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Complete Guide To Surviving Your CBD Internship On A Meagre Allowance

High expenses, meagre intern pay? Here’s a guide on surviving as a CBD intern on a budget.


Securing an internship in the Central Business District (CBD) is exciting. In between school semesters, you enter the hustle and bustle of the working world. You trade lecture theatres for skyscrapers, fellow students for new colleagues.

At the same time, we are all too familiar with internship woes. Gone are cheap canteen meals and relaxed dress code. Due to the higher costs internships will incur, learning to manage your costs is important if you do not want to spend beyond your modest internship allowance.

This is your guide to surviving in the CBD as an intern on a budget.

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“Dress code: Formal.”

How do you prepare a wardrobe for 5 days’ worth of office attire when all you have is a wardrobe full of casual jeans and shirts, with the sole exception being that blazer suit that is worn only for presentations and at your internship interview?

If you’re going to spend money to upgrade your wardrobe, then you want to make sure those dollars are stretched as much as possible. A popular method for making purchase decisions is the cost-per-wear method. The idea here is that if you buy clothes that you will only wear at your internship, then the cost-per-wear will be very expensive indeed.

To avoid this, think about what are the kind of clothes that are suitable for your internship, but are flexible (and fashionable) enough that you will want to continue to wear them long after your internship farewell lunch. Wedding dinners, networking functions, family gatherings, seminars, are occasions when it doesn’t hurt to be a little more dressed-up.

Start by covering the basics. Basics are versatile and easy to match with a wide range of clothes you already have. Standard colours like black, blue and white are good options to start with. Retail stores like G2000, Uniqlo and H&M offer office-friendly basics.

If you don’t mind second-hand clothes, Carousell and Refash are worth exploring too. You may even find brand new clothes there if you’re lucky.

Ensure that your clothes fit you well. Everyone has slightly different builds and clothes that you buy off the rack might sometimes not have the most optimal fit for you. To solve this problem, you can visit neighbourhood tailors that do a good job at a reasonable price. Popular tailors include Ai Lee Tailor at Seah Im Food Centre and Grand City Tailor at Frontier building.

Work-appropriate bags are optional. You can get simple yet professional bags on online sites such as Zalora at affordable prices. Remember to always use cashback sites to get the best bang for your buck.


  • If you’re feeling underdressed, throw on a blazer or a dark-coloured jacket for an instant upgrade in ‘formality’.
  • Resist the temptation to buy too many sets of office clothes before you start work. Observe how the rest of your colleagues dress in the first week to get a sense of the actual dress code.

Dressing appropriately reflects your seriousness and professionalism, but ultimately it is your work ethnic and attitude that leaves a lasting impression. Clothes does not maketh the man, and you should certainly not be breaking the bank for clothes.

Read Also: 5 Types Of Apparels You Need Before Starting On A Banking Internship


Working in the CBD doesn’t necessarily entail expensive lunches. You can get typical hawker meals under $5 at hawker centres such as Amoy Street Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre and Tanjong Pagar Plaza or even stalls at International Plaza. If your workplace allows for it, beat the peak hour crowd by going for early/late lunch. Alternatively, you can takeaway your lunch and eat at your office common areas.

The best people to ask for recommendations are your colleagues. They would be well-acquainted with the area and know the places for the most value-for-money meals.

Alternatively, you can also save money by bringing your own lunch. It can be a simple dish you whipped up the night before or leftover dinner. Packing your own lunch also saves you time and keeps you away from the maddening lunchtime crowd.

When you want to reward yourself with a good hearty meal at restaurants/ cafes/ bistros, look out for set lunch promotions or even student discounts (remember to bring your student card). For off-peak discounts, you can use mobile apps like Eatigo, Offpeak, and The Entertainer to get great offers.


  • Use cashback/discounts available on cashless payment methods.
  • Have breakfast at home before going to work.

Read Also: We Tried Ordering UberEATS For Lunch. This Is What We Found Out


Whether it is your morning coffee routine or afternoon caffeine perk – one does not question the importance of coffee in the daily routine of CBD employees.

Most drinks at cafes costs over $5, which will destroy your wallet since you will likely be getting your caffeine fix regularly. Look for a coffee stall you trust at the nearest hawker centre or coffee shops to get a cuppa for less than $2. Stalls like Fun Tea and Local Coffee People are also affordable options.

Read Also: Why Does Iced Coffee Always Cost More?

To save even more, take full advantage of your office pantry, which might be stocked up with anything from 3-in-1 coffee packets to Nespresso coffee machines. Otherwise, bring your own coffee sachets and enjoy the same convenience and cost-savings.


  • Bring your own water bottle/mug so that you don’t have to spend unnecessarily on mineral water.


Dragging yourself out of bed in the morning isn’t the easiest thing to do everyday. Neither is squeezing with the peak hour crowd on packed trains. But it is the most cost-friendly way to get to work in the CBD.

Since you will be travelling to work daily, you should do the math and see if you can save money by applying for an undergraduate concession pass. Here’s the breakdown on tertiary concessions from TransitLink:

Concession Pass Benefit Price
Bus Unlimited travel on basic bus services $52
Train Unlimited travel on train rides $45
Hybrid (Bus + Train) Unlimited travel on both buses and trains $85


If concession passes are not be cheaper for you, you could still take advantage of off-peak discount by waking up slightly earlier. There is a discount of 50 cents (or the fare for the rail leg of the trip – whichever is lower) when commuters tap into any MRT/LRT station before 7.45am, regardless of entry and exit station.

In contrast, waking up late and needing to rush to the office on taxis or Grab is extremely costly. With CBD and ERP surcharges, your ride can easily cost you over $20. Sleep in at your own peril.

Read Also: Should University Undergrads Get A Concession Pass?

Don’t Underestimate Daily Cost Savings

Internships are a great way for students to get a taste of the working life while earning some extra pocket money during the holidays. However, working comes with daily expenses that are too often overlooked.

It is not uncommon to observe interns spending their money without much thought until the monthly bill comes in. Small savings daily add up. By applying the tips shared in this article and being mindful of your finances, you’ll be able to survive and thrive as a budget intern! aims to provide interesting, bite-sized and relevant financial articles.

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