An Intern's Guide to Making a Budget

So you’ve landed a dream internship in a major city. Besides starting to plan what you will wear to the office every day, I’m sure you’ve started making a list of all the fun activities and insta-worthy eats you plan to tackle outside your 9-5.

You don’t need to be mathematician to realize that having an unpaid internship doesn’t really afford you (pun intended) the ability to spend what little money you have saved frivolously. Sure, while you are getting “paid” in experience, you can’t really use that currency when purchasing an overpriced latte.

But just because you are making all of zero dollars this summer, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your time outside of the office! Here is how to save money in five key categories that will still give you the flexibility to enjoy your new city!

Although the word budget may make you cringe, it’s essential to making it in the city. The first thing you need to do is break down your spending. Decide how much money goes towards your essentials, like groceries, transportation, and rent. Next allocate how much you have to spend on activities, such as grabbing brunch with a friend or trying one of those overpriced group fitness classes you read about. Finally don’t forget to allocate some money for savings/emergency fund. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing it down or using an app, like Mint, to keep track. But having a financial plan that you can reference and stick to is vital.

Living away from home, especially in a big city like New York, Chicago, or LA, can be expensive. Finding a place within your price range may take some time. First you have to evaluate location, price, furniture, etc. In order to stay in your price range, you may need roommates. Use Facebook groups like Gypsy Housing to connect you with people and places. Living in local dorms also may be an option.

This one is the hardest. Who wouldn’t like starting their day with a fancy latte or grabbing a salad for lunch to get out of the office? But when your saving money, food is a cash killer. Avoid going out to eat on a regular basis or turning “treat yourself” into a daily indulgence. Does you office have granola bars and fruit in the kitchen? Take advantage of these perks for a grab and go (and free!) breakfast. You can still leave the office for lunch. But instead of an overpriced salad, opt to bring your own and have a picnic instead. Save spending on food for social occasions.

While in an ideal world, you would curb your shopping until you have a steady income to rely on. But welcome to reality. If you’re not ready to stop the shopping bug, give thrifting a try. And if you just can’t stay away from stores like Topshop or Madewell, be sure to take advantage of their student discounts. A lot of stores offer discounts to college students; so even if you don’t see anything publicized, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Just because your budget is low doesn’t mean your fun level shouldn’t be high. Check out all the free things offered in your city. Museums are usually just a donation; and, if they do have an admission fee, it’s often discounted for students. Parks are also always a great way to spend an afternoon sunbathing, reading, and catching up with friends. Lots of major cities also have local summer activities, such as movies in the park, landmarks, and concerts, that cost all of zero dollars to enjoy.

Although a budget may seem overwhelming, if you break it down it’s not as scary. Are you interning in the city this summer? How do you make a budget work? Let me know in the comments below.

Graphics by Jessi Simpson