I was thinking the other day. When we were on our journey to become debt free (aside from the 13 years left on our mortgage), we paid off our student loans, our only debt, in two years making less than half of our present income.
Now that we're onto our retirement and kids' college savings, I wonder how we managed it then, but now lack the motivation to kick things into high gear. So I dusted out the cobwebs of those aggressive, debt-busting days in my mind and remembered.
Budget & Prioritize Spending - We make room for what we want to make room for. Make a list. Today. At the top, write your take-home pay for the following month and start subtracting non-negotiables - FOOD, SHELTER, CLOTHING, & TRANSPORTATION. Then subtract everything else...Include in the top part of that list some savings...even just $25. It may be too small to seem worth it, but an extra $300 at the end of the year for Christmas or a medical bill won't leave you complaining. It DEFINITELY takes time to get used to a budget and you might fail a few times, but it gets easier. If you don't start somewhere with budgeting, even small, you are guaranteed to fail.
Do It As Soon As You Get Paid - This was huge for us when we were putting large - to us - sums toward debt monthly...and begrudgingly, I knew I had to get back to that mindset with saving recently. After the mortgage and charitable giving, we make a transfer to our savings account to save for quarterly and yearly expenses, but also to save for car purchase & repair, boosting our emergency fund, vacations, IRA contributions etc. The reward is seen immediately and is motivation to keep going.
Start With Small Amounts - Go Big or Go Home just doesn't work here. We are an all or nothing society. We can't finish it now, so we don't start. Put a regular (make it a habit) small amount into your savings account. Make it easy on yourself. Electronically transfer X amount whenever you're paying that first bill of the month. You could also hide an envelope under your mattress and save cash there (as long as you're not too tempted to touch it). I don't care if it's $1! It's more about the habit than the amount. It's much easier to increase to $2 when you're already saving $1.
Chart Your Growth - Keep track of your growth. It's like a pat on the back or a reality check. Use Excel or a legal pad with a purple pen. I don't care. But, I can tell you this; looking at our Excel document of our progress encourages us to keep going.
Categorize Your Savings - There's a lump sum in our savings account, but we keep documentation of how much money applies to each category we have in there. It really gives perspective on what needs attention and what can wait. Sometimes it will seem like EVERYTHING needs attention. That's ok. Keep going.
Checkout Check Up - When we're really focused on some financial goal, right before I check out at the store I scan the cart and ask myself some questions. "Is there anything in here that wasn't on my list?" "Is there anything in here that I really don't need, even if it was really cheap?" I often can easily shave $10-$15 off my total when I do this.
Sell Stuff - When you really look at your home - you realize how much you have that you don't need, use, or even like. Your trash is someone else's treasure. Get on Craigslist and declutter your home and and your budget.
Be Content - Honestly, this requires some soul searching. I don't know what path you will take to get there but you have to find a way to be satisfied with what you have and with what you don't have. You have to be content with spending less on gifts or buying underwear at Walmart when you're getting out of debt or working toward a goal. Suck it up, it's not the end of the world. We've been debt free for 5 years and while we are still working hard and I'm thankful for our progress and provision, we drive very used cars (though we've slowly upgraded, always paying cash), our house isn't huge, and I'm in love with hand-me-down clothes. You can't have champagne taste on a beer budget. Life is about so much more than stuff.
Expect Emergencies - Things are going to come up. You're going to dip into your savings. It happens. Expect it and move on.
Don't give up on this. I'd love to hear your progress!!