How to Be Cheap: College Edition

Another way to go to college for free is to use the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO or PSO). Under this program the state pays for high school students to take college courses for free. And by free, I mean completely free. You don’t even have to pay for your own books (you get a full refund when you return them to the bookstore at the end of the semester).

Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. You just have to be a junior or senior, and you have to apply by a deadline. GPA and other requirements vary by university, but your high school guidance counselor will have information about PSO. Most high schools allow you to go part-time or full-time. So you can split your time between high school and college classes, or you can take all college courses and never even go to high school. Many of your college classes will also count toward your high school graduation requirements. Again, you just have to check with your school.

This program is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s great that it’s so flexible. One of my friends did PSO at a private university part-time her junior year and full-time her senior year. She entered her freshman year of college at that university with enough college credits for sophomore status. One of my sisters took just one PSO class—college algebra. She took it at a branch location of a state university, and was happy to have it out of the way before she started college.

The branch location is a good option if a big campus seems intimidating, too much of a hassle, or too expensive for commuting while in high school. If your heart’s set on going to private university, PSO could make it more affordable if you can graduate early or take less classes per semester. And it’s a good way to try out different courses and figure out what you want to major in if you’re not sure. Not paying for the class takes some pressure off in case you “don’t need it” for your major.

But if you’re already in college and paying for it, how can you get the most for your money?

I mentioned this before, but DO NOT pay full bookstore price for your textbooks unless you have to. Here are your other options.

1. Before the semester starts, get the required book lists for your classes from the bookstore. Many universities have these lists available on the bookstore web site. You can also email the professor for information about the required books.

2. Check the library. Using the on-line catalog, see if the books are at your library. If only older editions are available, reserve them in case you can’t find anything better. Often, older editions are still usable. Math and science books are most likely to be the exception, especially if the problems have changed. You don’t want to answer the wrong
questions for homework.

If your library doesn’t have it, try OhioLink. Your university library web site should have a button to search Ohio Link. It’s a system between all the universities in Ohio that gives any student access to the catalog and books of any library. So you will be able to see all the schools that have your books, and you can request for them to be sent to your university library. It’s an amazingly convenient system, because all you have to do it show up at the circulation desk after you get an email notice saying the book is waiting there for you. You don’t even have to go find it in the library.

You can now renew an OhioLink book for an entire semester. The only problem you might run into is if someone else requests the book while you have it. Then you can’t keep renewing it. In that case you can try to request another copy, return it late and eat the late fees (which are higher than for other library books, or copy the pages you need before returning it. Sure, it’s a bit of a hassle, but it’s worth saving $500 a semester on books!

The biggest danger with OhioLink is if you lose a book. They charge like crazy even for a paperback novel. The fee for all lost books is $125! I was once accused of not returning an OhioLink book (which I most definitely did—I saw the employee take it out of the drop box which I thought was weird) and faced this $125 penalty. But I convinced the dean of the library that it was a mistake and she let me off. I wouldn’t count on getting that type of grace, though, especially if you really do lose the book. So keep close tabs on OhioLink books.

Social science and humanities books are more likely to be accessible this way. But you can always try the science library for math and science textbooks.

And here’s a secret: you can underline and highlight in library books. I did it all through college.

3. If the library doesn’t have what you want, try They have tons of used textbooks, with the ISBNs so you can be sure you’re getting what you want. Shipping is $4 per book, but if you’re saving 50% or so, it’s certainly worth it. Again, consider buying an older edition if that’s all you can find. You can always run it by your professor, but make sure they have good reasons if they really think you should buy the new one.

4. If doesn’t deliver, see if Ebay, Amazon, Abebooks, or Alibris (all .coms) have better deals than the book store. It’ll only take you five minutes to search these sites, and you could save hundreds of dollars. They have new and used books, and shipping again runs around $4 per book (free on Amazon if you buy $25 worth of new books).
What if you order a book but it doesn’t come in before classes start? This gets a little complicated, but again, the savings were worth it. I would buy the book at the campus bookstore and check the return policy. I’d use it till my book arrived in the mail, or until the last day I could return it for full credit (usually a week or two).

5. Check off-campus bookstores. They’re not owned and operated by the university, so they often have better deals. Students on your campus may know which store is cheapest, so ask around. You can always call and check the price of a book if you don’t want to spend time going there. Buy used if you can, and find out about their buyback policies.

6. If all else fails, buy used at the campus bookstore and sell it back at the end of the semester unless you really think you’ll need it. Books closely related to your major are often worth keeping, especially if they contain some reference material you’ll need. Another option is to sell it on See what it’s going for and if you could get substantially more than the bookstore is paying. I never bothered with this, but then again, I never bought many books. They also run coupons sometimes so keep your eyes open for those.

Remember that the bookstore often won’t buy back those “old editions” that won’t be used next semester, so don’t be surprised when you can’t sell back your $100 biology book. Oh, well, that’s just college for you.

How to Be Cheap: College Edition

Here’s to all the “poor college students” out there.

I say “poor” because the American definition of poverty is so different from the rest of the world. There are people who are seriously impoverished in America, but even our ghettos are a place of great wealth compared to the slums of India. (Just see the film Slumdog Millionaire, with kids living in the city dump).

I’m not trying to make you poor college students feel guilty, but to point out that you have so much to be grateful for. Are you still covered by your parents’ health insurance? They are saving you $200-300 a month! Do they let you eat their food when you go home? Thank them! Do they ever give you a little cash or help out with an unexpected bill? Don’t count on this, but be very grateful if it happens.

Realize that your run-down college apartment that you share with too many people would look like a mansion to millions in this world. And your beater car is a luxury so many people wouldn’t even dream of owning. Just the opportunity to go to college is a an amazing advantage that you should be so thankful for. Consider yourself privileged. And go to class.

So now that you’re not so “poor” anymore, here’s how to make the most of the money you have.

The BEST way to save money in college is to get scholarships! This advice is important for both high school and college students. You can earn scholarships before and after you start college. In high school good grades are important and activities can be helpful, but the real clincher for many colleges is your standardized test scores. So take that ACT, SAT, and PSAT, and then take them again. Practice really helps, so start your junior year (earlier for the PSAT). The tests cost from $30-50 to take, but compared to the $50,000 or more you could earn, it’s a worthwhile investment.

So put some time into as well. When you register for the tests you should get a practice test booklet. Take the practice. Time yourself, and then score it. Determine your strengths and weaknesses, and then practice those some more. Get off Facebook for a minute and find on-online practice tools. Learn how to take the tests—how much time you have, whether you get points off for wrong answers, and what types of questions are on the test. What formulas are provided, and what will you have to know? Get a list of “SAT words” (I bet your English teacher has a list) make flashcards, and study them.

Scholarships are free money1

I earned $80,000 in one day of high school. It was the day I took the PSAT. I don’t say this to brag, but to communicate that it is worth studying and preparing for a standardized test if there’s even an outside chance that you could go to college for free, half price, or anything less than the astronomical amount college now costs. So maybe I actually spent a week earning that money, but don’t you think it was worth it?

If academics aren’t your strongest suit, look into other scholarships. There are many Internet databases with applications. Write some essays, fill out some forms, and get some letters of recommendation. It’s a hassle, but paying off $50,000 worth of college loans will be a much bigger pain in the butt down the road. Ask your guidance counselor for information and take advantage of every opportunity, including local scholarships. Even $500 can help you buy books. Check out,,, and your high school guidance office.

I am not speaking from experience, but sports scholarships seems like a rip-off to me. You have to spend all hours practicing, traveling and competing. I don’t know how you could do that, study, and have a social life. Perhaps your whole social life revolves around the team. If your life is that sport, it would work for you. But if you don’t want that, I wouldn’t recommend pursuing sports scholarships. Music or art scholarships also require a ton of time, but if it’s related to your major then it would be worthwhile.

Here’s an obvious but often-ignored piece of advice: go to the school that offers the best financial aid package (within the region you want to go to school). The best package isn’t necessarily the highest dollar amount for scholarships or loans. Private schools offer big bucks in aid, but they charge even bigger bucks for tuition. But sometimes the more expensive school is the better deal. So do the math and figure out how much you’ll pay in the end, not just how much they’re offering you.

Of course, there are factors more important than money in choosing a school. If you want to live in Kent (perhaps for a ministry house), and Miami offers you the best package, it isn’t worth it. But if you want to live in Kent and Akron offers you a better package, the twenty minute commute is worth it to save thousands.

Most scholarships must be renewed every year. So never miss the renewal application deadline! A simple mistake like this will cost you thousands of dollars. Each year you should also investigate if you are eligible for new scholarships. This is especially important after your first and second semesters of college, when you may prove with your grades that you are worth some dough.

Always fill out your FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You may qualify for federal grants, which is free money that you never have to pay back. And then you can also get federal loans which have lower interest rates. You don’t have to pay them back till after you graduate (or quit school, but don’t do that), and they have deferral options that other loans don’t. So if you’re going to need loans, these are the ones to get. Go to

Another good option is a community college. These aren’t just for those without top grades or people pursuing two-year degrees. You can get your general education requirements out of the way for half the cost or less. If you want to be on a particular campus during the school year, consider taking a couple summer classes at Tri-C or Kent Stark. Again, you should determine whether the commute times are worth the money you’ll save. They very well may be.

Going to class isn't so bad.

The next best way to save money in college is to not flunk out! Don’t pay $5,000 a semester just to blow off class and party too much. If you just want to party, don’t waste that kind of money on tuition. College is a good investment, but only if you’re getting a useful degree. So go to class, pay attention, take notes, do the work, and study for tests. It’s not that complicated. If you need extra help, ask for it. You’re paying big bucks for every class session—around $25 for many state schools in Ohio, and much more if you’re at a private school. So waste not your tuition dollars, and want not a return on your investment (a degree).

If you have questions about standardized test scores, scholarships, grants, or other related topics, please post them in the comments.

Up next, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of everyday money-saving tips for college students.

Living Water: Are you Thirsty?

Are you thirsty? Do you feel the desperate need for the Holy Spirit in your life and ministry? Do you want to learn how to lean on Him more?

“’If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’” –John 7:38

Brother Yun told the story of his persecution as a church planter and evangelist in China in The Heavenly Man. He suffered brutal beatings, electrocution, malnourishment, and repeated imprisonments for the gospel, and he considered it all joy to join in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.

His new book Living Water is collected from his teachings, many of them given to Western churches. Some of the principles may seem basic to Western Christians with theological knowledge, but his challenging calls to obey the Bible’s teachings are anything but boring.

Brother Yun is the only Christian I know of today who is writing in a radical way about the necessity of persecution for Christians. Listen to these quotes and consider how they apply to your walk with the Lord, our fellowship as a whole.

“Do you want to follow God and do something great for His kingdom? If so, then good. But first you must realize that the pathway to bearing fruit for the Lord is strewn with much opposition, slander, criticism, false accusation, and pain. People will misunderstand you and doubt your motives, and Satan will throw many roadblocks in your path in a bid to thwart your progress. This has been my experience over the years, and it has been the experience of every person I have known who has been used by God, from the apostles to the present day.”

“The true gospel, when it is preached with power, always results in either revival or riot. Just read Paul’s experiences in the book of Acts.”

“Did you ever consider that Jesus sent His own followers on suicide missions? He knew His disciples would be killed as they attempted to take the gospel throughout the world.”

“We need to get our minds off man-made temples, churches and buildings and realize that God no longer dwells in structures made by human hands.”

“When I’m in the West, I see all the mighty church buildings and all the expensive equipment, plush carpets and state-of-the-art sound systems. I can assure the Western church with absolute certainty that you don’t need any more church buildings. Church buildings will never bring the revival you seek. The pursuit of more possession will also fail to bring revival.” Instead he says we need teachings that contain the “sharp truths” of Scripture, and obedience to those truths.

“In China we always teach five things that all disciples need to be ready to do at any time. We need to be ready to pray, regardless of circumstances. We must always be ready to share the gospel and always ready to suffer for the name of Jesus. We also teach every disciple in China that they must be ready to die for Jesus Christ, and finally they should be ready to escape for the gospel if the opportunity presents itself, for Jesus said, ‘When you are persecute in one place, flee to another’ (Matthew 10:23). There is great power when we suffer for the gospel.”

“I have found over the years that many of the most fruitful times of ministry for the Lord have come at the same time as great opposition and persecution. There seems to be direct correlation between effective work for God and intense opposition. We can grow to such a place in Christ where we laugh and rejoice when people slander us, because we know we are not of this world, and our security is in heaven. The more we are persecuted for His sake, the more reward we will receive in heaven.”

“China is not being transformed for Jesus because we sit around thinking and talking about God’s work. No! We invest all our energy, time, and resources in reaching the lost. The church prays hard and works hard for the Lord. Many thousands of Christians have willingly endured brutal treatment and imprisonment in order to see the vision of a redeemed China become a reality.”

“Have you ever felt you would die unless you shared the goodness of Jesus Christ with others? If not, it is time to kneel down and ask God to give you a fresh revelation of the joy and presence of the Lord.”
I still have a few chapters left to read so more quotations may be forthcoming. I do recommend the book for if you are willing to look past the “basic teachings” and question whether you are really following them. In other words, be forewarned: contains highly convicting material.

How to Be Cheap: Spring Cleaning

It’s March now and spring is (hopefully) just around the corner. As the snow melts and the temperature rise past freezing, spring cleaning may be on people’s minds. But no one really likes cleaning, so why spend big bucks on it? Here’s how to clean on the cheap:

Doesn't cleaning look fun?

1. Buy choose-a-size towels (I like the ones at Aldi) but use them sparingly. Opt for sponges and rags whenever you can. But if you’re cleaning something particularly nasty, or a window or mirror, or wiping your hand after handling raw meat, then use as few towels as possible. It kills me to see people rip off three full-size squares just to dry their hands after rinsing them. If you consider paper towels a luxury item and try to make them last as long as possible, you will save money and paper.

I don’t recommend buying the cheapest paper towels possible because they aren’t as absorbent and you will end up using more to do the same job.

The same goes for toilet paper. This isn’t really a cleaning tip, but I think buying the cheap 4-pack of generic toilet paper is a rip-off because it doesn’t last. Same goes for the Sam’s Club box of POM. Instead I buy the Scott 12-pack of regular toilet paper. I don’t know such a long-lasting off-brand, so the name brand is worth it here. Don’t spring for the extra-soft variety or any other gimmicks. This is your butt we’re talking about. It really doesn’t matter what you wipe it with. You should just be grateful that the days the Sears-Roebuck catalog pages are over. I’ve converted die-hard soft-toilet paper fans to Scott, and they agree that while it isn’t cushy-soft, it isn’t rough either. And for those who like the feeling of rolling off a lot of sheets, you can do that with Scott and it won’t be gone by the next time you have to go.

Aren't you glad you don't have to wipe with this?

2. Keep your cleaning products basic. You don’t need a million different bottles for every type of surface in your home. I like to have glass cleaner, cleaner with bleach, Comet, wood cleaner, and some mold/mildew spray. The best place to buy these is the dollar store, where they are usually $1/bottle. For dish soap, generic doesn’t last nearly as long so I usually buy a large container of Dawn.

3. As I’ve discovered from recent research, I’m probably over-doing it even with those supplies. So here’s the real poor man’s way to clean:

You really don't need all this!

Baking soda (get a big box)
Bottle of bleach
White vinegar (distilled is better)
Liquid dishwashing soap
Tea tree oil (look at a pharmacy)
Spray bottles (save old ones from cleaning products and rinse them out)
Some rags and sponges

Here are the “recipes” for cleaning products made from these supplies:

Soft Scrub: Mix 1/8 of baking soda with just enough liquid detergent to make it look like frosting.. Cover a sponge with the mixture and use it to wash surfaces, especially bathtubs and tile. It also works as an oven cleaner, but first add a little bit of water. Then rub a layer of the mixture all over the inside of the oven. Let it sit overnight before scrubbing it off.

Windex: In one of the spray bottles, mix half a teaspoon of the liquid soap, three tablespoons of vinegar, and two cups of water. Shake it up and use it as you would Windex.

Pledge: Mix half a teaspoon of the tea tree oil and a quarter of a cup of vinegar together; polish furniture.

Glade: Regularly spray stinky spots (like the sink, garbage disposal, and trash can) with a mist of vinegar at night.

Tilex: Mix two teaspoons of tea tree oil and two cups of water in a spray bottle, shake it up, and spray it mold or mildew spots. Don’t rinse it off. It will smell strongly at first, but the smell will dissipate, as will the mold and mildew.

Spray Cleaner: Put ¼ to ½ cup bleach in a spray bottle and fill the rest with warm water. Shake and use as a general spray cleaner.

With the exception of the bleach, everything is non-toxic, which is a perk for those with small children.
Recipes from

4. For laundry, I use Astra from Aldi’s, which is $2 for 32 loads. The big boxes of powdered laundry detergent are also a good deal, but make more sense for my small family. I only use half a dryer sheet for each load I dry, which of course makes the box last twice as long. Again, purchase these at Aldi or a dollar store. My mom always did this and the clothes get just as a softened as if you use a whole sheet. If you’re at the laundry mat and drying several loads then use the whole sheet.

Get that Italian-apartment feel with a clothesline!

Now that I live in a house I’m hoping to get a clotheslines set up when it gets warmer. If you have kids, hanging clothes is a great task for them. I started pretty young, some time in elementary school. Kids like to be outside and it’s good for them to do something useful. But does Stow have any rules about no clotheslines?

Happy spring cleaning!