Microsoft Office can be expensive: The stand-alone versions of the software, which are becoming increasingly rare as Microsoft grows Office 365, start around $150 and only go up from there. Subscriptions to Office apps start at $7 per month or $70 per year, and quickly increase for professional versions of the software. The good news is that future versions of the software will probably be the same price. The bad news is that that can be costly for consumers.
Either way, it’s a lot to spend on basic productivity tools, but there is some good news. If you’re not a power user and don’t need all the latest, premium features, you can save a lot of money on Microsoft Office. Here’s how.
1. Use the free web and mobile apps
Microsoft has been gradually expanding the number of apps you can use online for free, and now offers an impressive suite that can easily merge with downloaded apps if necessary, and has plenty of functionality for the average project.
It’s also really easy to sign up. Go to this web page, pick the app that you want (scroll down for all options), and log into your Microsoft account to get started. If you don’t have a Microsoft account, signing up is easy — plus, since you need Office Online, it’s a good idea to create one anyway. This allows you to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Calendar, and other traditional Microsoft apps. It also gives you access to more niche apps, like Sway, an interactive report/presentation app, People, which is an advanced, Skype-friendly contact list, and Docs.com, for uploading and sharing documents.
So, if this is all here and available for free, why does the rest of this article exist? Because while these apps are useful, they’re also limited to only work for very basic functions. They don’t offer the full features that Office 365 provides and, of course, you need an online connection to use them. It’ll work for simple tasks, like putting together a simple document — but it won’t work for more complicated tasks.
2. Get Office through your school
If you are part of an education organization (student, faculty or staff), take time to enter your school email address on this site and see if you can get a version of Office 365 for free. Microsoft extends this to all students, but your school needs to be signed up first or just get very lucky.
If your school isn’t part of the program, an administrator can sign you up easily. The benefits are basically the same as the trial version of the software, with the addition of a separate Class Notebook for class management, unlimited online meetings, and intranet customization options.
3. Try a free 30-day trial of Office 365
Ahh, the free trial lives on. If you want to experience Office 365 for free, you can — for a full month. Just head to the free trial page and sign up. The trial allows you to download Office 365 on up to five PCs or Macs, and allows you to use the Office mobile apps on up to five tablets and five phones. Plus, you get 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage for each user to experiment with. The trial includes the Office 2016 versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and other apps.
The downside is that you only get a month of service, which obviously isn’t beneficial if you need long-term use. Another caveat is that Microsoft requires your financial account information before the download and will start automatically charging you after the month is up, which can make disentangling yourself from Office 365 a little difficult (which is the point). It’s a good way to try out the full version of Office 365 to see if it offers enough to be worth the price tag but be ready to cancel if you don’t want to be charged.
Side note: Some product offers can be a little tricky, like the “Try Office 365 Personal for free” hook on the Microsoft Store. Be warned that this is still referring to the one month trial version, even if it doesn’t come right out and say so. In addition, don’t try those “free product key” websites, which tend to be pretty sketchy and rarely deliver.
4. Sign up for an evaluation (30 to 60 days)
Over at its TechNet Evaluation Center, Microsoft also runs an evaluation program that allows you to test out certain Office apps for a period of time. This includes Project Professional 2016 (60 days), Visio Professional 2016 (60 days), and Office 365 ProPlus (30 days). It’s basically another way to get a free trial, but with more specific and full-featured software.
However, remember that it is an evaluation period, so the service will stop after the set period of time. Also, Microsoft may use this service to help work out the kinks in newer apps, so don’t expect everything to be perfect the first time around.
Don’t forget that you can use free Microsoft Office alternatives
If you need Office-like apps and need them fast, there are a lot of free versions and alternatives out there. These apps tend to have interfaces very similar to Office apps, and their files can often be transferred over to the Office suite with little to no hassle.
That makes these solutions great in a pinch — or just when you need to save some money.