While I do track my spending with things like Mint.com, there are really only two saving/budgeting ideas that I actually follow these days.
The reason that I only use two principles is because it's simple. I know myself, and if it's simple then I'll be more likely to follow it. Honestly, things like clipping coupons seems like too much work to me to do on a regular basis. Don't get me wrong, I will look for the best deal on a new computer or kitchen knives, but those are one off purchases, not regular routine.
The Stranger Test
When you are thinking of purchasing something, imagine a stranger holding the item you are thinking of buying in one hand, and the cash equivalent in the other. Which one would you take? Or what if they were holding a piece of clothing you liked and $80 in the other hand? Seems like a simple enough method to me.
Recently I started a new job and found that the lunch options nearby were both terrible and expensive. Basically, I found that I would spend $9 per day on a mediocre sandwich or $14 on a lunch that I would actually enjoy. But you know what I like more? A stranger handing me $9 per day to make my own damn sandwich! And that's the story of how I started bringing lunch to work!
I also think it's very important to use a stranger in this scenario, if you imagine your shopaholic friend holding out those new sneakers they will probably try to sway you one way or another. Or if you imagine a tree or an alien offering you those things you'll probably be like "oh shit, a talking tree. I have to get a video of this on my phone.".... Well, I guess you could just pretend each option is sitting on a chair, but the "chair test" doesn't sound as good...
I was saving a good portion of my income for a long time but I didn't really buckle down on it until I read this line over at Financial Samurai:
"If you don't find it painful saving money, you're not saving enough."
That was when I really thought about saving more. I thought that if I was saving 20% or 30% of my income then I was doing great, but if it wasn't a struggle then why wasn't I saving more? Where was that extra money going? I didn't have a really good answer for it so I decided to crank up my savings to the point where if I wanted to buy something out of the normal, I really had to give it some thought.
The One Strategy That Explains Both (I just came up with this while writing)
Now that I write this out, both of them fall under mindfulness. Mindfulness is a concept of focusing your attention and awareness to whatever is taking place. If I really think about each spending decision it helps me realize the value of each option. When I can use mindfulness to reduce my spending I can also increase my saving with those same actions.
I guess I really only use one principle for both saving and budgeting: Mindfulness!
It's interesting for me to see the rabbit holes of my own mind by simply writing things down. This is exactly one of the reasons why I write this blog.