DEAR ABBY: I am a full-time student, male, living on my own and working part time to pay my bills and put myself through college.

It's a real problem to stay in school and pay such outrageous prices for rental property that is certainly nothing to brag about.I have two choices: I can either live in a dump, or I can work long hours in order to make enough money to live in a nice apartment and let my grades go down.

What do you say, Abby? - BARELY MAKING IT IN PERU, IND.

DEAR BARELY MAKING IT: You didn't really think I would advise you to work long hours in order to live in a nice apartment at the expense of letting your grades go down, did you?

If you are living on your own and working part time to get a college education with no outside help, you apparently have the right stuff.

Your education should be your top priority. If all you can afford now is a "dump" - then live in a dump, clean it up, and work hard to get the best grades possible. Better that way than living in a nice apartment now, letting your grades go down, and living in a dump the rest of your life.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I do not believe in having credit cards because of the serious problems they can lead to - and also because we don't think we should pay a yearly service charge for "identification" purposes. We did finally get a local department store card for check-cashing purposes only.

The problem comes in trying to pay by check at an increasing number of stores. They all insist on seeing a major credit card before they will accept a check. I realize they could apply a bad check amount to the credit card to get paid, but what about the people whose cards are already over the limit?

I guess what I hate the most is being treated like a second-class citizen by rude, insensitive clerks when you tell them you don't have a credit card. They look down their noses at you as if you are a poor risk just because you don't have $8,000 worth of plastic debts.

What option do we have besides carrying cash for all our purchases? We do not want to compromise ourselves by having a credit card just for check-cashing identification.

Isn't it a form of discrimination to refuse to accept a check from someone just because he or she doesn't have credit cards?

Any suggestions? - STILL "CHECKING" IN ILLINOIS

DEAR STILL: One option: Get a check-guarantee card from your bank. Not every business will accept it, but most should - and if a clerk refuses, ask to speak to the manager. The check-guarantee card is better protection for the merchant than the credit card.

Some credit card companies offer cards with no annual fee, so if you don't use the credit, they cost nothing.

DEAR ABBY: Over the years I've gotten many ideas from reading your column. Now I would like to give you one to pass along to your readers.

I have rheumatoid arthritis and am skeptical about leaving the house on a snowy or icy day. Last Christmas my husband bought me a cordless telephone, so now when I go down the road to the mailbox, or out to walk our dog, I take the phone with me. If I should happen to fall and get hurt, I have the phone with me to call for help.

A cordless telephone would make a wonderful gift for the elderly or infirm who don't need any more ties, socks or perfume. - ELIZABETH MEANS IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR MRS. MEANS: Thanks for a good idea. Now we're even.

"How to Be Popular" is for everyone who feels left out and wants an improved social life. It's an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person. To order, send your name and address, plus check or money order for $2.89 ($3.39 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054. (Postage is included.)