Intern Housing

The True Cost of Internship—And How to Save Money?

After hundreds of applications and multiple rounds of intensive interviews, you finally scored your dream internship! As summer inches closer, you can’t wait to turn in your final exams and join your future coworkers. But before that happens, here comes the not-so-fun part: Navigating the logistics of moving to a big (read: expensive) city.

Step one is to find summer intern housing (within commuting distance to the office) (in livable conditions) (that isn’t a Craigslist scam). Step two is to figure out how to pay for it while sticking to your budget.

The reality is, 43% of interns are still unpaid, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Publishing, entertainment, and fashion industries are known for hiring unpaid interns.

If you land a paid position, expect to take home an average of $3,363 per month. This is calculated based on LinkedIn salaries in major cities where interns flock to, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington DC, and Chicago. Not bad! Right?

But once you start adding up the cost of living and taxes, the margins on that decent-paying internship are suddenly looking pretty slim.

Taking into account apartment rent, food, transportation and going out, the average cost of living in these six cities is $2,610 a month, according to a data analysis by 2nd Address, an online marketplace for furnished housing. That’s assuming that you live on a very frugal lifestyle—sharing a room, home-cooking half of your meals, and taking public transportation.

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So how to make your summer financially-stress free while you gain real-world skills? We’ll take a deeper look at the true cost of a summer internship and how to cut expenses.

Intern Housing Cost

Housing is the single largest category of your spending during the internship. It’s especially true in San Francisco and New York, where even full-time workers develop nervous disorders trying to find suitable accommodation.

For big-city interns, the average rent per person is $1,676 a month, according to the 2nd Address analysis. This figure is calculated by dividing the total rent of a furnished apartment by the maximum occupancy. That likely means you will be sharing a room with another person.

If the youth-hostel style isn’t for you, expect to double your budget for a private bedroom in a furnished apartment. Start with a few searches on any rental platform, and reality will check itself in.

To be fair, furnished apartments typically command higher rents than unfurnished ones. The premium goes into the convenience of having a move-in ready bedroom with a bed and a dresser, and a kitchen fully stocked with appliances and utensils. Utility fees are included, which means another $100 savings in your bank.

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Furnished apartment in San Francisco

The other alternative is subletting, which might be your cheapest option—if you are lucky to avoid the ones with questionable sanitary conditions. But look out for scams. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

San Francisco’s rental market is notoriously unaffordable and ultra-competitive, and it gets worse in the summer. Interns will find themselves in impossible bidding wars with newly-relocated techies armed with corporate housing stipends. It’s not uncommon to see 50 people showing up to tour the same apartment, the SFGate reports.

The average rent in San Francisco Bay Area peaks between June and August at $1,850 per person.

Want to live close to your company? Get prepared for the price tag first. 2nd Address studied rental apartments within 5 miles of the nation’s most prestigious internship programs. Monthly rents of these highly sought-after properties range from $1,430 a person near The Walt Disney Company in Burbank to $2,232 near Twitter in downtown San Francisco.

How to Save Money on Housing?

Do: Finding a roommate is simply the most effective way to hack the high rent. Even for a one-bedroom apartment, it’s possible to convert a small den or an alcove into a temporary bedroom just for the summer.

Check with your company about its corporate housing program—if it’s not already specified in your offer letter. Some companies partner with short-term rental sites to provide summer apartments for interns.

Start your search early (like, now). Don’t wait until all the good deals are gone. About 34% of interns book summer housing at least two months before they move in, according to 2nd Address data.

Be creative. Check local universities for empty dorms that may be available for summer interns. Explore Facebook housing groups in your new area. You may catch a deal from those who are away for the summer.

Don’t: Focus solely on the area immediately surrounding your office, which is likely the most expensive real estate in the city.

Transportation Cost

To cut down rent, you may have to explore less-pricey neighborhoods further away from the city center. It means you will likely spend a good chunk of the day commuting—driving or packed into subway cars. Be mindful of overspending on transportation, though. An Uber ride on a rainy day could set you back nearly $20.

Without a car in the new area, public transportation is your new best friend. Commuters in major cities spend $102 a month on transit passes, according to Value Penguin, which tracks consumer spending data.

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In Washington DC, since the new fare payment was introduced three years ago, frequent commuters can cut the cost down to $81 a month with the SelectPass. It covers all trips costing up to $2.25, which is ideal for those who just need a quick hop.

With a booming job market, Seattle is among the fastest growing cities in the country—with more commuters than ever hitting the road. The city is becoming more transit-friendly by adding new light rail stations and revamping the bus network. A monthly vanpool/transit pass costs $99.

How to Save Money on Transportation?

Do: Ask if your company offers commuter benefits. Many companies generously give out free subway passes or enroll their employees in discounted carpooling programs.

If you can, use nature’s most cost-efficient transportation—your legs. San Francisco and New York are very walkable and have a great bike culture for those who prefer two wheels.

Don’t: Rely on Uber, Lyft, or taxis. Convenient? Yes. Expensive? Also yes.

Food Cost

It’s hard to stay within your food budget when you are surrounded by star chef restaurants, farm-to-table fare, and artisan bakeries. Based on data from Numbeo, a cost comparison site, the average food cost in big cities is $755 per month, assuming you eat at home for half the time and only dine out at inexpensive restaurants.

New York has long reigned supreme in the food world. It’s no wonder that much of your paycheck could go towards feeding yourself! After all, that $20 pastrami and $8 cheesecake add up fast. Food generally costs $892 a month in the Big Apple.

San Francisco’s tech offices are often stocked with snacks and free meals, but you can’t raid the company granola bar stash outside of work hours. With a restaurant meal priced at $15, San Francisco interns shell out $760 a month on food.

On the other hand, Chicago interns have the luxury of enjoying the city’s deep dish pizza and Italian beef sandwich, while keeping their food expenses under control. Grocery in Chicago is also 20% cheaper than San Francisco. The average food cost in Chicago is $663 a month.

How to Save Money on Food?

Do: Prepare meals and brew your coffee at home. If you’re serious about saving, check out local food co-ops and buy staples in bulk.

Scout out lunch specials near your company, or take advantage of the generous promotions offered by trending lunch apps like MealPal and Ritual.

Don’t: Indulge yourself with fancy food choices like gourmet cupcakes or artisan coffee.

Bottom Line

A summer internship is an amazing opportunity to grow in your career and personal life—it’s like adulthood-lite. Though expenses are unavoidable, there are ways to keep costs low and enjoy this experience! You can splurge after you sign your new hire contract.