It’s an unfair fact of life that in this life, you’ll most likely be expected to complete some form of unpaid work experience. It shouldn’t happen, but it does, and until we see a substantial change in the job market, we’re probably just going to have to grin and bear it.
When it comes to doing unpaid work, always know your rights and don’t get taken advantage of. Although unpaid placements are legal, you should probably draw the line at doing unpaid work for more than two weeks – after that you should ask them to pay you for your services. We’ve got loads more advice on unpaid placements and whether they’re damaging here.
But if you do end up completing an unpaid placement, the costs can soon rack up if you’re not careful, so it’s important to budget and have a hunt around for some sneaky cost-cutting measures if possible. Here are some of our best tips:
First things first, even if the placement is unpaid, the company might cover expenses for you, although they might not necessarily advertise it. So don’t be afraid to ask what their policy is.
Just remember that ‘expenses’ means different things to different people. For example, if you’re travelling across the country for a work experience placement, the cost of travel and accommodation alone could rack up well over £100, which the employer might consider too much. They might just think of expenses as the £3 a day you spend on lunch. So be warned that even if they do cover expenses, that might not necessarily mean they’ll cover everything you actually spend. They’ll normally specify expenses ‘up to’ a certain amount.
One final top tip: it might be worth waiting until the end of your placement to ask about expenses. If you’ve worked really hard and made a good impression, then they might be more likely to boost up how much they give you (I’m saying this from previous experience – believe me, it works). If you ask on the first day when you’re still a relative stranger, they’ll be unlikely to do the same.
Getting a work experience placement that you can easily commute to from home is the dream, but isn’t always possible for many people.
The most obvious way of saving money on accommodation is finding a generous friend or family member willing to let you sleep on their sofa for a week or so. But again, if you don’t have any connections in the area this isn’t always possible, so you’re going to have to bite the bullet with paid accommodation. Here are our tips for cheap living in the city:
University halls of residence – Many are used as hotels over the summer, Christmas and Easter periods when students are away and are often a lot cheaper than the local Travelodge. Plus you often get your own kitchen facilities so you can make dinner at night.
Airbnb – As the service rises in popularity, prices are starting to rise too, but it’s still usually a lot cheaper than a hotel.
Hostels – Often not ideal if you don’t want to be kept awake by noisy strangers all night, but a bed in a dorm comes pretty cheap.
Spareroom.com – Not just for long-term lets, some people sub-let their rooms if they’re going on long holidays, and you can often find some steals on here.
Be careful and obviously don’t force yourself to stay somewhere you don’t feel safe just to save some cash, but know there are options out there other than the obvious hotel.
If you don’t have one already, invest in a 16-25 rail card ASAP. It’s only £30 for the year (Or £70 for three years), and it will honestly save your life. Train tickets in this country are no picnic, and you can be faced with a £90 fare just to get from London to Manchester. A rail card saves you a third off the total price which can go a long way.
Don’t forget you can also split your fare. This is a really handy service which lets you know whether it would be cheaper to buy two separate train tickets rather than just the one. So for example, a ticket from London to Milton Keynes, and then Milton Keynes to Manchester. You won’t have to get off the train (although you might have to switch seats), but you could save up to half the price.
And if you’re still struggling with the train fare, you’ve always got the good old Megabus as a back-up. It might take what feels like 10 years to get anywhere, but the tickets are super cheap, and you can sometimes get literally from one end of the country to the other for less than a tenner. Don’t knock it.
If you’re commuting across a city, see if you can save money on the daily bus fare by cycling or walking instead – even if it does mean getting up a bit earlier.
Adjusting to working life can be tough, but don’t fall into the trap of popping to the local Starbucks to grab a coffee and sandwich on your lunch break everyday. It might only be a fiver at the time, but that could be an extra fifty quid to add to the top of a rapidly increasing work experience bill, so try and take your own lunch in. Make some salads/sandwiches at home, or add an extra portion when cooking your dinner and save that for work the next day. Either way, that avocado and quinoa boost box is not worth the price tag.
My main piece of advice – always think long and hard about whether a work experience placement is worth the money you’re spending on it. Will it genuinely help you secure a paid role or graduate position? Keep that in mind, spend accordingly and always know your worth.