How To Support Yourself When You’re Doing An Unpaid Internship

While ideally you should be paid for doing an internship, the reality is sometimes an unpaid internship offers a rare chance to gain valuable experience and get your foot in the door. Whatever your reasons for doing an unpaid internship, you’ll want to have a plan for getting through it without upending your finances. We look at how you can plan ahead, strategies for managing your money, and how you could earn money on the side.

Planning ahead

Do a budget for your entire internship, and factor in things like commuting costs and lunch expenses. Also account for rent, food, groceries, and other personal expenses. Plan for your costs ahead of time so you’re not caught out without money to cover your expenses during your internship. For example, if you’re working at an agency in Chicago, make sure you do your research on that area’s rent prices before finalizing your budget.

Having done a budget projection, you can work out whether you need to save more money ahead of time. If you do, start cutting out discretionary things like daily coffees, eating out, and luxuries.

Claimable expenses

Check-in with the business about any claimable expenses. For example, the company might be happy to cover your lunch and commuting expenses. This can be helpful if you’re traveling quite a distance to your internship.


Research whether you’ll have access to free gyms, fitness classes, and other freebies during your internship. This might mean you can suspend your own gym membership and save more money in other areas of your personal life.

Work clothes

Research the dress code at the company and consider whether you might need to add a few items to your wardrobe. Presentation is important, but suits and workwear can be expensive, so look online and in second-hand stores for good quality used items if you’re on a tight budget.

Travel and accommodation

If the internship location is near where you’re currently living, then it’ll be easy to stay where you are. However, if you need to travel to another city or state/territory, make sure your travel plans and accommodation are taken care of ahead of time. These are the biggest expenses, so be prepared ahead of time. Staying with relatives and friends is the cheapest option, but you might need to find a hostel, homestay, or apartment for your internship. Look on Airbnb and other accommodation sites to get the best possible deal.

Tips for managing money

Look for creative ways to save more before and during your internship.

  • Transport: If you need to take the bus or train, work out whether monthly passes are cheaper than buying daily tickets. Explore options like cycling, ridesharing, and walking more to keep your costs down.
  • Lunches: Eating out five days a week for lunch could set you back $50, $100, or more. Consider bringing your own lunch or researching cheap eateries nearby. However, don’t turn down work lunches as they can be a great opportunity to network and make valuable industry contacts.
  • Tax: Get professional advice on whether some of your internship expenses could be tax-deductible.
  • Groceries: Make a point of buying your groceries on special, seeking out discounts, and using coupons wherever available.

Earning additional money

It’s not uncommon for students to keep working part-time while doing an internship. You could partly finance your internship with a part-time job, grants, and/or help from family and friends.

Working part-time while doing an unpaid internship

It’s a good idea to try negotiating your working hours so you can manage a part-time job at the same time. If you’re already working, this might be the only way to make time for an unpaid internship. If you’re not working, avoiding peak-hour traffic times is a bonus and can make your daily commute less stressful.

If you can’t be flexible about your internship hours, look for different ways to generate extra income on the side. Part-time jobs like childminding, tutoring, and pet-sitting come with flexible work hours.

Grants and financial aid

Research organizations, foundations, and government bodies that provide grants to students doing unpaid internships. They might provide you with some much-needed funding if you satisfy their criteria. For example, some foundations might be looking to help out students who are interested in conservation and the environment.

Similarly, you could consider financial aid. This could mean taking on more debt though, so be mindful about how much debt you’ll be incurring. If your internship counts towards an academic credit, your university might be more likely to have scholarships or financial aid to help you out.

Family and friends

Consider whether family and friends are willing to loan money or make a donation to help you take advantage of an internship opportunity. If you can demonstrate how the internship could help you secure a graduate opportunity or let you get started in your career, your loved ones might be more than happy to help out.

An unpaid internship could pave the way to valuable experience and a job after uni, but you should plan your finances carefully and budget expenses ahead of time. Look for ways to save more money during your internship, and consider how you might be able to finance it with things like grants and working part-time. With careful planning and a bit of creativity, you could pursue an unpaid internship without breaking the bank.

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