Working life

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.

people working

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. Apartment shares remain the most economical option in Dublin city centre.

The lack of availability of rental properties in Dublin is a major concern. “The figures in this latest Rental Report confirm a return to the pre-Covid-19 situation of weak supply in the face of very strong demand, due to underlying economic and demographic growth.” says Ronan Lyons, the author of the report.

It’s not just the capital either. Rent prices have risen throughout Ireland in the past year, but especially in its cities. 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. 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. 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.


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 freelance websites such as Upwork 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

gradireland editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the gradireland content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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