How to: be an unpaid intern in an expensive city!

This summer, I had an unpaid internship in a notoriously pricey place: Washington D.C. There were a lot of things I loved about D.C., but the high cost of living was not one of them. I thought it would be a good idea to dedicate one of my blog posts to creating a guide for living on a budget.


  1. When you move in, scope out your best option for grocery shopping. It might be easiest to stop at CVS on your way home from work, but convenience stores are certainly not the cheapest option for big grocery trips. I found a Trader Joe’s about a 15-20 minute walk from me. I wasn’t always excited to make the trek home with 2 full bags of groceries, and I definitely made some slip-ups and went to the Whole Foods across the street from my dorm a few times, but when I made it to Trader Joe’s, my wallet thanked me.
  2. Bring your lunch to work. My advice would be to make your lunch the night before, so that you don’t have to worry about leaving time to do it in the morning. Cafeterias and going out to eat for lunch can add up fast!
  3. Try not to buy coffee EVERY morning. Or if you can’t resist, like me, at least try to stick to regular coffees rather than your favorite (pricey) Starbucks espresso drink.
  4. If you’re 21: go to happy hour! Most restaurants have a happy hour on weekdays with reasonably priced food and drinks.


  1. In D.C., most of the museums are free! I spent a lot of my weekends exploring amazing museums like the National Gallery of Art, the Holocaust Museum, and the African American Museum for the low price of $0. This was definitely one of my favorite perks of living in the nation’s capital.
  2. Take walks to explore your new city. One of my favorite free activities in Washington was to walk around a new neighborhood. I was lucky to live near Georgetown which was a beautiful place to explore winding streets, window shop, and take in views of the river.
  3. Find free live music. Lots of cities have free outdoor live music in the summer. In D.C., one of my favorite events was Jazz in the Sculpture Garden which takes place every Friday from late May-August.
  4. Look up a list of free outdoor movies. Another activity my roommates and I took advantage of this summer was free movie showings in various parks around D.C. I found a list of when/where these movies take place and rallied my roommates to go see them as a group activity.


I wanted to take advantage of being on the East Coast for the summer by going on a couple of weekend trips to other East Coast cities. But traveling can get expensive! Here are a few tips for traveling in the summer on a budget.

  1. Take the bus! It’s not luxurious, and it can be a gamble on whether you get there on time, but my experience taking the bus wasn’t bad at all. I took Best Bus from DC to New York and got there in good time both ways. The best part about it was that it was only $60 round trip, rather than the hundreds I would’ve spent on a train or plane ticket.
  2. If you don’t take my advice from #1, and you’d rather take a train or plane, be willing to travel at less-than-ideal times. You can save a considerable amount of money on tickets if you go early in the morning or late at night.
  3. Stay with a friend. I visited places where I had a friend or relative so that I didn’t have to spend money on accommodations. When you can crash on someone’s couch for the weekend, you can spend more money on trendy food and tourist traps.


  1. Telework. I was lucky enough to have a research job with flexible hours that I am able to do via my computer. I made some extra spending money by setting aside a few hours a week to work.
  2. Babysit. My roommate in D.C. put her profile on a few babysitting websites and was able to make a good amount of money doing that on weekends.
  3. Get a part-time job. Another one of my roommates had nontraditional work hours for her internship, so she was able to get a part-time job working at Starbucks during the times she wasn’t interning.

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