This is an extensive guide on how to manage finances and expenses while living in the US. On behalf of KEMUNITED, we congratulate everyone who matched this year. Hopefully you guys will continue helping others!
Phone bills, travelling, food and housing are pretty much all that you spend on while you are in USA for electives, and though the following list won’t save you a lot individually but the money saved collectively can help you save a few bucks in your final budget.
In general living with someone is always cheaper than getting a room alone. One way to find roommates is to search different Facebook pages like US electives and other forums. Look for any ads related to this, and usually Pakistani residents/elective students do offer temporary residence at nominal costs.
PPS, KEMCAANA and Iqbalian house are obviously the cheapest options wherever they are, but they have their own set of problems.
AirBNB: Seems to be a bit expensive when you look at the daily rates. But when you book for a month, there is an automatic discount. Further, you should message the landlord and haggle a bit and they usually do accommodate you because even for them getting a tenant for long term (one month) is much better. Also remember to get an invite sent to you before joining the AirBNB website as that gets you a $25 discount on your first booking.
Other options include craiglist, and rotatinroom.com both of which are difficult to find a room on.
You can search other random options but usually it’s very difficult to get a good deal for one month as most places are looking to give a lease for at least 6 months.
The big 4 phone companies in USA are the following: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. All of these are more famous because of their postpaid services, which includes giving phones on contracts. They all do have some sort of prepaid plans (which are the ones we need temporarily) but they are a bit expensive compared to prepaid specific plans. T-mobile seems to be the most attractive of the above 4 but I would advise not to get it because of its poor coverage and bad internet services. If you are going into a small city, T-mobile is most probably not going to work. So if you are going for one of the top 4, then go for AT&T or Verizon. But I’d suggest going for lesser known companies that deal only in prepaid services like Lycamobile and H2O wireless. Also remember to get a monthly package from the get go and even at the end if you have only 10 days left. Pay-as-go, like we have in Pakistan, is really expensive there with a single text costing almost a $, and you get charged even for receiving calls.
I personally used H2O Wireless, which uses AT&T’s network so it basically works wherever AT&T works. The only advantage is that it’s way cheaper than its parent company. Frequently there are offers in which you can get the initial sim and first month’s package for a 50% discount. Look up for that.
Lyca is used by most of those doing electives in Chicago. It has amazing 1 month, 2 months and 3 months plans so you can be tension free for whatever amount of time you are spending in USA. But do look at its coverage if it covers most of the places you are going to visit in USA.
UBER: Before making your new account using your USA number, do get a promo code which gives you a free first ride. So you can send yourself an invite using your Pakistani account and get 2 free rides.
LYFT: This is the other ride sharing app all over USA. Again get a promo code. Search google for this promo which gives you $50 off i.e. $5 off your first 10 rides each. I don’t know if it’s still available. But there will definitely be other promos.
Southwest Airlines: Gives you free baggage unlike most of the local flights in USA. Also they are pretty cheap.
Apart from southwest, Frontier and Sprint are two companies that have really cheap flights but only if you have no bags with you. So in case you are travelling light for a few days within USA, these two airlines can save you big.
Food & Entertainment
Eating from your hospital’s café is the cheapest option when it comes to eating daily and not cooking yourself. But fast food chains have their own applications and you can truly save a lot when you use them regularly. Most importantly use your Pakistani university card or your card from the hospital you are working to get a student discount almost everywhere. They give you a 10% discount at every eatery, cinema or shopping store. You just have to ask for it.
Subway: You get a free sub on registering online with your phone number. And then a further free sub if you are able to invite 3 more people.
McDonald’s: The McDonald’s app has daily offers which include buy one get one free offer. So this is a definite must install app.
Starbucks: Not an essential, but installing its app has its benefits. You get a free coffee, any size, just for downloading the app and then another free coffee on your birthday, so faking the date might not be a bad idea for this one.
Seatgeek app: For sports games and concerts tickets, you can get a $20 discount on your initial purchase so use it instead of directly buying tickets. You can even sell your tickets if you decide not to go at the end.
So the first thing you should do on arriving in USA is open a bank account and deposit all the cash you brought with you. It’s pretty stupid not to bring cash and use a Pakistani credit card because of all the bank charges that you have to pay, effectively increasing the price of each $ by almost Rs. 5 but of course whatever makes you more comfortable. Most people open an account in Bank of America, and so transferring money to each other becomes really easy as there are charges to transfer to other banks except because of one app which I will discuss later. Just get the simplest debit card on offer, and your life will be much easier. Even street vendors in USA have card facilities.
Before opening your account look for promotion offers. Some banks offer an amount for opening an account with a certain amount of initial deposit (around $500-1500), which you will obviously be making. So essentially it is like a lottery for you. But this happens only if you find the promo code online and then give the bank teller the promo code, when you go there with your elective documents and passport etc. I received $50 from PNC Bank and $150 from Huntington Bank because of these promotions just for depositing the money which I had to do anyways. Also look for promotions at Chase Bank and CitiBank. Follow this link for further information: http://www.hustlermoneyblog.com/pnc-bank-promotions. Sometimes you have to make the initial deposit as a direct deposit, which happens when you receive money through the Venmo app (discussed later), this is a technical term which I won’t be able to explain here.
Venmo App: The most essential app while living in USA. It is run by paypal, and is completely safe. Anyone with a bank account in USA or probably anyone with a credit/debit card from anywhere in the world can use it. This app is not available in Pakistan, so iPhone folks you’ll have to make a new USA account. So what this app allows you to do is send money to each other from about $1 to $300/day to a friend of yours who you have added on Facebook, or by their username, and the money is taken from your debit/credit card that you have to enter into the app initially. This happens in a matter of seconds. The one who receives the money can either keep the amount within the app, in order to send it to others later, or just transfer the amount to their bank account that you can easily link by entering bank account number. So basically doing anything together like buying grocery, travelling on Uber or eating out becomes much easier and you can send your share instantly and only one needs to pay.