To stay afloat amid rising tuition and back-to-school costs, most students and parents could use a crash course in Saving Money 101.

The National Retail Federation identifies the biggest back-to-school trends every school year, and the No. 1 trend for 2011 is no surprise: “Spend where you need to, save where you can.” High schoolers want to save for college, and their parents are on a tight budget. College students want to learn how to avoid student loans, survive on a diet of pizza and Ramen, slice textbook prices in half and snag laptop deals.

“They have to count pennies,” says Gunhan Unal, founder and CEO of StudentRate.com, a student discount site.

But students from elementary to graduate school can make this easier by finding discounts through social media, websites, old-fashioned coupons and word of mouth. They just have to know how.

Take note as we cover five major areas where students can save money in style this school year.

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NecessitiesEntertainment and ClothingTravelSoftware and TextbooksComputers

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NecessitiesEntertainment and ClothingTravelSoftware and TextbooksComputers


Computers:

Whether shipping off to college or still in high school, most students need a computer or laptop for doing research, writing papers and keeping in touch with friends and family. This might be one of the most expensive items on the list, but student discounts on laptops are in season.

“(These) are the super-hot computer months,” says Cyrus Shepard, founder of GlobeStudentDiscount.com. “It’s laptops galore in August and September.”

Through Apple, college students with a “.edu” email address can get one desktop computer, Mac mini and notebook per year for up to $200 off, along with two discounted software titles. Some printers carry a $100 rebate. Teachers and faculty from kindergarten through college are also eligible for these computer discounts.

When buying products under the discount, through Sept. 20 Apple is offering a $100 gift card for applications, music and book downloads. And if you purchase an Apple laptop from StudentRate, you’ll get 3 percent cash back.

With all the Apple options, Dell decided to up the ante this year. Along with getting a discount laptop, Dell will throw in a free Xbox 360. And unlike Apple, Dell offers its education discount to high school students.

Printers, ink, paper and other goodies are also available at discounted prices through Dell. Several of the big products are deeply discounted for students, such as the Inspiron 15R-2nd Generation laptop, which has been cut from around $1,100 to around $740.

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Software and textbooks:

While most computers, travel and lifestyle items will be about 10 percent off retail price, software is often available for up to 80 percent off.

Websites such as Globe Student Discount, StudentRate and Journey Ed offer information about the latest deals, and will often throw in extra discounts, bundled software or cash-back incentives. But students can still get these deals in stores and at vendors’ websites. For example, Adobe’s Creative Suite 5.5 Design Premium retails for about $1,900. But on the Adobe website, students and teachers can purchase it for just $449.

Some high schools and universities require students to download software and read textbooks and class materials on e-readers such as the Kindle or iPad — and software providers are responding accordingly.

“The biggest area we’re finding students can save a lot of money on is textbooks,” says David Levy, financial aid director for Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. “There are a lot of good websites out there, and the hot thing out there is e-textbooks.”

On Amazon.com, students can rent electronic versions of textbooks for the Kindle, and the iPad’s iBooks app allows students to use the tablet as a textbook. Amazon also offers “Student Prime” for college students. It includes free two-day shipping on almost any product for six months and deals on dozens of school-related items.

For students who must bear the weight of textbooks and their costs, dozens of websites offer frugal options. Chegg.com lets students rent textbooks for a semester or less, and on Half.com and Textbooks.com, students can buy new and old textbooks for low prices.

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Travel:

While laptops are the hot purchase in the beginning of the fall, students’ interest in travel reaches a fever pitch in early summer and during early winter.

Flying home for the holidays, studying abroad in college or backpacking in Europe can be very pricey. That’s where travel websites such as STA Travel and StudentUniverse.com help out. These companies partner with airlines to bring students discounts on flights and travel packages, and offer last-minute cancellation refunds for lower fees.

Flying, however, is only part of the cost of travel. “(Students) definitely do want to travel, but when they get there they want to do it as cost-effectively as possible,” says Patrick Evans, marketing and communications manager at STA Travel.

Enter student discount cards, such as STA Travel’s International Student Identity Card, or ISIC. For $22, full-time students ages 12 to 26 can purchase discounted plane tickets and get a year’s worth of basic travel insurance and discounts in stores, hotels, train stations and museums worldwide. Some study-abroad programs require the student discount card. STA also offers a similar program to travelers younger than 25 years old as well as teachers.

“An average student who utilized the card a reasonable amount — not every day or every week, but a reasonable amount over the year — can expect to save $100 or $150” aside from taking advantage of low-priced flights, Evans says.

On StudentUniverse.com, students don’t have to purchase student discount cards to still get similar perks. However, the travel service doesn’t extend offers to high school students or those younger than high school age.

Don’t forget to take a step beyond these websites to look for discounts. Before booking a ticket, check with the airline to see if it offers student discounts. Have your student email address and identification number on hand.

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Entertainment and clothing:

Students can get the royal treatment at many restaurants, clothing stores and movie theaters. All they have to do is ask.

Hundreds of retailers will hand over discounts at the sight of a valid student ID card from a middle school, high school or college, but some “don’t advertise the discounts they offer students in fear it may devalue their brand,” says Unal. “Getting a deal can be as easy as saying ‘I heard you provide a student discount,'” and showing a student ID card.

Plenty of movie theaters and museums have student rates that slash the ticket price in half, and stores such as Macy’s, Target and Urban Outfitters provide a student discount of up to 20 percent. StudentRate and Globe Student Discount provide information on some of these retailers to get what Shepard calls the “fun discounts.”

Some retailers even come to students with deals. Similar in style to LivingSocial, university-focused group-buying websites such as CollegeBudget.com offer deals where students can pay $10 for $25 worth of textbook rentals or $15 for $30 worth of shoes.

Choose the method that works for you, and your student status will save you money.

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Necessities:

Some students think they should have all the fun and none of the responsibility. However, Shepard says, they’ll need to remember the important stuff — car insurance, car oil changes, phone service and laundry, to name a few.

Costs for cellphones can reach long distances, but sometimes students can get discounts just by asking. “Wireless is one of our most popular categories,” Unal says. “Students can save about $20 per month. It varies, but for T-Mobile and AT&T, students can get between 10 (percent) and 15 percent off. For Sprint, it’s between 15 (percent) and 23 (percent off), and Verizon customers can get about 8 (percent) to 10 percent.”

Being a teen driver is also pricey, as teens typically have higher car insurance costs due to their short driving history and high accident rate. However, with driver’s ed classes or good grades, some insurance companies will provide a 20 percent discount on policies that include single students younger than 25. AAA even offers some teens free membership with a learner’s permit.

Class is in session

Just as Adam Sandler sang about not wanting to be a fool when he went back to school in the 1995 movie “Billy Madison,” students shouldn’t be foolish and pass up the hundreds of discounts available to them for travel, entertainment and computer-related purposes. So use that student ID while you have it.

Levy suggests visiting your high school guidance counselor or your university’s activity center to find information on discounts available to you.

“Obviously, the more they save the less they’re going to have to borrow,” Levy says. “We want to keep their loan indebtedness as low as possible. So we encourage them to save as much as possible.”

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