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Ballin’ in the Minivan on an Intern Budget


If you’re like me, you’re not just an intern. You have a family, a home, obligations, and the expenses to go with all of those. I have the added expense of being in school and working toward my Doctorate in Psychology. Here are a few tricks I use to keep our family from drowning in debt.

Meal Planning

Planning a week or two of meals is the easiest way to cut your food expenses in half. I’ve also found that it can help you lose weight and feel better because you’re not cramming last-minute junk in your mouth after realizing you forgot to eat! Happens to me embarrassingly often…

However, it takes determination to keep up with the meal planning, as well as flexibility, because life happens. Every family is different in their dietary needs/desires and the amount of time they have to prepare meals. Our family attempts to eat as healthy as possible while keeping meals simple and easy to make. We also allow one night a week for ordering in (PIZZA!) or eating out (somewhere that costs $5-$12 per person). When we eat out, we order an appetizer as an entrée and split meals between the five of us. We tend to have leftovers afterward, so that takes care of one more lunch or dinner a week as well.

For each meal, we try to have at least one veggie, one meat/protein, one bread, and one fruit, and then we add cheese and condiments sparingly. Here’s an example of a few days’ worth of meals in our family:


  • Breakfast: cereal of choice, orange juice, yogurt
  • Lunch: carrots/cucumber/bell pepper sticks with hummus, whole wheat crackers, mozzarella string cheese, strawberries/blueberries
  • Dinner: pan stir-fry broccoli, squash, potatoes with garlic, lemon, and pepper, baked garlic lemon chicken, French baguette with butter


  • Breakfast: oatmeal, orange juice
  • Lunch: tuna sandwich, carrots and ranch, strawberries
  • Dinner: PIZZA! (Mommy’s at school)


  • Breakfast: oatmeal, orange juice, banana
  • Lunch: turkey and cheese sandwich (lettuce, tomato, hummus) with an avocado
  • Dinner: spaghetti and sauce, salad (romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, etc.), grilled BBQ chicken, kiwi and apple


  • Breakfast: cereal, cranberry juice, banana
  • Lunch: hard-boiled egg, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple
  • Dinner: LEFTOVERS!

Planning is one thing. Preparation is the kicker. That’s where the job gets tough. On Sundays, I chop all my veggies and chicken for the week and place them in separate containers for each day. Fruits go bad quickly so I try to use them in each meal. It seems like a lot of work, but it usually only takes me an hour to prepare food for five people, and then I can just grab a container or bag when it’s time to cook. Some weeks, when we know we’ll be extra busy, we’ll make a big batch of meals on the weekend and freeze them, then pop them in the microwave or oven later on. It’s cheaper and healthier than frozen dinners.

Do not get discouraged when you forget an ingredient or get home late and have to resort to a second “pizza” night. It takes a while to get the hang of meal planning and preparation, but it’s definitely worth it.

As a special treat, I’m adding my personal list of healthy snacks.

Click here to see the list!

  • Peanut butter and…
    • Apple
    • Banana
    • Crackers
    • Pretzels
    • Toast
  • Hummus and…
    • Carrots
    • Bell pepper
    • Cucumber
    • Broccoli
    • Cauliflower
  • Yogurt and…
    • Strawberries
    • Blueberries
    • Raspberries
    • Oranges
    • Kiwi
  • Warm apples with cinnamon
  • Pineapple, watermelon, cherries, and other fruits
  • Freeze-dried fruit (like mango, banana, blueberries or strawberries)
  • Dried and canned fruit (minus the sugary syrup)
  • Fruit “leathers”
  • Greek yogurt and strawberries/blueberries
  • Plain yogurt (flavored with a little honey or maple syrup and vanilla extract)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cheese (cubed/sticks, with/without crackers)
  • Guacamole and chips
  • Edamame (good with soy sauce)
  • Cooked green beans
  • Mashed sweet potato (good with butter and cinnamon)
  • Frozen peas (frozen…no cooking necessary!)
  • Banana, zucchini, pumpkin, and cornbread
  • Kale and zucchini chips
  • Oatmeal (a thermos can keep it warm while driving)
  • Shredded wheat (look for brands that contain few ingredients)
  • Brown rice cakes
  • Whole-grain noodles/pasta
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Whole-wheat toaster pastries
  • Popcorn
  • Nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios)
  • Seeds (sesame and pumpkin)
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Organic and/or local bacon/turkey bacon
  • Smoothies or smoothie pops


Full disclosure: we actually just traded in the minivan for a bright red shiny used Prius. The dealer had us at 50 MPG! My husband and I both commute for two hours per day, and since only three of our four babies are with us full-time, we could afford to downgrade in the seat department.

When driving, combine as many errands as you can and stay local with your groceries and other shopping. You may have coupons across town, but that will cost you in gas. Make sure your tire pressure is correct and your oil is good. When tires are low and oil is old, your vehicle has to work harder, which costs gas in the short-term and additional maintenance in the long-term. If you commute for thirty minutes or more to work or school on a routine basis, check out ride-shares and vanpools. My husband rides with five other men that work around him. This has saved us around $250 per month.

Public transportation can be difficult to navigate and time-consuming, but worth it in certain situations. During my undergraduate years, I rode the bus to and from classes every day and only used my car to get groceries. There’s also the convenience of not having to worry about finding parking spots or paying parking fees. Instead of focusing on driving, you can read or work. You may even get a little more exercise by walking to and from bus and train stops. Each person has to weigh the cost of their time versus money when considering public transportation, but don’t dismiss it out of fear or misunderstanding. I’ve had some of the best conversations and seen some of the weirdest things on buses and trains.


Every city and county has free activities. Public parks usually have nearby hiking trails and events happening throughout the year. Libraries are a wonderful resource for free kids’ activities, workshops, and learning opportunities. Home Depot and Lowe’s have free workshops once a month where kids and adults can make crafts and learn new aspects of building.

When going out, let your friends and family know about your financial limits. It’s not demoralizing or a crutch, it’s just an honest fact of your current situation. They’ll understand and won’t blame you for skipping the expensive restaurant or booze cruise.

We gave up cable ten years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. Best decision ever. Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon have pretty much given us all we would ever need in TV and movies for less than $15 per month. Getting rid of cable and just opting for the internet and cell phone packages has saved our bills on many occasions.


I’m all about nagging my family to save on everyday house expenses. We turn off lights and heat/air conditioning when no one is home. I use natural light from windows during the day as much as possible. We hang some clothes to dry, and everyone turns the shower off while washing their hair and body.

I also shop at thrift stores instead of the mall and department stores, and sometimes use grocery bags and pet food bags for trash instead of buying trash bags. If you have the time, save aluminum cans and other recyclables to cash in. Do any mending and sewing yourself if you’re able (I’m still learning, but I get the job done, and my daughter doesn’t get new leggings every month).

At the end of it all, however, do not let quantity trump quality. Every once in a while, you need that splurge for a soothing massage or date night with your better half or paintball frenzy with a group of friends. Because our jobs require so much mental exertion, balance and relaxation are the keys to ballin’ in life… even if it’s in a minivan on an intern budget.

About the Author

Myra L. Quirk was born on an Army base in Ancon, Panama to a Green Beret Ranger and a spit-fire blonde. At 3 years old her family moved back to Southwest Tennessee where she was raised until she graduated high school a year early and joined the US Navy. She spent 11 years traveling the world as a Chinese Language Analyst and Translator/Interpreter, gathering two Associate’s Degrees in Chinese Language and Strategic Leadership. During her free time, she would read psychology and neuroscience articles and textbooks until she finally decided to pursue it as a career. She received her Bachelor of Psychology Degree from Hawaii Pacific University in 2013, 4 days after giving birth to her 4th (AND LAST!) child. She is now in pursuit of a Doctorate in Psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Irvine, CA, specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy.

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