This is the time of year that stores roll out their "back to school" sales on everything from pencils and pens to jeans and sneakers. My oldest son is no longer in school, and my younger son is homeschooled, but that doesn't mean my family doesn't take advantage of back-to-school deals.

We use this time of year to stock up on clothing items in our wardrobe. It's not just kids' clothing that is on sale this time of year. You can find deals at practically any store, for almost any clothing item. For other deals, you have to look a little harder. The hidden sales I have found recently have been at the local thrift stores.

That's right, thrift stores have sales, too. Not to be outdone by the regular retailers, many of them have "back-to-school" sales, mainly to clear out their inventory and make room for fall fashions. Last weekend, my family descended on one of our favorite thrift stores and restocked on casual clothes.

The sale was "98 cents for anything in the store". Less than a dollar per item for clothing...count me in! My son got three pairs of shorts and 3 t-shirts. I got two Hawaiian shirts and a pair of shorts. My wife bought a few clothing items and three handbags. Two of them were designer handbags. Total price? A grand total of $14! I'm lucky if I can find one shirt for that price at the retail stores.

Don't forget, summer is winding down, and many people are throwing that "one last garage sale" while they still can. Great deals can be had, and they don't have to come from the retailers!

As a parent, I know that back-to-school time signals two things: an empty house during the day and an empty wallet after buying school supplies. Factor in a college student in the household and the expenses climb even more. The Today Show recently featured some back-to-school savings, which you can catch in the video below. One of my own recommended tips: get those pencils, pens and notebooks at the dollar store. Also, office supply stores usually have some great discounts on those items as well. If you have a college student and they are going to school close to home, they may want to consider living with mom and dad. It's not as cool as living on campus, but it will save a ton of cash.

It has been awhile, but Savvy Frugality is participating in this week's Festival of Frugality, hosted by It's Frugal Being Green. Savvy Frugality's post The Magic of Price-Matching was among this week's posts in the festival.

Among the other posts I liked:

Back-to-School Deals Aren't Just for Students. That's right, I use those sales to stock up on pens and other home office supplies.

Grocery Hacks: How to Save Money on Groceries. Common sense stuff here, but still good advice.

What's Worth the Money, and What's Not. Sometimes it doesn't pay to go frugal.

There is more great reading at the Festival of Frugality, so be sure to check it out!

If you've been thinking about doing some traveling before the summer officially grinds to an end, you might want to check out JetBlue's "All You Can Fly for $599" deal. For the price of $599, you can fly to any of JetBlue's destinations an unlimited number of times.

There are some caveats, of course, but it's still a really good deal. The sale ends August 21st, and each flight must be booked at least three days before departure. If you are a no-show for your flight, there is a $100 penalty, and you can't fly anywhere else on JetBlue until the fee is paid.

I recently purchased airfare for me and my family, and paid about $800 roundtrip for the three of us. That's about $267 per person. If we were taking similar flights with JetBlue, the $599 tickets would pay for themselves after about two flights. Go jet-setting two or three weekends in a row, and not only has your ticket more than paid for itself, but you have also done a decent amount of travel for the year.

Many times, when someone is having a difficult time making ends meet, there are one of two causes. They are either spending more than they make (living beyond their means), they earn too little to support their lifestyle, or both. This can usually be fixed with a little savvy frugality...coming up with a sensible spending plan to ensure that one isn't living beyond their means. However, sometimes...frugality just doesn't cut it.

Some people are on a fixed income. They have no means of making additional income, and they have already cut their spending to the bone. Some retirees may fall into this category, as well as disabled people living on Social Security. The hammering suffered by 401k accounts and the stock market certainly hasn't helped. When frugality isn't enough, what does one do then?

Other cultures have actually found a way to deal with situations like this. Extended families share the same home. The elderly move in with their kids. The parents cared for the kids when they were children, now it is time for the parents to be taken care of. Most Americans don't do this. They opt for their own space.

A friend of mine has recently encountered a situation like this. They are widowed, on a fixed income, and have no prospects of earning more money. Their home needs repairs, the kids are going back to school soon, and there is "too much month at the end of the money." The stress levels are high.

What to do when frugality isn't enough? Sometimes...people need to ask for help. If friends and family are unable to lend a helping hand, or if the needs extend beyond a loan of a few dollars and expenses like food and housing become unmanageable, it may be time to look at some of the community resources available, to see if there are "safety nets" that you may not be aware of.

These may include:

1. Food banks or community gardens.
If getting enough food is an issue, there are organizations that can help. Food can be obtained from food banks, church pantries and other faith-based organizations, community gardens (where you can trade work in the garden for the food it produces) and programs like Angel Food Ministries. If you have low income, the food stamp program may be an option. The program doesn't really use "stamps" anymore. Now they use something that looks like a debit card.

2. Housing assistance. If you are having a problem paying the mortgage, consider refinancing, if possible. Otherwise, there are housing programs available at the local, state and federal level. Some of these offer rental assistance, while others offer low-cost, low-interest housing for sale.

3. Clothing. Many organizations offer free backpacks, school supplies and back-to-school clothing for kids. Usually, the family must meet certain income requirements and register with an organization like the Salvation Army. This is still yard sale season, so don't overlook the bargains that can be found there, as well as the new and used clothing that can be purchased at Goodwill.

If times really are tough, and there are no prospects for income of any kind, there are programs that can help. That is why they were established in the first place. Many people don't seek help due to one thing: pride. If it's a choice between my pride and feeding my kids, I will choose my kids every time. Start at Fill out the questionnaire available on the site. When you finish filling it out, it will list the specific programs for which you may be qualified, and how to apply for them.

Other resources:

Angel Food Ministries

Community Gardens

SHARE Food Network

Second Harvest

Federally-funded Health Centers

Housing assistance

Salvation Army


Dress for Success

Legal Aid

Nobody likes to be in a position where they must ask others for help, but help is available if you do need it.

One of the questions I get from readers of Savvy Frugality from time to time is "sure, those tips LOOK good on paper, but you don't really do all of that frugal stuff, do you?" Well, sure I do. I wouldn't put a tip on Savvy Frugality that my family and I don't follow ourselves at home.

One of the things I don't consider Savvy Frugality to be is a financial advice blog. I don't know the first thing about giving somebody financial advice. I am certainly no expert. I spent several years making all the wrong money moves. If anything, Savvy Frugality is about giving readers advice about what NOT to do, because I did some really stupid things with my money over the years.

It all came to a head about six years ago. My family and I literally didn't have a place to call home, we had no savings, and we had a pile of bills that needed to be paid. I knew that we had to do something, and we had to do it fast, or we were headed for disaster.

You think I would have learned my lesson several years ago, when I was about 25 years old. My son needed multiple surgeries on his ears, and we had no health insurance. As a result, we were forced to file for bankruptcy. While that was bad news, the bright side to that story SHOULD have been that we had a clean slate from which to start. We could start over and start doing all the right things. But, we lapsed back into our same old bad financial habits.

So, yes...I do actually follow the tips I pass along on Savvy Frugality. I couldn't go back to handling my money the way I once did. That was disaster. Remember, frugality isn't about denying yourself of a good life. It's about making your life better, getting your financial house in order, and sleeping well at night. It's about living within your means, whether you earn $10,000 a year or $10 million dollars a year. Nobody can spend more money than they earn and live a prosperous and peaceful life.

There are many personal financial blogs out there, and I read many of them. There are a lot of good ones, and I mention them here often. There are also some that are written from the viewpoint of somebody who I suspect might be talking the frugal talk...but are they walking the frugal walk? Do they have a "rock bottom" story? You know, that moment of clarity when they realized there had to be a better way to live?

You've got to walk the walk.

I have noticed a disturbing trend with my checking account lately, something that I literally haven't experienced for years: overdraft fees. About ten years ago, these unnecessary fees were a regular part of my existence, because I didn't really keep track of how much money I was depositing, and how much I was spending.

Fast forward ten years: I am almost obsessive-compulsive about checking my bank balance, and I know how much is being spent in my household, down to the penny. So, what gives? Why on Earth is an OCD frugal guy like me getting hit with bank overdraft fees, to the tune of about $200 over the last couple of months? The answer lies within my bank itself.

The banks in my area have not been immune from the hard economic times afflicting the rest of the country. Housing starts are down about 30 percent around here, so there aren't nearly as many home loans being processed by the bank. People are buying fewer new cars, as evidenced by the desperate tone of the TV commercials being aired by the local car dealers. The bank has to get its money someplace, and they have turned to bank overdraft fees.

My paycheck is on direct deposit which means I only receive a check stub every payday. The money goes directly into my checking account. What I have noticed lately is this: the bank may receive checks (debits) roughly around the same time as my deposits. In some cases, they are showing up on the exact same day, but at other times the debits are actually coming in to the bank AFTER my deposit, but they are being subtracted BEFORE my deposit is credited. Just a year or two ago, this was NEVER the case. If deposits and debits appeared on my account on the same day, the deposit was always credited first, and then the debits were deducted from that amount.

The result of this change in banking practice is bank overdraft fees. When I wrote the checks or used my debit card, the money was in the account, but the bank is hoarding these debits until the checking account balance is low enough that when they process them, it will result in an overdraft fee...about $28 per transaction. Those fees add up quickly.

I challenged the teller at my local bank branch about these fees. "What are you people doing?" I asked, "Holding on to my deposits and running my debits until you get $28 out of me?" The teller just gave me a knowing nod and said he would eliminate the overdrafts from my account, saying he was "sorry" and that "many other people have complained about the same thing."

So, my bank is intentionally trying to overdraft my checking account. I have been a customer of this particular bank for about six years, but as soon as I locate a suitable alternative (most likely my local credit union, where I already have a savings account), I'll be giving my bank the boot. It's a sad commentary on the bank, really. They are going to lose a loyal customer (I got my car loan through them, and always pay on time) over $28 overdraft fees.

My question for them (and other banks participating in this despicable practice) is this: is it really worth it?

You may not have noticed the fine print at the bottom of the screen during the latest Walmart TV commercials. If you have, you know that it states something along the lines that Walmart will match the price of similar items available at competing stores.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you are shopping at one of the Super Walmart locations (the ones with the grocery stores inside) and you know that a food items is cheaper at another local grocery store, Walmart will match that price.

There are no locally-owned grocery stores in the town where I live. They are all part of a national grocery chain, so there is a lot of competition between the food stores in our area. As a result, food prices are already a bit lower where I live than in other parts of the country.

This past weekend, my wife and I combed through the local grocery store circulars, made note of the prices of the items we needed to buy, and headed for Walmart. We hit the meat isle first. My wife had a spreadsheet of how much various cuts of beef, chicken and pork sold for per-pound at other grocery stores in the area. She grabbed the similar cuts at Walmart (which happened to be more expensive). The real magic happened at the check-out counter.

The clerk matched the prices of all of the meats, produce and other grocery items to the prices at the other area grocery stores. We probably saved about $50 total on our grocery bill, just through price-matching alone.

Why is this a big deal? It saved us the time, trouble, effort and gas which would have been required to drive to three other grocery stores to get the same prices. We still visited a couple of other stores which had the items Walmart didn't offer, or to take advantage of double-coupons. All told, we got about $400 worth of groceries for $300 through price-matching, shopping around, and double-coupons. Who couldn't use an extra $100 in their pocket these days?

It required some pre-planning on our part, but an hour's worth of pre-planning saved us about $100 and resulted in more food on the table at home. Get inventive, take advantage of price-matching, and you will be amazed at how much you can save!

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