How to Survive Your Summer Internship on a Budget

So, you landed an amazing internship opportunity and are all set to start the summer of your dreams. Congratulations! 

You’re probably feeling a lot of things right now: proud, excited, and maybe even a little nervous. This is totally normal, especially if your summer internship is in a new city that you don’t know very well. Living and working in a new city can be tough for a bunch of different reasons, and one of the biggest is usually the cost. Paying for rent and groceries is definitely a Big Girl Move, especially if you spent the last couple semesters on the meal plan and living in dorms. 

Budgeting will be super important for you this summer, and although it might seem hard to manage at first, but if you stick to these budgeting rules, you’ll easily have a fun and cost-effective summer.

  1. 1. Find out if your school offers funding

    Before you start planning for your expenses, it’s important to know how much money you actually have to work with. Hopefully you’re getting money through your internship, but even if you’re not, there are other ways to gather funds! Check in with the Career Office at your school and see if they offer any funding for internships. 

    “The Career Development Office really came through for me last year,” recalls Megan Wang, a junior at Vassar College. “I got money from one fund to supplement an unpaid summer internship, and when I needed to buy a plane ticket to Taiwan for a different internship, I got money from another travel fund. I definitely would not have been able to travel or have those types of opportunities otherwise.” 

    Some universities have multiple funds to help students over the summer months, so be sure to take advantage of this because it will make budgeting a lot easier for you! But remember to apply as soon as you can, as funds can sometimes run out quickly.

  2. 2. Make a physical budget and stick to it 

    After you know how much money you have for the summer, it’s time to make yourself a budget, ideally either something monthly or weekly. Remember you can stretch a budget to fit whatever you want! Ideally your budget will break down expenses like rent, transportation, food, and other fun activities, and allot a certain amount of money to each category so that you don’t spend more money than you make.

    For example, if you have a 10-week internship program and you estimate that you will make $2000 for the summer, you should not be spending more than $200/week There are also a ton of apps that can help you budget (Mint and Every Dollar are some of my personal favorites).

    Some of your expenses, like your rent, will be pretty fixed. But a lot of other costs have a lot more wiggle room! Remember that there are a lot of ways to cut costs aside from strict budgeting, and implementing small of lifestyle changes, like walking or taking the subway sometimes as opposed to an Uber, are the best way to save money without feeling like you are completely restraining yourself. 

    Related: FYI, Self-Care For Your Finances Is a Thing 

  3. 3. Find some roomies

    After you’ve made a tentative budget for the summer, it’s time to cut down on different potential expenses. By far your biggest expense over the summer will be your rent. In cities like Boston and New York, it’s common for people to pay upwards of $800/month for a room! Save yourself the hassle and live with some roommates instead of trying to pay for your own place. The more roommates you have, the cheaper your rent will be.

    There are a ton of online resources for finding a roommates in different cities for short or long term stays. Roomi and Gypsy Housing are my personal favorites, but I know people who have also had success on Craigslist and through other methods. While it might seem weird to move in with strangers you meet off the internet, there are plenty of ways to do this in a completely safe way. If you can, try to stop by the apartment before you sign a sublease in order to meet your potential roommates, see the apartment, and check out the neighborhood. If that’s not possible for you, be sure to at least do a video chat or speak with your sublease on the phone.

    Maya Allen, a junior at Vassar College, says that living with a roommate she found off a Facebook group was an excellent experience for her when she interned in New York last summer. “The first time I sublet searched, I joined about 8 different housing groups… which was way too many,” she recalls. “I’d suggest narrowing it down to 2-3 groups that cater to your budget and personal interests and notifying friends and family that you’re searching for a place because they might be able to refer you to someone they know. My roommate Dhati was awesome and super welcoming to me when I moved to the neighborhood—it made the whole experience a lot more comfortable!” Living with a roommate (or more than one!) can be a great way to not only cut costs in a new city, but also make some friends. 

  4. 4. Eat in (most of the time) 

    You probably saw this one coming, but I’m going to say it anyway because it’s important — eating in is a great way to save money, but it can also be very rewarding and fun! You’re going to want to avoid going to restaurants too often, especially in big cities where food can be extremely overpriced. Instead, try to buy your groceries and cook most of your meals for yourself. Not only will it save you some cash, you’ll also feel like a badass when you can casually whip up some yummy, healthy meals in your kitchen. 

    Junior at Vassar College Zoya Qureshi notes that learning how to cook and grocery shop for herself when she spent last summer doing research at Yale was difficult at first, but fun once she got the hang of it. “My biggest tip would be to figure out portions,” she says. “The first time I went grocery shopping I tried to buy everything in bulk because it was cheaper – until I realized that I could only eat so much lettuce in a week, so a lot of it was going to go bad. Shopping for one person can be hard, but try to only buy things you know you’re going to eat every day in bulk and buy everything else in smaller portions. You’ll figure it out after you shop a few times!

    There are also plenty of ways to eat out occasionally and still save money, like splitting appetizers with friends, checking the menu beforehand, or eating a small snack before you leave home.

    Another way to save money on food is to meal prep or to plan and cook your meals for the week or even a few days in advance. This one definitely involves a bit of planning but it’s super cost effective and overall will save you lots of time! Every week, plan out the meals you want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and maybe a couple snacks too. Then go into the grocery store with a list of all the ingredients you will need to cook those few meals. Choose one day to cook the meals, and you’ll be set for the entire week!

    Meal prepping saves money because you know the exact foods and the exact proportions you will need for the whole week, so you won’t waste cash on food you don’t need (except maybe the occasional ice cream run). It also saves time, as you can make dinner for the whole week and keep it in the fridge so it’s always ready for you.

  5. 5. Use your student ID 

    Even though you won’t be on campus, be sure to keep your student ID handy with you this summer. Being a student has lots of perks, especially when it comes to saving cash. Lots of companies understand that funds are tight for people in school, and they are willing to give you discounts. Be sure to take your student ID with you during your day trips to museums or to the movie theatre because saving a little bit each time adds up. 

  6. 6. Take advantage of free activities 

    There are a million different ways to budget, but the simplest one is to not spend money at all. This might sound like a trap but I promise it’s not—there are a lot of different ways to have fun without spending any money at all! In most major cities like New YorkBoston, or Washington, D.C., there are events happening every weekend that are free to the public such as museum openings, street fairs, and outdoor concerts. Be sure to take advantage of these because not only are they cheap, they’re a great way to experience a new city.

Moving to a new city can be hard but it doesn’t have to be hard on your wallet! With some budgeting, planning, and a few lifestyle changes, your summer internship away from home can be super exciting and stress free.