Guest Post: Curbing Your Spending with the Zero Day Challenge

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A wild guest post appeared! Today, we’ve got some excellent insight on the methodologies behind curbing your spending – something I don’t talk too often about, since I’m usually busy praising the merits of side hustling and earning extra income. But, while earning more money is important, arguably how you manage it will determine your success on the journey to FIRE.

Without further ado…

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Zero Day Finance

Hello, my name is David and I run Zero Day Finance, a blog dedicated to helping you control your spending with the ultimate goal of achieving financial independence. When it comes to retirement, there are two numbers that will determine if you can even retire, and how soon you can. These are your income, and expenses. For most people, it is hard to change income. You’ve got to ask for a pay increase, promotion, or find another job. This leaves decreasing expenses. But how do you consistently decrease your expenses?

The Zero Day Challenge

I’m going to let you in on a secret: I’m a terrible spender. When I was a freshman in college, I spent $10,000 on food, entertainment, and booze. Last year, I spent more than $58,000 on… stuff. Since I wasn’t going into debt, I decided that I could and should spend as much money as possible to make my life happier. But in the end, things don’t make you happy. By the end of the year, I had forgotten what I spent so much money on.

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In December of 2016, I realized that I needed to make a change. I started tracking my spending, and found that resisting spending entirely on a daily basis was a great way to reduce spending. Thus, Zero Day Finance was born. At its core is the “Zero Day Challenge.”

The Zero Day Challenge is very simple: track your spending daily, and count the number of days when you don’t spend anything. Each day when you do not spend any money is called a “zero day” — i.e. you spent zero dollars. The goal is to maximize the number of zero days and minimize the number of days when you spend money. The longer you keep this up, the less money you spend.

What’s even more important is that it teaches you to evaluate if spending money is worth it. The long term goal is you realize that money does not buy you happiness, but it will buy you financial freedom.

My Own Results

In 2016, I spent an average of $3,500 per month, excluding rent. A ridiculous number. Since I started tracking my spending in the Zero Day Challenge, I have significantly decreased my spending. The following image shows my non-rent spending per month, and the number of zero days per month as well. You can see that my spending has fluctuated, but every month has been significantly less than my yearly average of $3,500.

What are the real benefits of decreasing my spending? I must be having less fun, enjoying life less. But I’m not, I’m actually enjoying life significantly more. A more tangible benefit is that my savings rate has increased significantly because my expenses dropped. In the beginning of this post, I said that income and expenses are the two numbers that govern how long it will take to retire. Check out Mr. Money Mustache’s post, The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement.

This post shows how you can calculate how long it will take to retire based on your income and expenses. Like I said before, increasing your income is difficult. With the Zero Day Challenge, you can decrease your expenses and retire sooner rather than later.

Value Your Time

The most important fact that I’ve learned from tracking my spending in the Zero Day Challenge is that time has more value than spending money. From the day we first watch television or walk outside, we are taught that spending money is important through advertising. Spending money obviously makes us happy. Spending money will solve our problems. To some extent, this is true. If I accidentally cut my hand, I can go to CVS and buy a band aid to stop the bleeding. I’m obviously happier this way.

The younger we are, the more time we have, so we spend it frivolously. We work long hours at our jobs. We trade our time for money at the expense of our family. We spend less time with friends. Maybe we’ll visit on a birthday or special occasion. But as we get older, we have less time. We’ve missed spending time with family members who are no longer with us.

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There is nothing wrong with owning nice things. I have a nice apartment and drive a nice car. There is a $1,500 gaming desktop sitting in the corner of my apartment. I wear nice clothes to work every day (unless I work from home). But nothing will compare to the three hour conversation I had with my father a few weeks ago, where he talked about his life. His jobs after college, everything that he has done. That time is priceless. Money will never be able to buy me anything as important as that.

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Thank you, David! Inspired, I’ve definitely been a little more conscientious lately of when I have a zero day or not. My downfall is the fact that the bus home from work drops me off literally at the front door of a Meijer, and I find it very easy to say to myself, “I just need X, I’ll just pop in for a quick second,” but then… $40 later…

Time to write myself a spreadsheet!


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