6 smart ways to save your money, according to people who’ve socked away thousands

Here at CNBC Make It, we tell a lot of stories about people who've overhauled their finances for the better.

Some of these people are millionaire entrepreneurs and entertainers. Others are everyday people who saw a need to take control of their finances in an efficient way. They all have one thing in common: They love making — and more importantly, keeping — their hard-earned money.

Here are some of the best lessons we've learned from people who've saved thousands:

Skip the credit cards — use cash instead

CNBC reporter Kathleen Elkins went on a "cash diet" for two months and allotted herself $60 a week to spend on everything that wasn't rent and her electric bill. She also recorded every penny she spent in a spreadsheet so she could see exactly what she was buying and where she could make cuts.

After those eight weeks were up, Elkins had saved $1,000 more than she usually does in just two months.

Pay yourself first

A couple who realized they had spent $30,000 eating out — in one year — missed out on the opportunity to do one crucial thing before digging into their meals: Invest in themselves before anything else.

Most experts recommend setting aside about 10 percent of your income in a 401(k) or other retirement account, especially if your company matches your contributions.

Don't bother skipping coffee — think bigger

Self-made millionaire Grant Cardone lays down the law: You can't just skip a $3 cup of coffee and expect to be rolling in dough within a year, he says. But he does have other ideas, like setting really high savings goals, and, like the couple who spent $30,000 on dining out, investing in yourself.

"I never looked to get rich quick, but I did look to get rich," he writes.

If you can, generate two incomes (or more!)

Okay, we get it. You're not Jay Leno, or making the kind of money Leno makes. But you might be in a position to start forming good financial habits, like Leno did as an unknown comedian.

"When I was younger, I would always save the money I made working at the car dealership, and I would spend the money I made as a comedian," he told CNBC. "When I started to get a bit famous, the money I was making as a comedian was way more than the money I was making at the car dealership, so I would bank that and spend the car dealership money."

He kept the habit. When he started hosting NBC's "Tonight Show," he booked himself hundreds of comedy gigs. His gig money was his spending money, while he banked his late-night money. To this day, he says he still hasn't spent a dime of his "Tonight Show" cash.

Automate everything

"Automation is essential," writes Grant of Millennial Money, who went from having $2.26 in his bank account to $1 million, in just five years.

He continues: "When I first started saving and investing, I was a little more old school — I was trying to invest as much as possible into the online savings accounts I had set up, and it was a pretty manual process. Now, one of the biggest recommendations I make is to automate as much of your savings as possible."

Figure out how much you actually need

This couple saved $1 million in four years so they could retire by age 43. How did they do it? Because they weren't happy at work, they preferred being frugal to have the opportunity to leave their jobs. So they spent only what they needed to spend, and saved the rest — no exceptions.

If you figure out what really makes you happy and where you can cut back, you too can curb your spending and maybe one day achieve your own financial freedom.

Need more inspiration to save more and spend less? Check out: