Money-Saving Strategies for the Psychology Intern

Winter 2013-14 046In 2011-2012 I was on my predoctoral internship, the capstone year of a 5+ year doctoral program in psychology. This is full-time, so I had to leave my job of 6 years, taking a 50% pay cut in the process. FYI, a “good-paying” psychology internship pays about $20,000 per year, which at 40-50 hours a week is not much more than minimum wage. That was a tough year, as it is for most interns (particularly those of us with families), but of course it’s necessary to finish your degree.  Many students have to take out additional student loans, just to make ends meet.  Given the difficulty of that year, I became obsessed with finding ways to save a few bucks every time I could.

I found a list I had made during that year and thought I would post it here, since recently (2/15/14) was the infamous Match Day, when applicants find out which site they matched to, if they did at all. FYI again, only 80% of students match each year during this initial phase, a problem known as the psychology internship crisis. These students get another chance in Phase 2, and if they don’t match then they can see what they can find before the internship year starts, or else they sit out a year while going back to square 1 (a problem that can lead to additional financial hardship).  In either situation, money is probably tight.  So here is the list, by category. It is by no means all-inclusive, so I would be interested in hearing ideas that others have.

Housing

1. If your family is nearby, live at home!

2. If you have to get an apartment, shop around.  Find a deal.  You may want to check out the area ahead of time (or check with current interns) so you can take into account being close to work, friends or family, or recreation.

3. Look for roommates.  It’s pretty much always cheaper than renting your own place.  You may or may not know anyone else in the area.  I’ve had friends have good and bad experiences finding roommates on places like Craigslist.

4. If you have friends or family in the area, see if you can stay with them.  Not for free, of course (unless it’s your grandparents or rich aunt and uncle).

5. Rent a smaller place than you would ordinarily.  An efficiency will do just fine, vs. a 2-bedroom apartment where you plan to live alone.

6. Try to keep your cost of living down- water, electricity, or other utilities.  Turn off lights and water when not in use.

Food and Drink

1. Plan grocery shopping ahead of time- look at mailings, make a list, buy only what is on the list.  Don’t shop hungry either- people buy more when they do.

2. Use coupons (on paper or in app form, but only buy what you already buy or what you know you will use).

3. Buy generic (there are times when the generic is not as good, but most of the time it’s fine, and still cheaper than the brand- even with a coupon).

4. Shop at discount grocery or produce outlets.

5. Eat at home.  Going out is easier, but really adds up.  If you like to go out, try going out half as often- or go out once a week as a treat.

6. Pack lunch.  Unless you’re lucky enough to get one of those cushy hospital internships with free lunches in the cafeteria every day, going or ordering out really adds up too.  It also tends to be less healthy.  In this case, try going out half as often, or just once a week- as a treat or to socialize with fellow interns, coworkers, or friends if they’re nearby.

7. Avoid vending machines.  Sure, they’re convenient, but this also adds up (and so do the calories).  Pack snacks for work too, or save this for a treat or a day when you were running late or staying late at work.

8. Ditch the Starbucks.  I know…blasphemy for some.  I love it too, and I know coffee is a staple in the intern’s diet, but try making coffee at home.  It’s way cheaper at the grocery store.  My dad once gave me one of those big, construction worker thermoses for Christmas.  That thing proved to be clutch during my internship year.  Someone also gave me a Keurig, which I kept in my office.  I was the envy of the office, for sure.  Again, at least try to cut back or save Starbucks or other expensive coffees for a treat.

9. Eat with family or friends.  Visit your family.  Take turns making meals at each other’s homes.  This will not only save some money, but your family then can’t complain that they never see you.  And seeing friends is fun too.

10. Buy in bulk.  Memberships to Sam’s, BJ’s, or Costco can save you money, again provided that you’re only buying what you’ll actually use.

11. If you do get a coffee, ice cream, or anything else, order a small.  It’s usually enough, and cheaper.

12. Interns don’t get paid much.  If you have a family and no other sizeable income, apply for public assistance.  Chances are you’ll qualify.  I’m sure there are many who are too proud to do this, but it’s only one year and you may not have many options.

Clothing

1. If you’re used to shopping for clothes or shoes often, shop less.  Save it for a treat.

2. Try to only buy clothing on sale.  Or shop online to find the best deals.

3. Ask for clothes (like work clothes) for your birthday or holidays.

4. For work clothes, focus on getting some staple items, in colors like gray, blue, or black.  Know what you need and plan your wardrobe accordingly, so you don’t buy too much or end up with things you won’t wear.

5. Shop at Goodwill or other thrift stores.  Especially guys can find a lot of barely-worn, dressy clothes like suits, pants, or shirts.  In my experience the tie selection is never good, but you can buy cheap ties at places like Target or TJ Maxx.

6. Shop at discount stores like TJ Maxx.  They can have great deals, particularly for work-friendly clothing.  Target has some nice things too, much cheaper than other stores.

7. If your family lives nearby (parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc.), do your laundry over there on the weekends.  This will save you money, and your family will probably be happy to see you.

Transportation

1. Take public transportation- busses, trains, trollies, etc. if this is an option.

2. Walk, skate or longboard, or ride a bike.

3. Drive sparingly- plan trips in advance.

4. Carpool.

5. Fill your car with regular fuel, at least some of the time, unless your car’s manufacturer dictates against it.

6. Change your own oil.  It’s about half the price and can be done in 20 minutes.

7. Find an apartment with free parking, or at least with free parking nearby.  Even if you have to walk a few blocks or more, it’s worth it.  Just be sure to move for street cleaning!

Entertainment

1. If you like to go out- to bars, clubs, concerts, shows, sporting events, or dinner, do it less often.  Make it a treat.

2. If you like to go to the movies, do it less often, or use Redbox, sign up for Netflix, or other services.  Most libraries also offer movie rentals, for about $1 a week!

3. If you go out to eat, order appetizers.  It’s usually plenty of food, but cheaper.  You’ll probably eat less, too.

4. Share a meal with your partner, friends, or family.  Again, usually plenty of food.  Add a salad, soup, or appetizer if you like.

5. Watch sporting events on TV instead of buying pricey tickets.  Watch at home, at a friend’s, or go to a bar.  Chances are you’ll have a better view of the game, and you can get food and drinks for much less.

6. Look for free entertainment.  Depending on where you are, there are probably street festivals, concerts, and free shows you can check out.

Health/Fitness/Beauty

1. If your internship site has a gym, take advantage!  If so, most don’t, so consider yourself lucky.  And keep in mind your self-care during your internship year!

2. If your internship site is affiliated with a college or university, chances are you can use the facilities there.

3. If you want to sign up for a gym, shop around.  Look for a deal.  Try to sign up for one that will let you cancel without a fee in the event you don’t use it.

4. Exercise outside.  Run, ride a bike if you have one, or just walk as much as possible.  If you don’t have a bike, you could probably find a cheap one at a yard sale, a used sporting goods store, or on Craigslist.

5. If your internship site or apartment has stairs, use them!

6. If you’re a guy, cut your own hair.  A pair of clippers costs $20-$30 (1-2 haircuts, depending on where you go), and a buzz cut is easy to do.

7. If you have a friend or family member who cuts hair, ask them.  Give them a tip or bring over something to eat or drink.

8. If you get your hair cut/done often, try spacing it out.  Also, if you need to go to a salon, find a cheaper one or find a deal.

Health Insurance

1. If you’re still eligible to be on your parents’ insurance, do it for as long as possible.

2. If your internship site offers free or cheap insurance, take advantage!  Consider yourself lucky because this is rare.

3. With internship stipends being so low, you may just qualify for Medicaid- particularly if you have a family or are a woman.  Apply and see what happens.

4. If you haven’t signed up with the Health Insurance Marketplace, apply and see what you would be eligible for.  I believe if you or a member of your family is eligible for Medicaid or CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program), it will tell you.  Chances are, if you have a family, at least your children could get free or low-cost coverage.

Professional

1. If you like going to conferences, like APA or state association conferences, volunteer.  In some state associations, volunteering for just a few hours signing people in or helping out with registration can get you a free conference registration (probably a free meal, too).

2. Submit a proposal to present at a conference.  If accepted, most of the time this can get you a free or discounted registration.

3. If you go to a conference out of town, go in a group and keep hotel or transportation costs down.

4. Stay with a friend or family member if you know anyone in the conference location.

In General

1. Plan ahead.  You’ll almost always save money if you take the time to think about what you need, where you need to go to get it, and so on.  We all know that impulse buying isn’t usually a good idea.

2. Think about needs vs. wants.  Sometimes the things we “need”, we really don’t need so much after all.

3. Prioritize.  Be sure to take care of your bills, set aside money for gas, and so on, and then see what you have left.  Doing so will give you a good idea of what you can afford as far as entertainment and so forth.  It will probably vary based on your situation.

Best of luck to everyone!  Internship is a difficult but rewarding year, and like the last few years, it will be over before you know it- only this time you’ll have your degree.  If anyone has any other ideas, please feel free to comment.

Dr. Jesse Matthews is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Chester Springs, PA.  He helps people of all ages to address many kinds of issues.  You can view his Psychology Today profile here.  For any questions or to arrange an appointment, please contact him at 610-482-4496 or drmatthewspsych@gmail.com. 

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About Dr. Jesse Matthews

I'm a private practice psychologist in Chester Springs, PA. I provide counseling and coaching services to people ages 12 and up. Specialties include: depression; addiction/substance abuse; relationships; anxiety; ADHD and behavioral issues; and Autism/Asperger's.
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