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Parents Are Desperate to Be Thrifty This Back-to-School Season

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- For 60% of U.S. families there is "no financial plan for college," according to a study from Sallie Mae, which is likely why parents are contributing less and less to paying for the kids' education: only 27% of all college costs last year, compared with 36% in 2010.

That doesn't mean parents are giving up on college for their kids -- in fact, far from it, since according to the study, 85% of U.S. parents "strongly agreed" college is a great launching pad to lifelong success for their children, the highest figure since 2006.

"In this post-recession environment, families overwhelmingly believe in the dream of college, yet they are more realistic when it comes to how they pay for it," says Jack Remondi, chef executive at Sallie Mae. "The study found that the majority of families do not have a financial plan to pay for college. We recognize that having a plan, however, increases the likelihood of success. That is the ultimate goal, for students, families, schools and us."

Sallie Mae is using the release of the report to push its Upromise program, which enables parents and college students to earn money for college or repay student loans through a rewards-based consumer shopping program.

The free program is set up so members earn 5% or more cash back for college by shopping through retail partners including Apple (AAPL), Target (TGT), Best Buy (BBY) and Bed, Bath & Beyond (BBBY). Through July 30, Upromise has earned $750 million in cash-back rewards for participating families and students.

The average annual college savings per family, about $32 per family, is not much to shout about, though.

That's why Sallie Mae has some additional money-saving tips:

Make a list. It almost sounds quaint, but before you begin shopping for back-to-school items, note which items you already have and make a list of the items you need. That saves on redundancy.

Start a college spending budget. Sallie Mae advises tracking all spending and show that spending list to your child. That way he or she is aware of spending limits.

Look for discounts. Be on the lookout for Internet sales and discount deals to curb your bill. RewardU is one source for deals.

Include college roommates. If you know who your child's roommate will be, reach out to them before hitting campus. As Sallie Mae puts it, "there is no need for two dorm refrigerators, microwaves or televisions in a tight space."

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