All year long, Clark.com’s Michael Timmermann is sharing quick and easy ways to save money as part of our Michael Saves series. Check in every Monday as he puts new and familiar savings strategies to the test. Sign up for our newsletter to have these stories delivered to your inbox! 

When people find out that I paid off my $86,000 mortgage in just two years, they all want to know my secret.

I recently shared specific details about how I increased income and slashed spending to reach my goal, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without organizing my finances.

So here’s the secret to my success: a pen and paper.

Use these 5 lists to save money all year long

After creating a budget using Mint’s online tools, I relied heavily on a series of mostly handwritten lists to hold myself accountable, ensuring that I wouldn’t overspend. (If you're having trouble managing your money, try going the old-fashioned route and use cash.)

Here are the five lists that you can begin using right away to keep your spending in check!

1. Money Goals List 

These 5 lists will help you save more money in 2017

I start out every year by asking myself how I can save more and spend less over the next 12 months.

The number of goals I set varies from year to year, but the key is to write them down and display the list of goals in a place where you’ll be reminded about what you're trying to achieve. 

This year I set the 17th of every month as a day to check in with myself and evaluate my progress.

Here are my financial goals for 2017: 

  1. Reduce overall food spending by 15% compared to 2016.
  2. Contribute $10,000 to my 401(k).
  3. Drive 7,500 miles or less. 
  4. Renegotiate or eliminate three monthly bills. 
  5. Offset any money spent on fast food by increasing my income.

2. Running Low List 

These 5 lists will help you save more money in 2017

Using a simple note-taking app on my smartphone, I keep a list of items around the house that I will need to buy in the near future. 

For most personal care items, I generally try to keep a two month supply at home. That stockpile allows me to keep an eye out for the best sales and coupons so that I never have to pay full price. 

It also prevents me from making last-minute store runs for "one or two things" that always end badly!

3. Meal Planning & Grocery List 

These 5 lists will help you save more money in 2017

If you want to save money on groceries, the number one thing you need to do is make a list! Every single week.

Before I build my grocery list, I check the weekly specials and see what rebates are available on cash back apps. See those items with stars next to them? They all qualify for cash back with Ibotta.

Here are 11 apps that pay you to shop for groceries.

To help with your meal planning, I have to tell you about the blog Budget Bytes, which has tons of recipes for quick, cheap and easy meals. The author even breaks down the price of the meal per serving.

Here are some of the amazing recipes on the site: 

And if you love to use a slow cooker, I recently tested out a popular chicken burrito bowl recipe that serves six people for only $7 using ingredients I bought at Aldi. Try it.

4. Waste List 

These 5 lists will help you save more money in 2017

How much food do you throw out every year? If you're like the average American, you waste 30% to 40% of what you buy! 

I got the idea to start a list of the items that I throw away after writing a story about how restaurants like McDonald’s keep track of everything that goes to waste, including how much it costs them. 

Here's a challenge: Try reducing your monthly grocery budget by the dollar amount that you wasted the previous month! 

5. Big Expenses List

These 5 lists will help you save more money in 2017

Surprise bills can creep up on even the best budgeters, but there are major expenses that you can forecast.

By estimating the cost of upcoming expenses that may not be part of your monthly budget, you can begin to think about how you're going to pay for them once the bills start to roll in. 

Using a simple budgeting trick to save two full paychecks a year, you'll have money set aside just for these expenses!

Check out more from our Michael Saves series:

How to make liquid hand soap from leftover bar soap