"[What's] the largest factor in saving the most money for you?"and I thought that was a great question ... because I really had to think about the answer. Now, I am no saving genius, but I think that by understanding the answer I can improve.
When I look at where my most successful savings are to date it's in my retirement funds. I got on the 401k bandwagon ASAP and shortly thereafter made a decision to always contribute the maximum. I think this was the perfect storm of: set a goal, pay yourself first, and automate.
By setting the goal of "always maximize the 401(k) contribution" I at least had something to shoot for. I have been horrible at setting goals and it's definitely hurt my progress. But something about the 401(k) decision just stuck. And I felt unwavering in my dedication to it.
I paid myself first by taking that money off the top and considering what was left to be what had to cover expenses. Some call this the "two line budget" ;)
And this was all automated via my paycheck deductions so I never had to think twice about it...the money went right into the 401(k) and I never "saw" it in my checking account and obviously the allocations are set up automatically so...no muss no fuss.
Now that I am engaged in the care and feeding of an actual, non-retirement, savings account I think I can put this insight to good use. I have set some goals...but...they could be better (not surprisingly I am doing fine with my goal to maximize my Roth contribution!) so I really need to address that. I am currently paying myself last(!) Other than a small token automatic deposit (I *am* automating!) I am mostly seeing what is left at the end of the month for savings. That is fine to do as long as it is accompanied by a set amount that is helping to meet a goal.
Truly "paying yourself first" requires a total shift for some of us. For me, I must decide how much I want to save...FIRST instead of just saving what's left at the end of trying to be frugal. And this requires conquering the idea that "savings is a subtraction" (I've done that for retirement...so maybe that's the fourth ingredient in my perfect storm?)
MP Dunleavey makes a great point about this attitude in her article "Why So Many Women Can't Save":
The misconception that underscores all three of these anti-saving attitudes is the notion that savings is a subtraction.
Women, especially I think, tend to equate savings with being on a diet: I have to cut back, deprive myself, do without.
In fact, what research by the Consumer Federation of America showed is that you need savings not only for peace of mind but to spend on all the various things that crop up.
So rather than think of it as savings, think of it as future spending money.