My mantra is “if you can’t save, you can’t invest and if you can’t invest, you can’t build a secure future.” Lots of people I meet with either aren’t saving or aren’t saving enough and it’s usually because they don’t see how they can. At the same time, I speak with many who are amazing savers and I often wish I could have the two groups talk to each other. Short of that, below is an inspiring “how to” from a couple who are participants in the 3rd Decade™ Program – read on.

By: Guest Blogger – participants in the 3rd Decade™ Program

Wealth and success is not a life guarantee. It’s something you work hard to create. We are working towards it by investing 25% of our money. Achieving it may look different from one person to the next, so there is not just one answer or strategy (plus people have different priorities and circumstances), but the number one thing that has worked for us has been determined teamwork. When you’re working as a team with somebody, you can make significantly more progress together than you would if one or both of you was pulling the cart in a different direction. These are some of the driving forces that helped us increase our net worth by $53,000 in one year with a gross income of $80,000.

Budgeting. This is an obvious one but a big one. If you don’t have an accurate depiction of what’s coming out of your bank account each month, how are you going to achieve financial goals? We’ve reached milestones because of our ability to gauge where we’re at from month to month, and take account for areas we may need to reduce or increase. This doesn’t have to mean penny pinching, but it does mean evaluating what is truly important and worth giving your money to.

Have a side gig (and don’t depend on it). We have been fortunate to have had ways of earning side income through freelance graphic design and photography. These incomes are completely unpredictable, so we don’t even account for them in our budgeting and financial planning, but it’s a great thing to have some extra money to set aside or reinvest in your hobby from time to time. What is this thing for you? We’ve seen many friends earn some extra money through artistic avenues.

Strategy. Something we chose to do this year was buy a house (something we don’t necessarily believe is always a good investment). We chose to do this for a couple of reasons; one was that we were able to use a first-time home buyers program to assist with $19,100 towards closing cost and a down payment. Another reason was because we bought a house with a casita on the property (hello future rental income!).

Adherence/Discipline. It’s essential to create a realistic plan and stick to it. Even when it feels tempting to sacrifice “only one month” of the budget, just don’t. Something we do is actually use an excel spreadsheet and every handful of days we key in our expenditures to the penny so that we’re able to track our progress and know if we need to delay a purchase for a week or 2 in order to meet our goals. The payoff for consistency is incredibly high.

Avoiding Impulsive Consumerism. We all want nice stuff. But the sooner we can grasp that consumer culture will eventually leave you empty and always leave you wanting the next thing, the sooner we can put our money where it belongs. What are your values? What makes you appreciate life for an extended period of time? For us, that’s memories and personal connection. For this reason, we have an “Entertainment/Eating Out” category that is more generous and allows us to enjoy meals with friends as well as each other, and do other fun things, too, like the occasional concert. Plus, planning for it allows us to fit this into the budget every month.

Avoiding debt. We both drive cars that are 19 years old. Many of our friends are buying newer models from dealerships, but they are depreciating assets. We care that our cars are reliable and utilitarian. Spending a few hundred dollars every few months on a repair is worth far more to us than a monthly car payment while our car is simultaneously depreciating. Ours have held their ~$2,000 value for the last handful of years! Plus, older cars have cheaper registration and insurance, too.

Reducing expenditures. To reduce expenses, we invite friends over for drinks rather than going out with them. We share meals. We look up Happy Hour deals for date nights. And we have a pretty consistent grocery list that allows us to minimize food waste (we know we never eat mushrooms in time, so we stopped buying them). Bartering our skills for services/products has also been a really fun and effective way of reducing our costs while still being able to enjoy luxuries on occasion.

We ask the “why” question before every purchase to ensure that we are holding ourselves accountable for the items we are bringing into our home; that they have true value to us, are quality (so that they will last), and that they serve an important purpose. “Important” can also be a life value (i.e. our genuine love for music has previously justified the purchase of a turntable and quality speakers). It’s important to have fun, it’s just good to do so responsibly and within reason.

Everybody is capable of succeeding. What’s your strategy going to be?