The Poor Student’s Survival Guide

Recently, I made the jump to go back to university. I have to say, this time around things were very much different- I wasn’t adjusting to a new place, I wasn’t new to the country, I wasn’t struggling with my identity in search of my place in the world (even though I’ve not exactly figured it out yet). Full-time work and having a ‘real’ job definitely agreed with me, but at the same time, I was ready for a challenge.

Having said that, there were still adjustments to be made: having to pore through pages of academic journals, having days where I would pack up my bag at work and head straight to class, or even days when I would come home from work exhausted and have to start working on university assignments.

A typical university classroom, image by velkr0, sourced from Flickr.

And after one semester at university, I definitely have a newfound respect for these kids who juggle having to pay bills and still do well at uni. It’s just tough! Adults who work full-time have no appreciation for the street smarts that we students have, and the lengths that we go to in order to stretch our meagre dollar. So, in the spirit of all that, I decided to highlight my top four student ‘hacks’ that I think have definitely come in handy.

Office Online

Honestly, Office Online has been an absolute gamechanger for me in terms of how I complete my assignments. In my undergraduate days cloud computing was something that wasn’t really for the masses yet, and I vividly remember having to rewrite an entire essay because my laptop decided to get infected by a virus.

What if Office Online you say? It’s the basic suite of Microsoft Office: Word, PowerPoint, and Excel — all you need, essentially — that is accessed online. Everything is backed up into the cloud (Microsoft’s OneDrive)which you can access from your mobile and tablet as well. Say goodbye to having to constantly save multiple versions of that 3,000 word essay or back up your computer constantly. I’m definitely not counting on my 4 year-old MacBook working forever!

Microsoft Office 2008, image by guccio@文房具社, sourced from Flickr.

And why do I prefer Office Online over Google Drive? The big reason is that I can then export and save my final product offline (assuming you already have a version of Word installed) and make final adjustments before submitting it. If you don’t have Word installed you can still download a file and send it off, and nobody would ever know!

Now, I’m told that with the latest versions of Windows and Office you already have access to Office Online, I’m not really sure, but if you don’t (I’m still on OS X Lion!), then it’s a great way to ensure that your work is secure, updated, and backups are not entirely your responsibility. Plus, it’s FREE!

Student cards

One of the biggest benefits of being a student is owning a student ID. With it, I’ve gotten discounts at places ranging from clinics to nightclubs. The latter, in particular, is very attractive; after all, with a limited income we have to ensure that we milk every discount that we can get. Having to pay half the price of a normal entrance fee to a nightclub is just an absolute bonus. I for one, bring my student ID with me everywhere I go, for you never know when it’ll come in handy!

It never hurts to ask for student discounts at random places. I don’t know where this practice came from, but I absolutely respect places that provide discounts to students. It’s a smart business move.

Being a student sometimes has its perks! Image by Per Gosche, sourced from Flickr.

Sharing economy

If you’re a student with a smartphone and don’t know what the sharing economy is, then you really should get out of the rock you’re living in. Like I said, as students we are naturally conditioned to looking for ways to save money, or to earn some extra income. The sharing economy allows us to do just that.

Apps like Uber and Airbnb are great for making lives easier. Despite all its controversies, Uber X has very cheap fares and I’ve never had a negative experience (on the other hand, I’ve had quite a few with taxis!). Plus, it has this feature that allows you to immediately split the fare with friends who uses the app too. It takes makes splitting fares so much easier. Airbnb lets you rent any extra room you may have, and with an account you can also get cheap accommodation when travelling!

Extra space? Rent it out! Image by Nicholas Wang, sourced from Flickr.

Make Compromises

Chernivtsi University, sourced from Flickr from Kyrylo Kalugin

This is probably the most obvious one that most people are aware of, but I thought I would list it just because I think it is really important.

We live in an age of sharing — everything we do, we share with the world. We want to be celebrities, or experts, or just influencers. Areas such as fashion, beauty, and food, have been particularly popular. Just look at this article of the rise of the healthy eating ‘wellness coach’ who provides advice on nutrition and healthy living. They’re young, beautiful, and are social media superstars.

But as much as we want to emulate what they do and follow their advice, sometimes it’s just not possible. That bunch of organic vegetables, for instance, would probably cost me the equivalent of two coffees. I know I can’t have it all, so I make sacrifices by choosing less ‘healthy’ foods but prepare them in a healthy manner. That way I’m also ensuring that my health isn’t compromised.

Look at those fresh, green produce! Image by I-5 Design & Manufacture

Brand names is also a big thing. I have no qualms about purchasing some ‘home brand’ items, for I know that they don’t make much of a difference. Things such as pasta, eggs, or simple things like cling wrap wouldn’t have much of a difference. But something like ice cream or peanut butter, I would prefer to pay for quality.

I don’t have to remind you that this is not an exhaustive list, merely things that I have found most helpful and have stuck by. I’m very excited to know if there are more, so do leave a comment if you have a method of saving some money and making life a little easier!

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