How to Go Big on a New York Internship without Going Broke

This post was written by my fabulous intern, Shannon Marie, who’s starting up her junior year in college right now. I hope to have her back next summer.

New York, New York. Home of non-stop excitement, creativity, and the office locations of some of the most high-profile companies in the world. And with high-profile companies come competitive and desirable student internships. But one of the biggest deterrents for potential interns in the “city that never sleeps” is financial woes. Many college kids worry if the experience of a few months of career insight in New York is worth the seemingly eminent bankruptcy. But, this student intern is here to tell you otherwise. Here’s a list of 5 key tips and tricks to keep yourself financially afloat for a summer (or longer) in New York City as an intern.

How to Go Big on a New York Internship without Going Broke

1. Start with Money in Hand

It is definitely possible to thrive in New York without a salary job, but that being said you should definitely still have some savings to start, my suggestion being at least $2000-$3,000. Chances are wherever you are sub-letting (if staying with relatives for free then disregard this) will require first month’s rent and a hefty security deposit to match upfront, and on top of that it unless you are receiving a large stipend it will usually take at least two weeks to a month before you start receiving any form of financial compensation from your employers. If you don’t have at least $2000-$3000 to spend, and are not staying anywhere for free, I’d suggest reconsidering your time here.

Tip: Don’t have much in savings? Use as a resource to find summer scholarships to help fund your stay. Membership is free and opportunities for extra financial support for students are endless.

2. When it comes to living, think function over form

Living in a spacious one bedroom apartment in Manhattan with big windows and a great view may be the dream, but as an intern most likely pulling in minimum wage it’s not going to happen. Sub-leasing is your friend, as you will definitely be renting a small room in an apartment or townhouse rather than an entire place. Doing this in Manhattan is attainable in Upper West side neighborhoods like Harlem and Washington Heights, but be prepared to have very cramped quarters, frequently with doubled-up rooms. If you feel it is necessary for both your privacy and sanity to have your own room, I’d suggest looking into Queens or Brooklyn for your summer setup, the neighboring boroughs still fully give you the “New York City” experience, but without the astronomical Manhattan prices.

For an affordable sublease in a neighboring borough you’re probably going to have to sacrifice a more convenient commute. Sure, maybe a room under $900 in Williamsburg or Long Island City may pop up once in a blue moon, but realistically for a Manhattan internship and a room for $850 or less per month look into staying in central Brooklyn neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, Flatbush, and Crown Heights, or Astoria in Queens, these locations are going to have the most affordable room deals with a functional commute to the city. I currently sub-lease a small bedroom with both a window and a decent sized closet (the two can be rarities) along with three other individuals in Central Bed-Stuy that is near direct subway lines to both my internship and my second job, with groceries and laundry only a short walk away. Is it my ideal long-term living place? No! But for my budget it suits all of my basic needs and that’s what matters.

Tip: For sub-leasing in New York, use Craigslist, it is going to be your best resource for finding the best affordable options quickly and efficiently. Make sure to sort ads by “newest”, and if you see something that works in terms of both price and commute, capitalize on it immediately, chances are it could be off the market within the next 24 hours.

3. Get a side job

The full-time paid internship is a rarity for most university students, you’re more likely to find yourself with a two-three-day part-time commitment, sometimes unpaid. So, a second, or even third job is necessary for making ends meet. Whether it is in retail, food & hospitality, or another office position, if you can score an additional $13-15 per hour setup three-four days a week you will be much better off, and maybe even make enough money to buy luxuries like clothes and dessert every once and a while. Waiting tables /bartender experience is a big plus coming into the city as well, as those will be the types of job where you will be pulling in the highest wages and the most tips.

Tip: Working in a café or restaurant can mean free, or at least half-price food, which can cut back on the need to purchase groceries so often. I work in a café with a full kitchen at the moment, and as a result haven’t needed to buy my own food in weeks.

4. Save, don’t spend, no matter how tempting it may be

One of the most challenging things about moving to New York is how tempting, and how easy it is to spend a large amount of money in a short amount of time. Delicious and desirable items are literally on every corner. But, it is important to save as much as possible if you are interested in ending your time as intern with some extra money, or at the very least breaking even from where you started.

In addition to the temptation of spending money another challenge is the fact that basic utilities, like laundry and transit, can add up as well. Free laundry is essentially nonexistent, and if not spending smartly the MTA can suck you dry of your funds. The easiest way to navigate cost in New York would be setting a weekly budget cap. For example, I try to only spend a maximum of $150 per week, though easier said than done. There will be some weeks where I have to refill my MTA card, buy groceries, and pay rent all around the same time and my $150 budget cap flies out the window. But besides those hectic weeks where it seems like my entire life is being billed all at once, I’ve found a $150 per week budget cap is very manageable.

Tip: Fill your MTA card by time, not by ride, as shelling out $120 upfront for a month of transportation may seem painful, but the unlimited rides that come with it can save you up to $80-$100 in pay-per ride per month.

5. Remember to Have (affordable) Fun

It’s hard to feel like you’re having fun sometimes when you’re working full-time up to 7 days a week and constantly feeling the need to check your bank balance, but it is definitely possible. For one, friendship is free, and the number of new friends and important career connections you’ll make in New York City is worth all the financial woes. City parks are also free, and New York has quite a few of them. After what seems like an eternity shuffling from building to building for work, a nice picnic at Central Park, or even a trip to the beach on a day off is a great way to relax and recharge. Lastly, even though this list advises budgeting to the max, if you’ve been working hard and spending smart for a while, why not get that ice cream cone, or that cool shirt in the department store you’ve been wanting? You deserved it.

Tip: Befriend a full-time New Yorker for residency discounts at museums like the Met and the Museum of Modern Art, a day at the museum is a lovely way to spend time off, especially if the entry price is cut down to $5. Also, always remember to ask if a student discount is an option wherever you go, you’d be surprised at how many places offer them.

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  1. Hi Lee, I’m a freshman at NYU sand would love to intern for you! Can I send you a resume?

  2. Here’s a money saver that I still do at age 40, and wonder why more college kids don’t do the same: When in need of a cheap night out, I fill a plastic flask (whiskey is my drug of choice) and carry it in my back pocket. I buy my first drink of the night at the bar, then discreetly duck into a bathroom stall whenever I need a refill. Thus far, I’ve never been caught by bar staff, and really, what’s the worst that could happen? You get 86’d and they throw away your $2 plastic flask…

  3. Such an interesting post! Your tips are so helpful!

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