Budgeting for Your Internship in an Expensive City
Living in New York or Los Angeles can cost a lot of money. From rent, food, to a night out with friends. When you first come to the U.S. you will notice that everything is “so expensive”, and even the inexpensive things like taxi rides, tipping at restaurants, and your morning Starbucks coffee can add up. Your rent, food, and transportation are the three most expensive things during your stay.
Here are some tips to keep costs down and afford to take your dream internship in the Big Apple or The City of Angels.
Keep Your Large Expenses Down
Renting in a large city can be expensive. Finding an affordable place without sacrificing safety, comfort, and amenities is difficult. During the visa process your J-1 visa sponsor can assist you in finding a suitable apartment in a nice neighbourhood in a large city.
Securing a rental in a student housing facility, such as a dormitory on a university campus, can be a bit difficult. The best way is to go on social media or rent specialty websites for finding roommates and empty rooms to rent. Make sure when signing up for a room or an apartment that water, heat, and electricity are included. If not then budget accordingly as these expenses are surprisingly expensive and can fluctuate from month to month between $50 – $100 extra on top of rent.
Track Your Spending
The second most important thing is to live within your budget by keeping track of what you’re spending. Make a spreadsheet or use a budgeting tool like Mint or similar apps, and plan a budget before you go.
Your internship will be either unpaid or a lower wage, so every penny saved counts. Keep track of each dollar spent, and plan to save more money than you might think you need.
Order Less Takeout Food
Ordering food has never been easier thanks to apps on your smart phone, With one click of a button someone can bring you your meal right to your door, often in less than 60 minutes. That’s very tempting. Students on a budget can run into trouble quickly if they don’t check their spending habits. This includes ordering meals. A typical Uber Eats or Postmates bill can run up to $20.
These frequent orders can add up quickly and can cost twice or three times as much as a typical weekly grocery allowance. Here’s a helpful tip: Allocate one night a week to order a nice meal from your phone. The other 6 nights, buy a cookbook or look for delicious recipes online. By doing this you can still enjoy the luxury of not having to prepare lunch or dinner on some days without breaking the bank.
Public transportation is very useful to get to and from work. New York’s monthly pass is $127. Make sure to use it wisely and avoid taking an Uber or taxi. When living in a big city like New York, a car is not needed.
A city like Los Angeles is harder to get around due to how large it is. The best money-saving tip is to find an apartment/room to rent within walking or biking distance from your internship location. If this isn’t possible, plan ride-shares or find the best trams/bus routes. If an Uber or a taxi is needed, remember the average Uber ride costs $22 in New York City.
Take Advantage of Free Attraction & Events
When exploring your new host city you will find plenty of things to see and do. Most of these activities or events will cost money, however, these cities also have many free tourist attractions that are just as fun. Concerts in a park, art galleries, open mic shows can really immerse you into the local culture.
Plan for Out-of-Budget Expenses
When traveling and living abroad, you’re bound to run into bumps in the road. Be prepared to spend a little extra per month for these unexpected expenses. Consider having an extra $100 per month to cover out-of-budget expenses.
The occasional long Uber ride or an unexpected electricity bill is part of normal life. This is especially true for the first couple of months. The majority of people experience the bulk of their purchases at the beginning of their program abroad such as furniture, homegoods, clothes, a bicycle, etc.
New York and Los Angeles as well as other big cities are more expensive than mid-size cities, towns or rural areas. Rent, food, and a night out with friends can cost more than expected compared to your country of origin. Remember to keep costs down and budget accordingly!
Regarding some of the J-1 visa rules, your J-1 visa program sponsor is also in charge to oversee your financial situation during your internship in the U.S. to some extent. Prior to J-1 visa issuance, there will be a check by your J-1 sponsor if you have sufficient financial funds. The longer the planned internship the more funds you have to proof. And, if you run in serious financial trouble in the U.S., contact your sponsor immediately.
But the best way is to not even get in trouble through a) setting sufficient funds aside before, and b) when in the U.S., keeping your large expenses down, ordering less takeout food, cooking at home, tracking your spending, using public transportation, taking advantage of free attractions and events, and planning for unexpected out-of-budget expenses. Stay safe and enjoy your internship experience!