Making ends meet: surviving on expenses or low pay during your internship or first job

When graduating from college and entering into a competitive workplace, it can be a challenge to have to make your way through a work placement on low pay, or perhaps nothing at all, after years of doing the same in college. But with a bit of careful planning, looking at the best ways of keeping costs down and with a little earning on the side you can make it manageable. Unpaid internships are technically illegal, but since many of them are organised informally, unpaid internships and work experience still do happen.

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Let’s look at the typical expenses during an internship:


The majority of internships, especially with many major multinationals, are in Dublin, so it’s a big advantage for those who can live with their parents in the capital or in the commuter belt to reduce costs. For everyone else, it’s a growing concern. According to’s Rental Report 2014 Q3, in the third quarter of 2014 rent prices were 16.6% above what they were at the same period in 2013 and signs suggest this trend is set to continue with rents forecast to be up by as much as 30% in 2015. Apartment shares remain the most economical option in Dublin city centre costing around €500 per month.

“In many ways, the lack of choice is more concerning than the high rental rates”, says Ronan Lyons, the author of the Daft report. “The number of properties listed to rent in Dublin has fallen from over 47,000 in the first nine months of 2011 to less than 27,000 in the same period in 2014”, he says.

It’s not just the capital either. Rent prices have risen throughout Ireland in the past year, but especially in its cities. Cork is up 7.9%, Galway 7.2%, Limerick 6.4% and Waterford 4.5% according to Daft. Belfast as well saw rent prices rise 6% in 2013.

If you are willing to share a room it could half the accommodation costs. Keep in mind that it will help significantly if you live close to close to your place of work to keep commuting costs down.


The cheapest option is to buy or rent a bike. If you live between Dublin’s canals, for example, you can also avail of the Dublin Bikes scheme, which will only cost you €20 a year provided your journey is less than a half an hour at a time. The scheme is currently being expanded to Ireland’s other cities while Belfast is planning on having its own public bikes navigating the streets in Spring 2015. Also, you can buy second-hand bikes through websites like or in bike shops which sell second-hand. You could get a decent one for €50, though try and be sure you buy from a reputable dealer and not purchase a bike which may be stolen.

For those of you further out who have to use public transport, a Leap Card is a must. It costs five euro to purchase alongside topping up the card which is refunded once you start using it. It’s available on all transport options; Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann, Dart and Luas. Fares are reduced by up to 20% as a result. In Belfast, consider a Smartlink Travel Card which works out cheaper over a number of journeys.


With regards groceries, the industry has become so competitive with many big chains in the market that, as price surveys are showing, supermarkets tend to price match on basic items. Therefore, the price advantages will be found in the special offers, so stay open-minded and shop around looking out for the best ones. Don’t confine yourself to one supermarket and remember, if you visit a supermarket half an hour before closing time, at 9.30 at night for example, you will find many perishable items at a fraction of the price.

If you can’t resist eating out for lunch or dinner the odd time, look out for special deals on For cheap food, also check out websites like, a Dublin-centric website which details good quality food for €5. “You can get cheap Indian vegetarian street food in Delhi O'Deli and just around the corner in Madina on Mary Street, you can get a chicken biryani or a Masala Dosa for €4.95. Unbeatable”, says site owner David Meredith.

Also keep in mind that most student food halls like in Trinity or DIT in Dublin don’t require a student card to buy food so if you are nearby, pop in for some good value food.


You may be limited with any deal you can make, be it with electricity, or phone and internet companies as the landlord might have pre-existing arrangements. If you are not, check sites like for price comparison. Usually certain providers are cheaper in certain market sectors so, for example, one provider is cheap for low electricity users, but if you live in a flat share with five people, another company might do a better deal. Make sure to get a rough idea of your usage and put the details into the search on bonkers.

Don’t be afraid to switch users either. “The best way to get value in this market is to be proactive. The best deals are always aimed at new or returning customers”, says Simon Moynihan from bonkers.

Making some extra money

Don’t forget to keep your options open with regards flexible working arrangements and never lose sight of the main goal of your work placement or job; landing the job you want in your target sector.

Part-time jobs

Although gradireland’s research shows that rates of pay for internships are rising, it’s still relatively low for living in any city, so it’s likely you may need some flexible part-time work, most typically in a bar or a restaurant, in order to pay rent and eat well. If you are strong in certain tech skills like writing code, SEO or web-design consider freelancing by setting up a profile on gradireland or freelance websites such as Elance, Odesk or Craigslist. Competition is steep, but if it relates directly to your field it can look very positive to future employers to have been paid for work.

Read about internships and how to make the most of the experience here

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