Get your ass to the library

    On the first day of class, about eight minutes in, you’ll hear your professor say, “So tell us your name and a little about yourself. What year you’re in, any interests, why you’re here. Not in an existential sense, but why you’re here in this room on this campus instead of in some other room on some other campus. We’ll go around the room, starting – here.”

    From there, rather than drift through a daydream about all the learning you’re about to do and all the effort you’ll put into it, think of something practical instead. There’s almost certainly one skill you’ve failed to learn fully: cheapness.

    Cheapness is a skill, and like all skills, if you don’t use it, it’s gone (and so is your money). Those books you bought for class? With a little legwork and a little cunning, you could have gotten most of those for free, especially if you’re an English major. Your friend the Oregon taxpayer already bought most of them for you. They’re waiting at the Branford P. Millar and Multnomah County libraries.

    Next term, a week or so before classes start, go to the PSU Bookstore. Locate, but do not buy, the books you need. Write down the authors and titles. If the books are older and have had different editions, write down the edition. If the books have been translated, write down the translator. Again, do not buy the books.

    Instead, walk two blocks to the Millar Library and look those books up by title. If they’re available as an electronic resource, great. Use your 1,000 free pages to print the books out. If you print using eight- or nine-point Arial font, with 0.3 margins and two or three columns, you’ll waste as little paper as possible, and each line will run 12 words across, just as it does in the book.

    If hard copies of your books are available, run to them. No matter how long you’ve waited, when you finally go to collect your books, do so with a sense of urgency. There is little worse on this earth than thinking you’ve outwitted your peers, only to find an empty space where your book should have been, and that a student of superior frugality has outwitted you. Should this occur, walk back to the computer and put those books on hold, through either the PSU library alone or the library website’s "Summit" option, which requests the books from the entire Oregon University System.

    When the books arrive, if you don’t need them immediately, wait as long as you can, usually about a week, before you check them out. This will maximize your initial check-out period – you’ll have them for at least four weeks instead of only three.

    Whatever you don’t find at PSU will usually be at the public library. After an hour in the Millar, walk or bike over to the Central Library. Look the books up. If they’re not available, put them on hold. If they’re available, check them out. From there, renew, renew, renew. With the Multnomah County Library system, you can renew books 50 times, so go to, select your schoolbooks, and renew them daily.

    With some practice this year you should be able to spend nothing on schoolbooks. Never buy what can be had for free. It could save you $200-$500 per term.