What is it about saving that's so hard?

Nearly 40 million working households do not own any retirement assets, according to a report from the National Institute on Retirement Security. And it's not just long-term saving that's challenging: 29 percent of those polled in a Bankrate.com survey had no emergency stash.

Saving takes sacrifice and discipline. No one strategy gets results for everyone. You have to find what works for you.

Here's a look at how some super-savers creatively sock away cash.

Make the most of apps

Meredith Bloom is an apps queen. Her husband, Evan, 42, co-owns a printing company. With Madison, 13, and Jaden, 11, the 39-year-old stay-at-home Long Beach mom doesn't have time to waste. Technology maximizes their savings.

She's a SavingStar fan. SavingStar offers deals from top brands that she redeems by linking them to her supermarket and drugstore loyalty cards, or by taking a picture of her receipt on her phone. The app deposits the value of the deal into her SavingStar account. Savings can be cashed out to a bank account or PayPal gift card.

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Each week SavingStar members can save 20 percent on different produce, and they get free items like pasta or sugar once or twice a month, she says. There are also high-value savings, as much as $10 on various products. "Maybe you'll save $5 when you spend $20 on any Little Debbie products," says Meredith, who has been in the program for about two years.

Although the savings are small, about $300 a year, she says it keeps her in a saving mindset. She uses other coupons. "I love the King Kullen spend $100 and get a $10 coupon. I don't consider myself an extreme couponer, but I do like my coupons," she says.

She shops sales too. "I save small, 50 cents, a dollar at a time, but over the course of a year, every little bit adds up."

Shop for thrift store finds

Yvonne Redwood loves to look good; she just doesn't want to pay a fortune to do so. "I don't want to spend $200 for something that has two seams and a hem," Redwood says.

Fifteen years ago she stumbled upon a thrift store and was shocked by the quality of gently used clothes. She no longer buys clothes elsewhere. "I get quality stuff, and it doesn't look like what everybody else has, it's one-of-a-kind," says Redwood, a "60-plus" registered nurse from West Hempstead.

She has gotten coats for $7, skirts and blouses for less than $10, shoes, jewelry. "If I spend $20 on a jacket, that is a splurge."

Her favorite thrift shops are Unique in Westbury and Savers in West Hempstead. She finds everything from casual clothes to evening wear, plus kitchen items and picture frames. The stores carry more than you might imagine.

Redwood estimates she has saved thousands of dollars shopping this way. "The clothes are new for me. I like how I can make my money work for me."

Set a budget -- and stick to it

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It's hard to find two people more devoted to saving than Trevor and Diane Ewen of Long Island City. Yearly, they save 45 percent of their post-tax income, putting the savings into stocks, bonds and real estate. Trevor, 27, a personal finance blogger, puts away 12.5 percent to 26 percent of his annual salary for retirement. When Diane, 30, an accountant, gets a bonus, they save 90 percent and spend 10 percent.

How do they do it? They keep expenses low. "Just because you can afford a higher rent or mortgage, you don't have to go to your upper limit," Trevor says.

Budgeting is serious business. "If we go over, we carry the deficit and have a lean follow-on month," he says. But they also motivate themselves with rewards. "If we hit our budget by the end of the month, we take a $300 bonus and usually spend it on clothes," he says.

They cut nonessentials and spend free time in the outdoors hiking and biking. They don't seek out high-end Manhattan restaurants. "We are happy to eat in Queens," Trevor says. Their one sweet spot is travel, yet they budget for it.

Sacrificing is OK. Says Trevor: "We see people going through life with numbers against them. We decided to make them work for us."

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Max out credit card rewards

Paul Camhi, 36, a certified financial planner, doesn't take off his "money hat" when he goes home at night. He and his wife, Alissa, 28, a stay-at-home mom, have three small children and live in Jericho.

Paul never had time to travel, so the reward miles he earned on credit cards were useless. A couple of years ago, in looking for ways to make rewards cards pay off, he discovered an American Express Blue Card paying 5 percent cash back once you spend $6,500. He felt like he hit the jackpot. He now has four different cards offering 5 percent cash back for expenses like gas and groceries. What he can't put on them he puts on a card that pays 2 percent back on everything.

He admits it's a bit of a game. "I drive my wife crazy because she never knows which card she is supposed to use for what. I give her a cheat sheet to put in her wallet."

Most of his credit cards give rewards as a statement credit. If your bill is $500, and you have 50 points, it's reduced to $450. "My goal is to wipe out [some] spending on all my bills every month," he says.

The savings total about $2,000 a year. "It's free money," Paul says.

Separate wants from needs

Saving doesn't have to be complicated. Michael and Kaitlin Hartofilis, both 30, love simplicity. "Cherish family and friends, not material things," Michael says.

The East Northport residents, who have two baby boys, say the secret to saving is distinguishing between wants and needs. Kaitlin, a nurse, is now a stay-at-home mom after the birth of their second son. One of the big ways they save is by eating in. "It's healthier and cheaper. Cooking is fun," says Michael, founder of Greenlight Energy, an energy service company.

They take advantage of free events and go to parks. "It's good for your wallet, and soul," he says.

The Hartofilises are conscious of waste, especially energy. When leaving rooms, they turn off lights. They close blinds during the day in warmer months to keep the house cool, decreasing the air-conditioning bill. They use window stripping to keep heat from escaping in winter.

Talking is key. "If I sit down and discuss with my wife how we'd like to spend an extra $100, it will have a drastically different outcome than me not having the conversation and spending frivolously on something on my wish list."

Michael's advice: Set goals. "You need a destination in order to find your path. With the right strategies you'll save more."