To get the most out of your computer without making it your life's work, consider joining a computer users group. Generally, the larger the group, the more services it offers. These may include:

* Meetings with prominent software designers to answer questions

* A hot line for trouble-shooting software programs

* Discounts on hardware and software purchases

* Classes for both the novice and power user

* A library of software, hardware, and books

* A newsletter giving the lowdown on the newest programs.

Computer-store employees usually know how to get in touch with local groups, and newspapers often list users group meetings in their calendar sections. Membership rates in these nonprofit organizations vary, but $35 is typical.

Groups with a national following include The Boston Computer Society, (617) 367-8080; the Capital PC User Group, in Rockville, Md., (301) 762-6775; and BMUG Inc. (Berkeley Macintosh Users' Group), (415) 549-2684.