends, for four months, and you have a close-knit support system. You should have fun here. In the end, wouldn’t you rather spend money on a nice dinner in Old Montreal than on a few video games that will go on sale in a few months? That being said, everyone has different needs, and if you don’t have a lot of money to spend, it’s important to be aware of your finances and act accordingly. There are plenty of fun things to do in Montreal for free, so don’t worry if you’re wallet is full of cobwebs.
Lastly, set aside an extra $300 or so for emergencies. You’re most likely covered by health insurance, but most services here need to be paid up front (you’ll get reimbursed later) and you never know when something might go wrong.
Now that you have a basic budget ready, remember to keep track of it! Have your bank statements emailed to yourself, and keep a small notebook page of your basic monthly finances.
Speaking of bank statements, always tell your bank when you leave the country! Otherwise, they will suspend your card on you, and it will be a huge hassle to get it reactivated. Convert your cash before coming, as well, as there are many restaurants here that are cash-only (I learned that one the hard way)! If you can, get a bank account with a bank that has little or no foreign fees. Otherwise, you’ll be paying $2-$3 for every transaction at an ATM. If you can’t switch banks, then withdraw decent amounts of money from bank-based ATMs at a time, and keep some of it it in a safe place in your dorm room. This will help save on those foreign exchange fees.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that the Canadian dollar will not be equal to the American dollar. This seems simple, but it’s a lot more important than you think. At the moment I am writing this, the Canadian loonie ($1 coin) is worth three American Quarters ($0.75). That means that when shopping for groceries, things you would expect to be 4 dollars might be 5 or 6, and your final total might be higher than you’re used to. At the same time, it might be tempting to dismiss spending money here as a “good deal”. In fact, I’ve had Canadians encourage me to spend more money for that very reason, as the American dollar holds a lot of weight in Canada right now. This can be dangerous thinking, and throw most of your budgeting instincts into disarray. In general, it’s good practice to do the math in your head or on your phone before making purchases you’re unsure about (don’t forget to account for the whopping taxes!), and to ask yourself “do I really need this” before buying.
That’s it for the big stuff! Now for some final, quick tips and facts to help you feel more comfortable about your money situation in Montreal:
Not everywhere accepts American cards, but that doesn’t mean you should get a Canadian one.
- You’re going to end up with a lot of change, considering there are $1 and $2 coins here. Bring along a change purse, as $1 coins make good tips for drinks.
- Many budget restaurants are cash only. Same with Atwater and Jean-Talon Market.
- The money smells like maple syrup. Or does it? Opinions are divided. I think it smells like maple syrup.
- Know your student discounts! They’re everywhere in Montreal and they’re awesome.
- Getting cash back at a grocery store can be a good way to avoid fees from ATMs.
- Don’t forget to take your money out of your pockets before laundry. The bills can melt in the dryer.
- Canadians no longer have pennies. It’s pretty awesome, actually.
- DO NOT have anything expensive shipped up to Canada. Just don’t do it. Not only could it get damaged on the way, it could get taxed at customs. If It’s essential you have it, get someone in Burlington to drive it up to you.
- Don’t waste your money on things that won’t improve your experience here. But at the same time, don’t miss out on having fun because you’re too busy being a miser. Striking a balanced will make both you, and your wallet, happy.
Montreal is an awesome experience. Don’t let your finances ruin your fun times here! Be responsible, stick to a budget, but don’t be afraid to splurge every now and again if you can afford it! There’s no better time than while travelling to spend money and have a good experience.