Interns Learn to Budget in Small and Large Cities

Talia Rudee

Internship Infographic

This summer, senior Jane Carmody worked 40 hours per week as an unpaid intern at the U.S. House of Representatives. She was one of 109 student recipients of the Whitman Internship Grant (WIG), but because Washington, D.C. is one of the most expensive cities in the country, Carmody relied on budgeting and on her savings account to live comfortably.

In 2009 the Student Engagement Center (SEC) began awarding the WIG in order to provide financial support for Whitman students who want to pursue unpaid internship opportunities. Grantees work 20 hours a week for a minimum of 10 weeks and receive $2,400.

Because she rented her studio apartment for $915 per month, Carmody relied on the money she had saved during her semester in Philadelphia, Penn., where rent was only $250 per month, to make ends meet.

In order to keep costs low, Carmody used different strategies to save money. She kept track of her expenses on her iPhone, and she was sure to buy generic brands and sale items at the grocery store. In addition, D.C. itself had a built-in money saving feature.

“There’s a lot of stuff to do in a big city that’s free … I think I only paid for one museum while I was there,” said Carmody.

There were some drawbacks to living in a large city, however. Because the weather in D.C. was fairly hot and humid and because Carmody worked more than an hour-long walk away from her apartment, transportation costs were unavoidable.

Despite the costs, Carmody considers her summer in D.C. a valuable experience professionally and practically.

“I definitely know how to live on a budget,” said Carmody, “It’s definitely a skill that is needed in the real world.”

On the other side of the country, senior Fernando Medina was a social media intern for the Walla Walla chapter of the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. At his internship he helped manage social media platforms and did research on databases that might prove helpful to the organization in the future.

Although costs in Walla Walla are generally lower than costs in D.C., Medina still held two part-time jobs at the Baker-Ferguson Fitness Center and at the Whitman Institute for Summer Enrichment in addition to his internship so that he could live comfortably and begin to pay back student loans. Like Carmody, he budgeted his money carefully.

“Keep a spreadsheet with what you’re spending your money on so that you know whether or not you’re putting anything in the bank or that you’re slowly going down … instead of eyeballing it a little bit,” said Medina.

He is grateful for the financial support from the WIG.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do an unpaid internship [without it] … That would not have been feasible,” he said.

For WIG recipients who lived at home, budgeting wasn’t as imperative.

Sophomore Cat Mulanax lived with her parents in the small town of Greenbrae, Calif. as an operating room intern at a private plastic surgery company.

Mulanax did not have to pay for housing and food, but the WIG and earnings from her part-time job at a gastroenterology clinic helped her to begin paying off student loan debt.

Ultimately, she was pleased with her summer.

“The knowledge and the experience I gained is probably not something anyone can get anywhere else, so up-close and personal,” she said.

Sophomore Zach Calo was an intern at the Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization’s New American Youth Opportunity Project. Calo also lived at home with his parents in Portland, Ore. and used the WIG as a cushion for gas money and food.

Calo’s internship involved working with high school students in a tutoring environment.

“I got to meet a lot of really neat people … both the people I worked with and the people I tutored with, and I’m happy with the experience,” he said.

Interns were pleased to gain professional skills and real-world budgeting skills, regardless of their city of residence.

“I was happy with the experience I gained and with the work that I was doing, and happy that I was being paid to do it, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to have an experience like that,” said Medina.