Here's a quarter: buy some RAM.
Just set your default runlevel to "3" (instead of "5") and - viola! - you log in to mode (no GUI overhead).
And of course if you want *really* small/lean/mean, there's always:
... and, works quite well even in small RAM/small HD/slow CPU environments ...
* Puppy Linux
'Hope that helps .. PSM
Puppy Linux is the VM I fire up most frequently on my Vista laptop when I need to run some kind of Linux, but I need to boot to Windows.