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Jobs & Careers

How to survive financially during an unpaid internship

Unpaid InternshipWe all have to pay our dues. Sadly, that pretty much guarantees a couple of years of eating tinned stuff on bread and slaving for nine hours a day to prove yourself and learn on the job.

You’ve already worked out that the best way to ensure you’re getting valuable experience is to offer to do absolutely anything – for free. This buys you the invaluable opportunity to suck up as much industry knowledge and as many insider secrets as possible.

You will be poor, but the treasure you’re storing up for later is worth every penny-pinching, charity shop-clad second.

To help you on your rocky path to greatness, we’ve compiled a few tips for keeping your head above water while you’re chucking yourself at life with an unpaid internship.

Top internship money saving tips


Hand Shake

Shake on it...

As an unpaid intern, you may be able to negotiate your working hours. This could allow you to manage a bar job on the side but if it’s full time, try asking for flexible hours around peak transport times. Travel will be less stressful at quiet hours and a lot cheaper.

Bear in mind that while lots of companies don’t pay interns, some do supply an expenses allowance that contributes towards your travel and lunch costs. This is something you should discuss when you go for your interview, so it’s good to have an idea of the costs you would be incurring beforehand.

It’s tough, but learning this stuff the hard way will set you up for life. And if you have less money for shopping and partying, you’ll have more time for what you wanted this internship for in the first place: forging an incredible career for yourself.

Be humble

be humble

Not Kate Humble...

You may have landed what appears to be a glamorous internship at some fancy pants company, but you’re not earning anything and it’s not going to be all expense accounts and long lunches. Say a firm goodbye to Starbucks, and you might want to think about walking or cycling instead of laying out money for the train.

If you’re lucky enough to have family near where your new position is based, you need to make them an extremely good offer to ensure you can avoid paying through the nose for accommodation.

Anyone can respect a young gun trying to make their way in the world, so offer to clean twice a week or do all the shopping: anything that shows you appreciate their help and you’re not going to be a burden.

After all, it would be hard to live in rented accommodation without any money coming in!

Focus on feeding time

If you’re not lucky enough to have family kindly feeding you, thinking smart about food is a big deal. Just eating less isn’t an option because you’re going to need some serious energy to get through those busy days. You have to wise up about what you need to fuel your body and how you can do it without breaking the bank.

Packed Lunch

Are you packing?...Lunch

Plan your meals. Sounds boring, but if you know exactly what you need to buy each week then you’ll spend less time in the supermarket getting distracted by shiny things.

It’s even worth spending the extra couple of quid to get your shopping delivered; a) because you’ll save valuable time and b) because it will keep you and your wallet away from temptation.

The most important tip for money saving whilst on an unpaid internship has to be, bring your own packed lunch. Don’t be tempted by the meal deals on offer at your favourite supermarket. It could save you up to £15 a week.

Take a look at our shopping guides to find more ways of saving when you spend.

Dig into some sweet charity

Charity Shop Suit

She needs a shirt!

You might need a suit or a new set of smart clothes for your job but you want to be able to purchase them without breaking the bank and at the same time not looking “cheap”.

Charity shops don’t have the ‘eww’ factor that they used to. Every man and his dog ‘loves vintage’ so there’s no reason not to spend a couple of hours a month foraging through the limitless treasure troves that these funny little places hold.

eBay is also a great place to buy fashion fads and especially office wear. If you need anything from smart trousers to a month’s worth of blouses, it’s eBay all the way.

A quick search for ‘grey office skirt’ turns up hundreds of quality pieces from great brands like Topshop, Next and H&M. These start from as little as 99p, and if you don’t mind sorting the wheat from the chaff, you could end up with a whole wardrobe of internship-suitable clothing for under a tenner.

Lastly, try the major supermarket clothing brands, they might surprise you a little bit. They usually have great value shirts, ties and accessories.


Don't go too far!

When you have the opportunity of getting inside a company, you need to network and talk to as many people as you can.

Technically this is not a money saving tip but it can definitely help you in the future (and you might get a few business lunches paid for you).

If you can get to know and impress the right people then it will increase your chances of being offered a job when your internship is over.

Obviously there are loads of general student money saving tips that you can follow in order to look after the pennies when you are carrying out your internship and you can find them all over the Save the Student site.

Also, student discounts may be out of use for you if you are a graduate but most of the student offers on this website are available to all!

Lastly, if you want to make a little bit of money in your spare time to pay for things such as going out/socialising then see our list of money making ideas.

If you have any brilliant survival tips for hopeful interns, let us know!

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