Tips and Tricks
Over the past several months, I’ve developed a few tips and tricks that will help you complete the Zero Day Challenge! If you haven’t already read about it, take a look before you continue.
These tips and tricks have to do with Steps 1 and 2 of the Zero Day Challenge. Those two tend to be the hardest because they are open to interpretation, and are heavily affected by your unique situation.
Tracking Your Spending
When you start the Zero Day Challenge, you need to figure out how to actually track your spending. There are two ways to do this: by hand, and electronically. The choice between the two will based on your preferences.
Tracking By Hand
I primarily track using my budgeting dry erase board.
This is pretty much as simple as it gets. I bought a cheap $10 dry erase board, and write down my spending every day. I like this because dry erase boards are cool, and I don’t worry about having to print out calendars each month.
This brings me to the next by hand tracking strategy…
Money Tree Man and Money Tree Lady both use this technique. They have a really cute set of calendars. They track whether or not they had a zero day (bottom right corner of each cell). They also track exercise on the calendar (top left corner of each cell) which I sort of do.
This is a great technique because you have a physical history of your Zero Day Challenge. You can always go back and compare your current progress to past progress.
Since I have a dry erase board, I must take a picture at the end of each month to preserve my progress. I usually post this picture on the Internet, so this isn’t a problem. It definitely isn’t as easy as having a dedicated calendar, though.
Tracking your spending electronically has a few significant advantages. It is super easy to correct mistakes, you can easily perform calculations on your data. You also save all of your past data. You might even use an iPhone app so you have all of the data at your fingertips.
A great starting point to electronically track your progress is with the Zero Day Challenge spreadsheet. To receive your copy, make sure you subscribe to the mailing list. Also, check out my spreadsheet help page for more detailed information.
This is one of the automatically generated graphs in the Zero Day Challenge spreadsheets. The straight line is my projected goal spending, and the blue line is my actual spending. This helps visualize day-to-day progress.
This next graph is also automatically generated. It is a summary of your progress in the Zero Day Challenge. It calculates your total monthly spending and compares it to a specified goal. It also counts zero days for each month so you get a nice visual view.
If you don’t want to use the Zero Day Challenge budgeting spreadsheet, that’s okay! There is plenty of other software that you can use. I would recommend Mint or YNAB. You can also use a more heavyweight tool such as Quicken, or even create your own spreadsheet.
What to Track
Step 2 in the Zero Day Challenge is to determine what to track. Some people will decide to track all spending regardless of the source. Others will limit which components of their spending they track. The choice is yours.
I personally choose to not track my rent and car payments. I do this because these numbers never change, and the data they provide on my spending graphs doesn’t really add much insight. However, I track everything else, regardless of source. This covers my discretionary spending, which is where my spending problem lies.
When you decide what to track, you really need to make sure it fits in with your family. If you live by yourself, this is easy, just pick what works for you. But what if you have a family, what should you do?
My mom actually asked me that question when she started her Zero Day Challenge. At the time, I didn’t have a good answer. And I’ll be honest, I won’t have a good answer for you either, because I don’t know your situation.
The best thing to do is figure out if your partner is doing the challenge with you. If you are going at it alone, I would recommend starting by tracking your discretionary spending. Any time you spend money, if it isn’t on either rent or something like a car loan, then count it.
If your significant other is taking the challenge with you, then I would recommend tracking each person’s discretionary spending individually. This is extremely easy if you use a dry erase board, just use different color markets. Now you can track your individual performance, as well as your family’s performance.
Make Tracking Easier
As a bonus, there are a few ways to make tracking your spending much easier. The first is to ditch cash, and only pay using credit cards. Specifically, only use a single credit card.
By using a single credit card, you only have 1 account to track. You should also set up your credit card to text you every time it is used. This lets you track your spending by checking your text messages at the end of the night.
Okay, time for advanced tactics! There are a lot of small optimizations that you can make to reduce your expenses even further. To see the full list of products that I currently use to save about 10% extra each month, check out financial tools.
Basically, I use a combination of cashback rewards cards and other services to save extra money. As an example, let’s say that I need buy a new microwave. I find the model that I want, and it’s $100.
I see that Walmart carries the model, so I use the Discover Deal through my DiscoverIt credit card to get 12% cashback on the purchase. In addition, I also use EvoShare which gives an additional 3% cashback. The $100 microwave ends up costing $85, for a savings of 15%.
I’ve even gotten 42% cashback with my DiscoverIt credit card, find out more here.
I also use tools such as personal capital to track my investment performance, and usually login to Future Advisor once a year to compare their recommended investment allocations to my own portfolios.
If you want to learn more about these free services, check them out on my financial tools page.