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Don't Starve. Budget!

Wondering how in the world you'll live on an intern's pay? We'll show you how to pinch every penny and survive just fine. So you eat corn flakes or ramen noodles a few nights in a row - your internship experience will be worth the sacrifice.

There are proven ways to eke out a livable experience as an intern. But you have to stick to a budget, or you may find yourself singing for your supper in the subway.

Your internship is secured, you've found a summer sublet, but let's face it-that internship salary won't allow you to live high on the hog. Don't worry though-you won't starve, and you won't be starved for entertainment, either, if you read Experience's guide to surviving on a budget and still living like a grown-up.

Finances 101
Being on a budget means you know where your money goes-all of it. Don't scratch your head and contemplate your paycheck's disappearing act. Instead, carry a small notebook with you and record every purchase you make over a month's time. A pack of gum, a 50-cent newspaper, your daily cup of coffee, bills-leave nothing out. You may feel obsessive recording the bag of pretzels you buy from the vending machine, but doing so will help you create a realistic budget and see that some seemingly insignificant purchases are actually small extravagances you can do without. Some other tips:

  • Withdraw your weekly allowance on a designated day, and then leave your debit and credit cards in your dresser, maybe saving one credit card in case of an emergency.
  • You can also separate your money into envelopes, with food money in one, entertainment in another. That way you know what specific portion of your budget you've spent.
  • Round every purchase up to the nearest $1, $5, or $10, and keep the remainder in a jar. If you pretend that a $3.50 sandwich costs $5, you will be apt to spend less, as you will reach the end of your money sooner. Yet you'll still have a cushion tucked away.

Another man's treasure
Obviously you're not going to invest in new furnishings if you'll be back in your student digs in three months. But if you find your environment a little bare, be creative. Many people throw out perfectly good furniture, especially students leaving town with a fully packed U-Haul. Find out where the local college students live, and figure out when their collection day is. If that doesn't suit you, an air mattress and milk crates can create a livable bedroom.

Other less tangible things we can't do without-utilities and transportation-can also strain a budget. If you use public transportation, do the math and see if a monthly pass will save you some cash. Other advice:

  • Carpool if you must commute by car.
  • Run, walk, or bike to work instead of taking public transportation or a car (or do this for part of your commute)-you'll save on commuting expenses and potentially on a gym membership.
  • Use heat and air conditioning carefully-turn the heat down when no one is home, and agree on a comfortable temperature and keep the thermostat there.
  • Go out rather than use your air conditioning. Plenty of public places are kept cool.
  • Don't get cable TV.
  • Find the cheapest long-distance rates and limit your phone time.
  • Email whenever possible instead of making long-distance calls.

Eating well
In the "real world," you'll notice that there isn't always a cafeteria nearby, and you don't have any flex dollars on your ID card to spend at the University cafe. You just have to get used to making your own meals-that's what real people do, and it's always cheaper than eating out. First and foremost, pack your lunch. Brown bagging may take some extra time and forethought, but spending $5 on lunch every workday will cost you a minimum of $100 a month.

When shopping, always sign up for your grocery store's money-saving card, and scan the store circular for weekly specials. Comparison shop for the lowest prices, and use coupons. Many stores offer double coupons-take advantage of this. Here are some other ideas:

  • Don't buy food at the corner store where it's more expensive.
  • Buy store-brand items, especially cold medicine and pain relievers (same ingredients but much cheaper).
  • Plan meals for the week, and use the same ingredients for multiple meals. For example, cook a roaster chicken, and use the meat (which can also be frozen) for tacos, chicken salad, tetrazzini, sandwiches, etc.
  • Keep a variety of frozen and canned food available. Freeze leftovers, meats, and bread; you'll reduce waste and ensure that there's always something to eat so you don't order in or eat out.
  • Stop buying your morning coffee or tea. Either drink what's provided at work, or bring yours from home in a travel mug. Also, buy a bag of bagels each week, and eat breakfast at home.

Entertaining yourself
The world can be a fun place, and every budget should include room for simply enjoying yourself-just play within moderation. Most cities have awesome-and FREE-activities all summer long. Find a schedule of events and go to town. Your monthly entertainment allotment is yours to spend as you like, but if you can save enough on fun stuff, you might be able to treat yourself to some good food once in a while. Some other advice:

  • Run, bike, or follow an exercise video instead of paying for a gym membership. Or see if you can provide a service (like baby-sitting) in exchange for a free membership.
  • Go to friends' parties instead of bars.
  • If you need a vacation (why would you?), stay with friends, in hostels, or go camping.
  • Use your public library rather than buying books.

Looking the part
Part of being a professional is looking professional, and that means new clothes. Even if you work in a casual environment, chances are you will need some new duds. Here are some tips to get by:

  • Never buy clothes at full price-shop sales, off-price stores, or factory outlets.
  • Try to avoid "dry clean only" items.
  • Borrow special-occasion clothes instead of buying a pricey outfit for a one-time affair. Or "invest" with a couple of similar-size friends in a few really good outfits or suits.

To sum up, remember: You're not made of money, money doesn't grow on trees, a dollar saved is a dollar earned, and everything else your parents told you before handing over your allowance. Good luck.

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