Saving money is about sacrifice. In order to achieve your financial goals, you have to weigh your pending transactions against what you’re trying to achieve. Saving requires mettle, self-discipline and the ability to tell yourself no…a lot. 

To win the money-saving game, you must practice being your own best ally. The voice of the financial ally can sound like a broken record whose only script is to remind you of your no. 1 financial priorities. If your first financial priority is saving to buy a home, don’t be surprised when your internal voice won’t let you trade in your car for a newer model. If your first financial priority is sending your kids to college, don’t be surprised when your internal voice won’t let you sign up for that pricey kitchen renovation. 

In a recent USA Today story, Big Money Goal? Try a 1-Week Financial Fast,” financial author and radio host Peter Dunn offers insight into what he calls  the “extraordinary effort” of master savers whose minds and actions are dutifully in line with their savings goals. 

The word “effort” in this case, says Dunn, can be misleading. “Some people don’t try, some people do try, and some people alter the definition of try, based on their extraordinary effort,” he writes. 

Extraordinary effort is a cut above trying. So often people fall back on “well, I tried” to defend their shortcomings when the truth is for many of us “trying” is what we do in our heads but not with our wallets and savings accounts. When we try, says Dunn, we are often crossing our fingers and hoping that our money goals will work themselves out on their own over time, with few changes on our part. But Dunn’s definition of extraordinary effort bridges the gap between hopeful intention and meaningful action. 

In one example he cites a friend whose first financial priority is sending his daughters to college. But the dad works full-time as a high-school teacher so he knows the mathematic improbability of being able to save enough money. So, rather than just wish and hope and dream, the father started a landscaping business on the side sacrificing his afternoons, weekends and summers in order to achieve his goal.

Will the landscaping business make up the entire deficit of his teacher’s salary? That remains to be seen. But there’s one fact about which the math doesn’t lie. Taking on a second income puts him a certain amount closer to reaching his goal than simply relying on the money he earns from one job.

The bottom line: Do the math. Says Dunn:

“The teacher-turned-landscaper did the math. He determined his daughters’ education will cost X. He then discovered he didn’t currently have the means to provide X. His extraordinary effort bridged the gap.”

It’s encouraging to read the examples in Dunn’s column. But it’s also a wakeup call for anyone that has been holding on to various excuses about why they can’t save and/or earn more money or why they can’t do more with the money they have. Most of us don’t have to look far to find the many excuses about why we’re not accomplishing our own goals. As Dunn asks, “Why do some people go all out for their goals, while others don’t?” 

Is trying really trying when you do the math and see that there’s little to nothing being accomplished?

Extraordinary effort is within reach. Dunn suggests jump-starting your extraordinary effort with what he calls an “effort week.” The goal for that week is to go on a financial fast. To cut your spending as far as possible for that given week. To cut it so much, in fact, that you feel the pain.  

“Think of this week as a new exercise regimen,” writes Dunn. “The first day of a new exercise program isn’t fun. It hurts.”

Use the “effort week” or the financial fast to reset your spending habits as your first step into extraordinary savings.