By Miriam van den Berg & Tamar Oderwald
This article is also available to read in our ebook "Ethnographic Fieldwork: An anthropology student's toolkit". Click here to download.
Must be funny, in the rich man’s world. Miriam and I (Tamar) were out one day running some errands and chatting about fieldwork (as we do a lot, you may have noticed) when she turned to me and said: “Okay Tamar, I have a question. But I’m not sure I can or should ask.” I gestured to her to go ahead, as I had figured we were past the point in our friendship to have off-limit questions. Miriam continues: “How much money did you spend on your fieldwork?” It occurred to me then that we as anthropology students are all aware of how expensive ethnographic research can be, but we never really see that translated into numbers. Nor do we really talk about it with each other, leaving us to stay in the dark about what to expect. Especially when you go abroad for your fieldwork, the numbers can add up. When doing fieldwork at, or closer to, home, costs are usually lower. We figured we’d attempt to break this cycle and get open and honest about our expenses, as well as some financial preparations we made before we left.
What did we do to save up money?
I (Miriam) had been saving up to go to Australia for quite a while, as I knew I would attempt and do fieldwork there since pretty much the start of my anthropology bachelor. Long story short, I was lucky enough to visit Australia in 2013, and I fell in love with the rich cultural history I encountered there. This led to me pursuing cultural anthropology, and so I knew that during my studies I wanted to go back to Australia and that I needed (a lot of) money for that. So, I had been putting money from work aside in my savings for a while. At the beginning of the academic year of my bachelor project, I also turned on DUO (study loan) to ensure I would have enough money. Because I wanted to also have some backup money for emergencies (and last-minute flight tickets are expensive) I kept the loan quite high. I think I loaned about 900 euros per month since October and kept it going while I was in Australia too.
It’s nice if you can work a bit (extra) to make some money before you go, but we also realize that this isn’t always feasible. The money made from working might be necessary for your monthly expenses and you might not have the time/energy to work more hours. However, if it is possible, it can be a nice bonus. Another way to ‘make’ some money is subletting your room if your contract allows. I sublet mine for the same amount of rent as that I was paying, so I wouldn’t lose any money,
I (Tamar) was actually able to earn a little bit of money during my fieldwork as well, which was a huge bonus. I worked as a teacher for the Dutch Language School for two weeks and covered a shift in the Dutch Grocery Store on a day they needed extra help. Both of these opportunities were greatly helpful for my research, as I got to meet some more interesting people and ask them questions along the way. I fully expected to help out as a volunteer for both, but the pay was a pleasant addition.
For some more tips on how to save up some money before your departure, revisit part one of this series by clicking here.
What did we spend?
Let’s open up that taboo and take an in-depth look at the expenses both of us made during our fieldwork. Please note that this should not necessarily be seen as the average expenses that all fieldworkers can expect. Both of us traveled to another continent where consumption and other goods were relatively expensive, and we also spent some extra money on trips and other leisurely activities that could have been omitted. Depending on your fieldwork site, your spending habits, and your needs, your expenses can look very different from ours.
MIRIAM (Three months in Australia)
€1495.66 (flights, visas, hotels)
€237.00 (€79.00 per month)
€2744.40 (€914.80 per month)
±€700.00 (±€233.33 per month)
Home goods + clothes 
€688.52 (almost all in the first month)
Leisure (trips, restaurants, events)
±€1100.00 (±€366.66 per month)
€6965.58 (€2321.86 per month)
TAMAR (Three months in Canada)
€770.37 (return ticket Amsterdam-Ottawa)
±€120.00 (±€40.00 per month)
€1537.86 (€512.62 per month)
±€430.00 (±€143.00 per month)
Home goods + clothes
±€146.00 (±€49.00 per month)
Leisure (trips, restaurants, events)
±€600.00 (±€200.00 per month)
€3604.43 (±€1200.00 per month)
As we said before, we don’t really know how much other people are spending on fieldwork. In our cases, there’s already a big difference. Some of your expenses will be kind of set, such as rent and groceries. Over others, such as leisure, you have a bit more control.
For both of us, the amount of money that we spent during fieldwork was worth it. We both chose to go to our fieldwork sites for a longer period than was required by our university, because we knew beforehand that we wanted to use it as an opportunity to travel and sightsee in addition to our research responsibilities. Knowing this, we anticipated higher costs. Perhaps - for Miriam especially - not as high as they turned out to be, but we were prepared for the possibility of that happening. This does not mean that fieldwork requires a budget as extensive as ours. In the end, your fieldwork is supposed to be about the research that you do, which can be done within a wide price range.
What about you?
What do you wish you had known about ethnographic fieldwork before embarking on that journey? Leave us a comment below and share your experiences with fellow students! We always appreciate your insights and stories.
Some concluding thoughts and a moment of celebration
With that, this Fieldnotes series comes to an end. But not to fret! Today also marks the publication of our Ebook: Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropology Student’s Toolkit that combines these articles with eight more chapters, more examples and vignettes, and a whole lot of photos that we could not possibly fit in these segments. A must-have self-help book, if you will, for every student of anthropology.
Download the Ebook by clicking here!
 Your luggage getting lost will bring about extra costs, so be prepared for that too: get travel insurance and make a claim with the airline or organization that lost it.