College internships are invaluable and allow us to test drive our prospective fields. They give us fast access to new work environments and help us gain much-needed experience as we start out on our professional paths.

They are, though, often unpaid. And while the tradeoff seems worth it (hello, experience!), broke girls face big financial risks when committing to living income-free for, oh, 6 months?

I did it though. Somehow, I found a way! And if I can do it, you can too.

Here’s how I survived three – yes, three! – unpaid internships:

Free Snacks in Lieu of Meals
Company snack cupboards are becoming ubiquitous in the workplace, and while these typically don’t involve much more than some cheddar bunnies and a jar of peanut butter, you can make nearly anything into a meal. Even if you have to bring some fruit to work to complete that office parfait, you’re still saving $$. Bonus tip: I highly recommend you keep a secret stash of snacks in your desk drawer for emergencies.

A to B
Getting there.

If you can walk to work, congrats, you’re an outlier and can breeze past this section. For most of us though, our 250 sq. ft. studio is on the other side of the tracks. Opt for public transit, ride share with other interns, or, if you’re driving solo, consolidate your driving needs (i.e. go grocery shopping on your way home from work) to save on gas. And if Uber is your only option? Allow extra time and uberPOOL.

Ego-Crushing Odd Jobs
While most unpaid intern gigs don’t leave a ton of time for additional work, freelance opportunities are plentiful thanks to apps like TaskRabbit and Postmates. Rando chores, errands, furniture assembly, dog walking – the list is endless. So! Go ahead and organize some busy/lazy/rich person’s underwear drawer in exchange for some petty cash. Trust me, your wallet will thank you.

Dress to Impress
Blazers, pant suits, heels, oh my! The key to nailing office style on a budget is creating a capsule wardrobe, i.e., an assortment of 10-15 timeless pieces that can be worn on repeat, but in different outfit combinations. Build a foundation that consists of neutral basics (blazers, wide leg trousers, sweaters, pencil skirts, etc.) and pepper in prints and pops of color as money allows. The best thing about capsule wardrobes? They’re evergreen. You can transition between seasons and add/remove pieces at any time.

Get Social
As we know, internships are a prime opportunity to make, both, personal and professional connections, but doing so usually requires socializing outside of work, which usually requires spending money. Offer to host an intern social hour at your place with cheap wine and a Trader Joe’s cheese plate, or opt for coffee dates instead of drink dates ($3 vs. $10-$15). And if you absolutely have to go out, do a happy hour and take advantage of half-off appetizers and cocktails. Socializing doesn’t need to involve alcohol, either. Utilize the outdoors by organizing a group hike, park clean-up, bike ride, or beach day.

Student Discounts
When I studied abroad, my advisor taught me a lesson that I carried with me for the rest of my student career: always ask for student discounts. Though some businesses don’t overtly advertise them, they’re everywhere, and in higher abundance on college campuses. Museums give discounts, as do theaters, gyms, restaurants, and magazine subscription services. Amazon Prime Student, ASOS’ student program, and the Sam’s Club Collegiate Membership are a few of my personal faves.

Chin Up
Lastly, stay positive. Internships are important, but hey, no one enjoys working for free. Give yourself daily pats on the back and please remember: it’ll all pay off in the end.

Talk to us!