I've just started a full-time (Mon - Fri) paid internship position in New York that pays me only $100 per week.

I'd like to continue in the position but I have concerns about whether I can afford it given the transportation costs I have.

Are there any good options I have other than just quitting?

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    You knew the distance and salary beforehand, why did you commit yourself???? You must have signed a contract, did you? – SmallChess Oct 2 at 3:13
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    "I fear that I can't do it financially." What does that mean exactly? Are you spending more on travel than you're earning? Will you go broke/go into debt if you continue? If so, it's probably not worth it. – AffableAmbler Oct 2 at 3:13
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    @Job As originally written the question wasn't one we can answer here I'm afraid, I've edited your question into a format that hopefully is answerable here. Hopefully I haven't changed your intent too much but if I have feel free to revert (although it will likely remain closed if you do I'm afraid) – motosubatsu Oct 2 at 12:33
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    $100 / 40 hours (assuming a common definition of full time)... $2.50 per hour? Maybe I'm misunderstanding some fine point of New York law, but that seems explicitly illegal under federal wage laws: propublica.org/article/when-interns-should-be-paid-explained – BrianH Oct 2 at 13:50
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    When I was putting myself through university, I took a five day, forty hour job which paid less than my travel costs which was relative to my field of study. And another working Saturday night shift in a bakery, which paid twice as much as my weekly wage and helped me balance the budget. Of course, I had considered the costs aspects of the day job before accepting it. Just saying. – Mawg Oct 8 at 8:14

Ideally this is why it's good to work out what costs might be incurred in a new job (transport being the obvious one) before accepting, however this isn't always feasible or foolproof (after all life can happen, prices can rise etc) and obviously it's a bit late for that advice for you now!

So what can you do?

Option 1:

See if there any alternative ways of getting to work - not sure what distance you are covering (or what method of transport you are currently using) but would it be feasible to switch to a cheaper method of transportation?

  • If you're currently using cabs or a car would it be possible/cheaper to swap to the bus or the subway?
  • If you're currently using the bus/subway would it be possible to cycle or walk instead?
  • If you're currently using the bus/subway have you looked into the various metro card options? Multi-day passes often work out significantly cheaper than paying for fares as you go. If you're a student I think you can even travel for free?

I appreciate that this may well take longer than your current route but if the savings meant you could keep the position going it may well be worth putting up with it as presumably you won't be an intern on $100 a week forever.

Option 2:

See if there are any other areas of your existing spending that you could make savings on, in order to free up some spare cash? Again this would hopefully be temporary until you've completed your internship and can start earning more money.

Option 3:

Asking your employer if they can provide any additional assistance financially. I wouldn't make this one your first move, if nothing else they will probably ask you if you've tried Options 1 or 2 first! However if, having exhausted the possibilities of the first two options you're still struggling to afford the transportation costs then it's certainly worth asking them - after all if the only option you have left is to quit what harm can it do to ask? I'd try something like:

I'm finding the costs of getting to the office too high, I know I should have checked this out beforehand but I wasn't expecting it to be this much. I really want to stay here as I'm enjoying the internship and I feel that I'm really learning a lot. I've already done x, y, and z to keep the costs as low as I can but I'm struggling and I'm concerned that I might have to withdraw from the program. Is there any way we could look at increasing my compensation, even by $x a week to enable me to stay?

This shows that you aren't just looking for them to solve your problems for you, and that you have been taking steps to try and resolve it yourself first and this demonstrates good maturity (which will hopefully make them realise you aren't just money-grabbing).

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    Regarding option 3: some companies will subsidize the cost of an employee's commuting costs. It might be worth seeing if that's available. – Mike Harris Oct 6 at 19:43
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    Option 4 - a second job, in addition – Mawg Oct 8 at 8:15

First of all hello and congratulations on picking up an internship. Not many people are willing to sacrifice their time to learn these days.

As with many questions on The Workplace, my answer will be "communication".

I would try to talk to my direct line manager and tell him my concerns. After all, it's his job to make sure you have no impediments in doing your job, and not making it to work is a big impediment. Maybe they can deduct the cost of your commute from their tax, or they can otherwise subsidise your travel to and from work. Some companies give out company cars for long commutes (maybe not to interns, but hey, its worth a shot), or rent a bike for you at a much lower price, even an electric scooter would probably serve very well.

Secondly, I would be looking into talking to colleagues that live nearby. Maybe you can car pool if some of them have some form of motorized transportation that they use to get to and from work. You might work out a small arrangement with the company (they pay for his fuel, insurance etc) or directly with him (give him some compensation at the end of the month or buy him lunch every Tuesday).

If it all fails and you still can't afford the commute, I'm sorry to say it but you can't afford to be working for them. Tell them this and maybe they will soften up and try to help if. If they don't then start looking for another internship that covers transportation expenses or gets better pay.

There is a solution that is definitely better than quitting: You do the numbers, you figure out that with these numbers you cannot afford to take the internship, and you take these numbers to your manager and tell them that you cannot afford to do an internship with $100 a week, that it is absolutely impossible for you.

The company can easily afford to pay you substantially more. So if you are good at what you are doing and can demonstrate that you are an asset for the company, then they have the choice of keeping you or not. They may not pay you more, or they may. If they pay more, you win and can stay. If they don't, then you can leave. If things are against you, never just accept it, but at least try if you can change the situation.

Some colleges and universities offer grants to undergraduates to partially defray internship expenses. Sadly, in non-STEM fields these are quite common. Contact your student placement office to see if your institution does so.

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