Cultural Experience | Spain

20 Budget Life Hacks for Spain

Newsflash: You can have the time of your life in Spain without returning the U.S. completely broke.

A semester abroad can really put a dent in a student’s bank account. After all, you’re paying to fly to another country, live there for a matter of weeks or months, take classes, travel, and chances are you won’t have a job. Luckily for us students, there are several ways to save money while still enjoying Spain.

1.      Invest in the big metro pass

The metro makes traveling in Spanish cities quick and easy. Unfortunately, it can also be expensive. If you’re studying abroad for an extended amount of time, consider investing in a month long (or longer) pass. Although these seem expensive when you buy them, they often allow unlimited travel, which in the long run is cheaper than paying for more trips every week.

2.      Use cash whenever possible

Carrying cash, rather than credit or debit cards, is a good rule of thumb in Europe for multiple reasons: A.) It’s always accepted, while at some restaurants and stores in Spain, cards are not. B.) If you do get pickpocketed—let’s hope not—you will have lost only cash, and won’t have to deal with the hassle of cancelling cards. C.) Using a card to pay for every purchase will result in some awful transaction fees.

3.       Get deals on tapas

Tapas are an important part of the Spanish lifestyle and some places have them cheaper than others. Look for cafes and restaurants that offer a tapa or two with a beverage; these are usually the best deals.

Barcelona images

Find those specials and save your money doing so!

4.      Carry a water bottle with you

Water is not free at restaurants, bars, and cafes and is often overpriced. Avoid paying crazy amounts to stay hydrated by keeping a bottle with you.

5.      Shop during Rebajas

Rebajas are the end-of-season sales that shoppers like me dream of. They take place twice a year throughout Spain: early January through the end of February, and again July through the end of August. If you’re in Spain during these times, take advantage of rebajas and get some crazy discounts.  

6.      Ask for the take away option at restaurants

While going out to eat is fun to do abroad, it can also put a damper on your bank account. There are a couple ways to save money though and still enjoy amazing Spanish food. Asking for the to-go option is one way, and often less expensive than eating at the restaurant.  Also try going out to eat for lunch rather than dinner, when meals are usually cheaper.

7.      Embrace being a student

Being a student definitely has its advantages. Almost every tourist destination offers a student discount. This includes museums, castles, parks, and more. Sometimes this is a certain percentage off the original cost and sometimes it can even result in free admission!

8.      Grocery stores > 24 hour stores

When buying food or other groceries, shop at larger supermarkets rather than the smaller 24 hour stores located on every block. While these seem cheap and convenient, a box of cereal will be twice as expensive.

9.      Stay in hostels instead of hotels

This is pretty common knowledge among young people travelling in Europe, and for good reason. You can pay 50 € for three nights at a hostel, as opposed to 50 € for one night at a hotel.

10.      Don’t feel obligated to leave a tip

Tipping is not as common in Spain as it is in the U. S. Whether it’s a taxi driver or a waiter, you shouldn’t feel obligated. After a long taxi ride or an expensive meal though, it is nice to leave a small tip.

11.  Take advantage of happy hour specials

Many bars, especially small local ones, have happy hour specials or days that offer certain drinks for a discount. If you’re going out anyway, take advantage of these deals!

12.  Shop at “basars”

At least in Barcelona, basar stores are located everywhere throughout the city. These little shops are like Target meets Dollar Tree—yes, it’s as great as it sounds. Whether you need a notebook, a pair of flip flops, a wallet, or a picture frame, you’ll find it at a basar and it will be affordable.

tourbasar image

13.  Avoid eating and shopping in touristy areas

While these areas may seem appealing, restaurants and stores will be much more expensive because they expect tourists to be willing to pay higher prices. For students on a budget, try eating and shopping in neighborhoods where the locals eat and shop.

14.  Write down your spending

No matter where you’re studying abroad, writing down what you buy and how much it costs will keep you aware of your spending. This helps me keep my budget on track, and informs me if I’m reaching my limits.

15.  Walk wherever you go

While you can’t walk every place you go, walk as much as possible! It helps you familiarize yourself with the city you’re living in, learning street names and locations. Walking also helps me counteract all the chocolate Spanish croissants I’m eating!

16.  Arrive at clubs before 2 am

Most nightclubs offer free admission until a certain hour, normally about 2 am. If you plan on going to these clubs anyway arrive in time to get in free.

17.  Bring what you can from home

When packing to go abroad for an extended period of time, bring as many disposable goods with you as you’ll think you’ll need and can fit into your suitcase. Things like shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, medicine, razors, etc. That way you won’t have to worry about finding or paying for them in Spain, and you also won’t have to pack them when returning to the U. S.

18.  Look for discounts on social media

Whether you’re looking to go to a nightclub or a museum, using social media sites like Facebook, can help you save money. It could involve putting yourself on a guest list or printing off a coupon.

19.  See tourist destinations for free

Many tourist sites like museums, monuments, and parks offer at least some chance for free admission. It may be the first Sunday of the month, Saturdays after 3pm, or national holidays. Before you go visit these destinations, check their websites for deals.

barcelona image

20.  Buy plane tickets well in advance

If you’re traveling to another country or even throughout Spain, buy your ticket as soon as possible. Companies like Ryan Air have incredibly affordable flights if you purchase early.

BONUS TIP: Don’t forget to have fun for free!

Regardless of where you are you are in Spain, there’s no doubt you’ll be able to find some free fun. So get out there and find a great view, visit the beach, or explore an old Spanish neighborhood!

Morgan Juraco

Iowa State University | 5 stories

I am a junior studying Journalism, Business, and Spanish at Iowa State University. This semester I am studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain, where I live with a host family and have plans to travel throughout Europe. After graduation I want to work in Public Relations in New York City. Follow my journey on Twitter: @mejuraco and Instagram: morganjuraco


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