I did not start buying oatmeal at the same time that I stopped buying pre-made cartons of juice. Powdered milk came into my life at a different time than the concept of having a max price I’d pay for an item. (For me that’s an In My Head Price Book.) I didn’t start putting leftovers in salsa tub Tupperware at the same time I decided to buy generic or store brand for everything. TVP and bulghur and beans entered my life at different times. But all of these thrifty skills and habits accumulated, over the years, to become a low grocery bill. I incorporate a new habit every now and then, and add it to the routine.And so on.
The Squirrels can identify with this. We have often had people ask exactly how we have managed to stay out of debt, have Mama Squirrel stay home with the Squirrelings, etc.; and it is often difficult to answer; or, to be more exact, any honest answer makes it sound more difficult than it has been. At the time we got married, we agreed to keep a running journal of our joint budget and expenses for the year, and to stick as close as possible to the amounts we had agreed on for things like clothes and groceries. We also treated Mama Squirrel's rather paltry wages as extra money but not something to be counted on--which was a good thing, because the Squirrelings started coming along very soon after that. (We still keep a budget binder--it really helps with each year's planning.)
Like LRJohnson, we acquired different habits of saving at different times--or changed them as we went along. There are things we do better now than we did fifteen years ago--those are the habits we've learned. Some things we figured out ourselves or from reading; I think some of the rest are ideas we picked up from watching what our parents and other relatives did. We might not have acted on them until we got married, but they were absorbed!
Some of the habits don't seem money-related; they just involve taking care of things so that they don't have to be replaced as fast or cleaned as often. (We rarely eat meals or have drinks in the car; we don't wear shoes in the house.) We buy store brand groceries, eat leftovers, pass down clothes, go to yard sales, and use/wear/drive things until they won't work/fit/run anymore. (And we try to replace parts before tossing things--that's getting harder to do all the time, though. Most things now are made to be tossed, not fixed, and the parts cost more than the original gizmo.) There are other things we stopped doing...at one time I attempted to keep Mr. Fixit's work socks darned, but his workboots kept putting so many holes into them that I gave up. And anyway, he no longer wears workboots.
But there's one other factor that comes into it for us. Along with habits, we needed faithfulness--and we had to be committed to that from the start. Before we knew each other, and even during the year that we dated, we each had different spending patterns than we did post-wedding. We went out for more meals (and fancier ones), we bought more new clothes, we just seemed to go through more cash in general. But somehow, along with the promises we made to be faithful to each other in other ways, we both came into marriage with a feeling of "this money we have now takes care of both of us--so we have to be responsible to each other with it." No spending sprees, no "I worked for this so I should have more of it", no demands for things that the budget wouldn't allow (brand new furniture or vacation cruises), no tossing the toothpaste tube before we'd squished the last squish. I don't know that we ever even sat down and spelled all that out (definitely not the toothpaste part); it was just understood. We also knew that we weren't accountable only to each other: we were responsible to God for what he'd entrusted us with.
And that--as much as frugal habits--is what's kept us solvent.