Cheaper Than Chips – Tech to Help You Get Essays Done

We’ve all been there – Either a laptop or desktop isn’t affordable, or yours ‘explodes’ right as your warranty or care plan dies or there’s that awkward moment when you stagger in after a night out and knock over that glass of water you planned on having all over your keyboard. Maybe it’s not that – maybe your kit is just getting old and unusable for those essays you need to write, maybe you missed the boat on that special offer for Microsoft Office or your dream of a new Macbook Pro you planned to buy with your student loan  was quashed when you realised you still  have rent/bills/insurance to pay, food/alcohol/clothes to buy and potentially a reading list of books you’ll only need once to pick up.

Despite being almost ubiquitous these days, computers aren’t cheap and neither is software. Depending on your course, sometimes one person’s most useful tool is wasted on others that know what they’re doing or prefer alternative methods of organising their information.

For those that are cash strapped, here’s a few ideas that allow you to write your documents, run your calculations and do your basic research without resorting to crazy expenses.

Always Look on the Light Side of Life

Whilst this (debated) lyric may be shadowed by its more famous former line in the Monty Python song, so is a world of alternatives to the more famous offerings by Apple and Microsoft. Whilst many people like trends and there are many that fear to stray the path of the familiar, there are many hidden gems that may be able to save you money rather than just going by a well known brand name.

Some computers that often come up cheaper include Google’s Chromebook, a used computer found online (to which you may only need to buy a new harddrive) or even taking the hobbyist route of a Raspberry Pi (which can now even be expanded to desktop computer or laptop configurations). Both of these come out much cheaper than the average computer, but also don’t traditionally run Windows or MacOS right off the bat (check out the tutorials on “dual booting” from Techgirl88 in the links on the right if you want to make that happen though), but instead offer their own breed of operating systems to allow you to achieve the same thing in writing papers, doing research and updating your social life (as well as streaming music or video).

Whilst I can’t really put a bias on your choice – much of the editing of this blog is done on a Raspberry Pi 3 when I’m at home, whilst my laptop also runs on a free operating system for mobile use).


Keep Your Options (and your mind) Open

If you feel like you need to sell your old CD/DVD/Blu-Ray collection just so you can write essays, you’ll be glad to know there’s much more to life than solely Word, Excel and PowerPoint (that said, if you’re a qualifying school, you may be able to get it free).

There are many free options that are compatible with these programs in addition to Pages, Numbers and Keynote on Mac.

For desktop based suites you could try the similar programs OpenOffice and LibreOffice that offer direct alternatives named Writer, Calc and Impress in addition to a whole host of other programs for different tasks. For the Online ones there’s Google’s Drive suite that includes Docs, Sheets and Slides or if you crave for the familiar, there’s basic editing functions in Word, Excel and PowerPoint online. Finally, for simple notation such as Lecture notes on your phone, tablet or laptop – Evernote is a good auto-saving cloud based solution for rapid taking and saving of notes (especially if you forget to charge either one and it dies part way through) with the option to pay a small amount to upgrade your storage space or number of active devices as you see fit.

For more exciting and interactive presentations, Microsoft Sway is available as a light alternative to PowerPoint for free to those on tablets/phone or Windows 10 devices. There’s also cloud based tools such as Prezi Next, and Haiku Deck – all of whom offer their own unique ways of presenting with free tiers readily available to the cash strapped student or lecturer.

For those the brave with an existing or handed down computer, or those whom didn’t fancy attempting to buy Windows 10 now the free offer has expired or to shell out for a Macbook to write essays on (Multimedia students, I understand your conundrum), it’s worth considering the 3rd family of operating systems. Whilst Linux looks a little scary to some, getting the right version can save you some serious money and with there being thousands of choices, if you don’t like the version you use, simply back up your files and install a new one. If you choose to go down this route, the systems I can recommend heavily are UberStudent (designed for Educational use), Linux Mint (for those that preferred the Windows XP/7 look), Peppermint OS (what I currently use on laptop – useful for cloud based apps and is more colourful than Mint), elementary OS (for those that prefer the MacOS layout), Ubuntu (the iPhone of the distros) or Zorin OS (designed with beginners in mind) – of course you can choose for yourself here and tweak the results as much or as little as you need to get your perfect choice!

Don’t Buy If You Don’t Need

The other simple option is if you won’t miss it and don’t particularly need your own machine, don’t forget your Student Union and University or even local library often have computers available too. These are often preloaded with tools allowing you to research and reference easily. Unfortunately printing or extended time often won’t come for free, but if it’s possible for you to email your work somewhere or store it on a free cloud storage site, you can often find a workaround to this.


Depending on your specific needs, there’s plenty of options out there to the cash strapped student. Being in a place of research, don’t be afraid to try something different rather than judging a book for it’s cover. You might just surprise yourself and save yourself enough to buy a celebratory pint afterwards!



Shoestrings vs Heartstrings: Celebrating Valentine’s Day on a Budget

Attempts to delight and romance your significant other can often be expensive for the humble student. From premium dinners to branded cologne, to the finest roses little expense is spared to those that celebrate the holiday in full swing. So in today’s short post for the couples that are truly less than three (do a web search for it if you don’t get the reference), here’s three short but sweet ideas you could do if you want to save some money for your other 364 days of love following today.

Please note that none of today’s links are sponsored or affiliated and you can of course use your favourite shops, I just chose the ones that usually carry the best value pricing and are accessible all over the UK and in some cases internationally (FYI: Some products from Walmart can now be found in ASDA in the UK and Target also ship internationally too).

Make Yourself a Table for Two

Spending your week’s food shop as a deposit on a table needn’t be the case if you have some spare room in your accommodation. Find an area such as a dining room or a large bedroom to host your restaurant scene. Next you’ll need a table and some seating – you should hopefully at least have one chair in the house you can use! As for tables – if you’re in the bedroom, sadly that dining room table won’t fit through the door. However if you have that spare £10 you would have spent on your dessert in a restaurant something as simple as two LACK end tables from IKEA can be used to create your small banqueting stand. Now, to make this more special you’ll need a tablecloth. These don’t have to be expensive, with ones from Wilko in the UK as low as just £2 or at Target for $1.79 US or for $5.97 CA from Walmart.

Once you’ve purchased these simply screw the 8 legs into the two bases, place together and lay your cloth of choice over the top.

Now for some candles. Whilst going all out with sticks may be a little pricey, an equally romantic effect used by many restaurants can be achieved with beer bottles. Simply purchase 2 candles from the shops above (or your preferred wax burning supplier) ensuring the size will fit to the neck of the bottle (at worst, using a simple kitchen knife, the end can be tapered to suit), then simply light the candle and allow to burn for a short time. If you want a more rugged effect, try lighting 2 candles and gently hold the end to the lip of the bottle where the candle meets it – make sure you hold the candle you’re melting so it doesn’t fall over and never attempt it whilst both are lit!!

For your choice of food you may elect to use your culinary skills if you are capable and if not, look out for valentine specials in your local supermarket. Many come with choices of starters and mains already prepared and a choice of either dessert, wine or both as part of the deal.

For the finishing touch, why not load up your musical device with a nice playlist. It doesn’t have to be romantic tunes if that’s not your style, instrumental music can work just as well if played at a background level.


Sometimes Less is More

Can’t afford the super elaborate day out in the all-glass Victorian botanical conservatory? Not to worry, why not celebrate the way you helped make sparks fly in the first place and go back to a good old first date. A trip to the park, local lake or a nearby beach is always an option for you to get out and just be “us”. If you would like to make a day of it, why not adapt the tip from above and pack up a picnic? You can use the tablecloth if it’s a disposable or opt for the traditional blanket if you have a little bit more money to spare.

Whilst I hope you’ve got a gift sorted out already (and if not, good luck!), simple creativity can often help the doughless romantic. A simple story carefully crafted, a song to serenade or a video or slideshow to surprise your partner with always makes a cost-effective yet truly personal and valuable gift. If you’re going down this route though, remember don’t make it too grand if time isn’t on your side!

Remember, It’s Only a Day

Unless it’s one of your birthdays or your anniversary – remember that today is only a day popularised by media. It’s not a “significant” date, merely a very popular one used to express love for your family, current or to be. So don’t try and panic like it’s your wedding day to make the day perfect for your significant other – just be what made you the couple you are and treat them with care and respect to celebrate and remember your relationship, just like you should every day. At the end of the day, make it less about what it is and more about the two of you.


Regular Essential Supplies

So, you’ve done the hard work of revising, passing your exams, getting your choice at uni (or applied through clearing), made endless lists, survived the end of an era with your local friends and immediate family, packed the car to the rafters and made it to your campus. Whether you’ve just arrived at the weekend and are finding your feet as as fresher or you’ve been there a couple of weeks and familiarised yourself with your bar staff, memorised the takeaway menus or drained your bank account buying your reading list – hopefully this article may come in use should you have forgotten anything when your parents took you shopping or you realise a few months down the line that you’ve blown your student loan and need to prioritise what cash you have left.

So before you decide you’ve got enough for Pub Golf tomorrow night or you’ve roughly budgeted for a cheeky Nandos please remember to have these student essentials before you max out your overdraft and inevitably see this at the cash machine:

'atminsuff' by Used under CC BY NC SA 3.0

‘atminsuff’ by Used under CC BY NC SA 3.0

Toilet Paper/Kitchen Paper

By Elya (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons. Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

By Elya (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons. Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 (

Sounds obvious right? Yet with a crazy schedule and the irresistable urge to have one or two more games of FIFA before your lecture sounds much more exciting than nipping to the shops. But if it’s pre-drinks at your accomodation tonight it’s best to make sure you have more than one roll going spare of each type, just in case people spill drinks (and believe me, they will) into your cream carpet or you decide to grab a kebab on the way home, or heaven forbid you have just a few too many shots… Just don’t be without it!

Even if you’re teetotal, don’t think you’re exempt. All it takes is a 3am trip to grab a pot noodle mid assignment and an accidental step on a loose extension lead to send them everywhere and you’ll need something to clean them up with.

‘Stodgy Food’

By Takeaway (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons. Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 (

By Takeaway (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons. Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 (

Be it the staple of student foods or something we like to tell ourselves is much healthier, make sure you have a healthy supply of carb food in. When your balance starts running into the red, you’ll find this a cheap class of ingredients helpful to make you feel full (which is great for reducing on snacking) and can be mixed up with a variety of sauces and complementary ingredients, or even in the case of noodles a simple stock cube and some boiling water. Best of all, with ingredients like noodles and certain packs of rice, you don’t even need to touch an oven if you’re not in a safe position to use one! A couple of minutes in the microwave and you’re sorted for a meal!

Pens, Pencils and Power Cables

By MyKlick on Pixabay. Used Under Public Domain

By MyKlick on Pixabay. Used Under Public Domain

Whilst the former will have probably been drilled into you over your school and college years, it doesn’t stop at uni. Lecturers rarely lend out pencils and pens in your seminars unless you’re really lucky and in a Lecture you have no chance unless you have a kind and organised peer sat beside you. Make sure you buy at least 4 of each writing utensil you need as well as at least spare eraser and sharpener if you’re going to be drawing. One to keep in your bag for lectures, seminars, tutorials and meetings, one for your dorm/house room, a second one for your bag as a fallback if your pencil lead breaks/ink runs out so you can rapidly resume your note taking (if you’ve ever heard the famous Call of Duty phrase “Just switch to your other weapon, it’s faster than reloading!” – this applies to writing skills too!

If you, like me are more of a tech head and prefer to type your notes instead, make sure you have a spare micro-USB/Lightning/DC charger to hand if you’re a portable device user, so you can keep one in your dorm room. You’ll be amazed and how easy these can get mangled when stowed in your bag and moved around, or internally damaged from the tugging when you grab your device or knock it to the floor (I must go through at least 3 a year for my devices!) so to have one can often spell disaster for you if you’re a tapper or typist. If you have a Notebook or Netbook style laptop it’s worth also giving your charger the once over before you move to uni as this will more than likely be the lifeblood of your note taking, assignment writing and film/stream watching time each day. If you’re concerned about carting this around or its general survival, again, add a second one to the wishlist of “Welcome to Student Life” items that friends and family may treat you to as these turn obsolete quickly and can be expensive or difficult to replace one broken.

If you’re a doodler, don’t forget the rest of your essentials to go along with your pencil, sharpener and eraser too!

A Thick Duvet and a University (or other) Hoodie

Wrap Up Warm. Own Work

Wrap Up Warm. Own Work

If you live in the UK, you may have noticed when you left the house to go to School and College over the years that at this time of year on most mornings, the often a large difference in temperature between the inside and the outside. If you’re living in older halls of residence or you’re moving into a student house, you might notice this difference starts to get a little less – especially if you’re not on an all inclusive rent and have to face those scary numbers on the bill for the luxury and comfort of the temperate indoor climate.

To help combat this problem (a lesson I’m sure your parents and guardians hammered into you at an early age if you complained the heating was set too low), is to invest in a thick tog duvet (10 – 13.5 tog usually works well) and the classic University Hoodie (particularly if it’s made by AWDis). Whilst a small expense at first, as you notice it getting colder in the winter, you’ll be glad of these to snuggle into whilst you have your Netflix and assignment writing sessions. Alternatively, you can just work harder at the gym, but that feeling will only last so long.

As a side note, if you have gas central heating, remember to turn it on once in a while for an hour or so when the temperatures drop, or you’ll be facing an even bigger charge when the pipes freeze/burst and the system inevitably seizes up!

Cleaning Supplies

By jarmoluk on Pixabay. Used under Public Domain

By jarmoluk on Pixabay. Used under Public Domain

This one probably goes without saying, but it’s really easy to forget – which isn’t good if you forget at the last minute and realise you’ve run out of dishes, spilled your drink all over your desk…or something worse that we won’t talk about that needs cleaning up.

For those that have regular inspections in halls and student houses, they’re not joking when they say a stint of regular cleaning of your pad is easier than leaving it until later, and not having the supplies in stock will cause you further problems!

Past memories of still cleaning at 3am to try and remove gunk in the shower so I could avoid being fined is a memory still strong enough to motivate me to clean parts of my flat on a regular basis these days still.


by 'nicubunu' from OCAL. Used under Public Domain

by ‘nicubunu’ from OCAL. Used under Public Domain

Okay, this isn’t massively threatening if you don’t have them to hand, but on those social nights where you have a few games of FIFA before you go out on the console or you prefer to have your mouse and keyboard wireless it always pays to have some spares to hand for when things run out.

You can also go rechargable if that helps you remember. In theory this is pretty cost effective if you get a good value charger and batteries – though admittedly if you’re a gamer like me you’ll find they won’t power your Xbox/Steam controllers for very long… (Usually about a day or so).

Drugs (not the dodgy kind!!)

by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay. Used under Public Domain

by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay. Used under Public Domain

When you become independent, it’s very easy to feel ‘grown up’ and feel you can do anything. To some extent you probably can, but it’s still useful to have a few basics (e.g: Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Diarrhoea Tablets, Bonjela etc) in stock, because there’s nothing worse than eating something that didn’t agree with you and being caught short. Likewise if you’re in halls in particular, when Winter comes it’s the equivalent of working in a hospital (speaking from experience of being in halls and working at 2 hospitals) and especially if you’re in Medical school and doing both – disease spreads and it spreads easily.

Fun fact, the year after I left on my campus somebody entered the main dining hall with the norovirus, once they left they went back to their room in halls. Within 48 hours, one hall was quarantined. Please don’t let that scare you from living in halls – it really is an amazing experience – but please, be prepared when winter comes.

Tinned Food

by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay. Used under Public Domain

by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay. Used under Public Domain

Similar to above, it’s worth having canned/tinned food in your arsenal. When the funds get low, you’ll find many foods require very little needs for storage and will often last until you next get your payment of your student loan. No power, no chilling (unless you’ve opened them) – just a shelf somewhere and (if it lacks a ringpull or a key) an instrument to open it with.


By Ballerinus (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons. Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 (

By Ballerinus (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons. Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 (

This one might seem strange, but with our ever growing dependence on technology means these accessories, big or small are becoming essential to both our everyday lives and potentially to your studies too!

When you’re watching a webinar in the library, not everyone around you wants to hear it (if the PC you’re on hasn’t had it’s internal speaker muted already). The same goes with middle of the night binges of Orange is the New Black or The Man in the Highcastle on your device when your room/floor/housemates are sleeping.

Headphones are also great for when you’re out and about listening to music on your iPod or the latest trends on your smartphone allowing you to temporarily disconnect from the world and make use of that valuable time when you’re travelling from one place to another (of course, don’t forget to be sensible!)

You can get earphones quite cheap in your nearest music or electronics shop or even online at shops like Amazon and eBay, so if you don’t have a pair already, I’d highly recommend it!

And finally…Patience & Will

Being a student is hard work – transitioning from the young to having all (or most) of the responsibility of an adult all at once. Thankfully it’s not as threatening as the ‘real world’ with many student friendly places offering discounts and lower prices on everything from shopping to utilities, but the responsibility is still there. You will make mistakes and misjudgements. You may hit stone broke. You may need to ask the family for a bit of cash now and again or get something functional rather than just fun for Christmas and that’s all okay. Being a student is all about learning and sometimes this learning will occur outside of your teaching spaces and learning to live on a tight budget takes time. But keep to the items above and for those that spot the ones I have inevitably missed, please share them in the comments section below so your fellow peers and other students alike can benefit and most importantly, don’t forget, loans do come in sections, so you will get your grant/bursary/loan again throughout the year and there’s always the jobs board if you do need more cash fast!


Best of luck to you starting out on your first year and for those returning to university, best of luck with your studies this year!