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7 Financial Tips for Students With Unpaid Internships

Unpaid internships get a bad rap, but legitimate unpaid opportunities that provide college credit can sometimes be as helpful to students as paid internships. Even if they’re happy to make connections and get hands-on experience, however, many students still have to pay bills and make ends meet. Below are seven tips for unpaid interns who are concerned about managing their finances.

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1. Set up a Budget

Don’t have a budget? It’s a good idea to put one together if you’re interning for free this summer (or really no matter what you’re doing this summer!). Without tracking where your funds are going, you could easily end up with an empty bank account by the time August rolls around.

A budget simply provides you with a plan for how you’re going to spend your money. Whether you decide to create one with a budgeting app or an Excel spreadsheet, it’s important to account for all of your expenses, including what you can afford to spend on both necessities and fun activities.

Finding a roommate, living with a relative or staying in a college dorm for the summer can help you avoid spending the majority of your money on housing.

2. Bring Your Lunch

Getting fast food or dining out every day is an easy way to burn through your cash. A $7 or $8 meal might not seem very expensive. But if you’re heading to Chipotle on a daily basis, it’s going to add up over time.

Buying groceries in bulk and making your own lunch can help you save money. And if you’re interning for a company that provides snacks and coffee, it’s best to take advantage of those freebies.

Check out our budget calculator.

3. Negotiate for Additional Benefits

7 Financial Tips for Students With Unpaid Internships

Your internship might not compensate you for your labor with a paycheck. But if you’re a gifted negotiator, you might be able to talk your supervisor into offering some other perks.

For example, the company you’re working for might agree to cover your transportation costs. If not, you could ask to work from home a couple of days a week or intern part-time, or with hours that allow you to take on a part-time job or freelance work.

Interns can contribute substantially to a business’s bottom line. So if you have an unpaid internship, don’t be afraid to find ways to make the experience less financially burdensome for you. You’re providing value even if you’re not being paid.

4. Turn Down Expensive Invitations

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make the most of your summer. But if you’re an unpaid intern in a city with a high cost of living (like Washington, D.C., Los Angeles or New York City), you probably won’t be able to do everything. At some point, you’re going to have to say no to whatever is going to break your budget.

As painful as that might be, what’s worse is getting behind on your rent. When money is scarce, it’s best to prioritize and make sure you can pay for the basic necessities. So look around for a cheaper (or free!) alternative and suggest that instead.

5. Find Other Ways to Generate Income

It might be tough to survive a summer without a gig that pays, especially if the program you’re participating in is located in a different city than your family, friends and general support system. If you can’t see yourself waiting tables or folding clothes, there are plenty of other side hustles that you can pick up. In fact, you don’t even have to leave your room. You might be able to earn money by freelancing or monetizing your YouTube channel.

Related Article: How to Make Money on YouTube

6. Use Your ID to Get Discounts

Your student ID isn’t just for buying food and paying for laundry services on campus. Quite a few businesses offer student discounts, and it’s possible to save on entertainment, clothing, meals, travel and more. When you’re strapped for cash, flashing your student ID can help you keep more money in your wallet.

7. Save Your Receipts

7 Financial Tips for Students With Unpaid Internships

Whenever you go shopping for groceries and other items, it’s a good idea to hold on to your receipts. Not only will that help you stay on top of your budget, but it might also give you the chance to score some extra discounts. Some retailers print links to surveys on receipts and by taking them you might be able to get a coupon or save as much as 20% on your next purchase. Plus you might be able to write off some of your expenses related to your unpaid internship on your taxes.

The Takeaway

Choosing to take on an unpaid internship can be a difficult decision, particularly if you’re a broke college kid with student loan debt. But if you can take advantage of discounts and create a budget you can stick with, you might just survive the summer and help prepare yourself for your future career.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/sturti, ©iStock.com/sturti, ©iStock.com/Weerapat Wattanapichayakul

Amanda Dixon Amanda Dixon is a personal finance writer and editor with an expertise in taxes and banking. She studied journalism and sociology at the University of Georgia. Her work has been featured in Business Insider, AOL, Bankrate, The Huffington Post, Fox Business News, Mashable and CBS News. Born and raised in metro Atlanta, Amanda currently lives in Brooklyn.
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