Everyone loves a bargain, but some don’t offer the value they suggest. If you’re starting up a business or heading off to university, you’ll want to minimise your initial expenditure.

Shopping online and shaving a few pounds off the purchase price of a printer or computer isn’t the only way to keep down costs. You’re as likely to spend as much on other equipment – especially software – as you are on office overheads, accommodation and stationery.

On the face of it, students and entrepreneurs have little in common. The first is often regarded as a work-shy freeloader who’ll take any handout going while their NUS card says they can get away with it – and they’ll always try and haggle. The wannabe businessperson, on the other hand, knows all too well the value of hard work and putting in the hours. While they also appreciate the need to negotiate the best possible deal, they’ll be burning the midnight oil applying their business brain while the student eases themself out of bed only to party the night away.

The truth is somewhat different. The days of the care-free student living off a grant or never-to-be-repaid student loan are a thing of the past, while startups are faced with an uphill struggle in attracting investors or agreeing a bank loan.

But necessity is the mother of invention, and people are embracing alternative ways of working and creating wealth.

With a second global economic downturn, the rising cost of living and a dearth of jobs, every penny counts if you are to set up a successful business venture.
Here, we look at a range of cost-cutting measures and assess whether each is a savvy cost-saver or a shortcut too far.

Microsoft Office alternatives

If you own a PC or laptop, or even a tablet, you’ll probably want a decent word processor and either a spreadsheet program or accounts software to help you keep on top of your expenses.

Free online app WaveAccounting.com offers powerful features and is tailored for UK use. If its accessibility via your Google
or Yahoo account is off-putting, however, a good standalone alternative is Accountz.


Microsoft Office is often preinstalled on new PCs as a 60-day trial (you can also download this from our DVD). A full version of Office Professional 2010 costs more than £330, while the Home and Business Edition costs £189. Students have things a bit easier, with a single-user licence costing £75 – or £79 for three users, which is ideal if you’re able to split the costs with housemates.

Even at its cheapest, Office demands a relatively large chunk of cash. Thankfully, plenty of free and low-cost alternatives can also meet your productivity needs.

Google Docs

Google Docs (free from docs.google.com) lets you import and create documents, spreadsheets and presentations, then edit them in a web browser. It’s also compatible with mobile devices running Android 2.2 and iOS 3.0 or later. Google Docs allows you to access your files from any web-connected computer, and it makes document sharing and collaborative editing easy. Docs is also part of Google’s paid-for Apps for Business.

Finding and opening files created elsewhere is a hassle, though. Performance lags are a regular occurrence too. Documents must first be converted into a compatible format, and file manipulation is more difficult than it should be. The interface also feels like a minimalist throwback. But Google Docs is very useful as a collaboration tool, provided that you don’t mind it mangling complex formatting in Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents – exporting Google Docs files into their corresponding Office formats usually produces unreadable results, too.

Google is expected to add offline capabilities to the software in the future.