Let’s Do This
Congratulations on making the decision to take the Zero Day Challenge! Seriously, making the decision is a huge step, and I’m very happy that you have come to this point.
Okay, so it’s time to start the Zero Day Challenge. But where do you start? You may feel a bit overwhelmed at this point, but there actually isn’t that much. The Zero Day Challenge is more about providing a set of guiding principles instead of a strict framework.
Step 1: Track Your Spending
The first step of the Zero Day Challenge is to track your spending. There are a bunch of ways to do this. The most important thing is to pick the way that ensures you track your spending every day. I prefer to track my spending by hand. Every night, I fill out my dry erase board with my daily spending.
But what am I tracking, exactly? My spending. Every single day, I spend a minute or two and fill out this dry erase board with my spending. If I spent money, I write down how much, and where I spent it. If I didn’t spend any money, you see a big fat 0!
Of course, this isn’t the only technique that you can use to track your spending. In addition to my dry erase board, I also use the Zero Day Challenge budgeting spreadsheet. The spreadsheet makes it extremely easy to track my spending. It also counts zero days, and shows how my monthly spend rate compares to a spending goal.
If you are interested in using my spreadsheet, subscribe to the Zero Day Challenge mailing list. You can subscribe on the right side of the page, as well as at the footer.
If you don’t want to use my budgeting spreadsheet or something like a dry erase board or printed calendar, I would suggest something like Mint, You Need a Budget, or even Quicken. Remember, choose whatever works best for you!
Step 2: Figure Out What to Track
Okay, so at this point, we have a strategy for tracking our spending. Now we need to figure out what to track. I want everyone to thank my mom for this step. She continually pushes me to make this more accessible to everyone who isn’t a 26-year-old who doesn’t own any property or have any real obligations.
To be effective you must know what to track. For me personally, I do not track my rent and car payment. The reason is I don’t have any control over these, and my spending problem has to do with discretionary spending. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense for me to track these expenses.
Your situation will be different from mine. You might be married. You could run a business but use your own personal accounts. Whatever your situation, make sure you decide what to track, and stick with it.
If you want some suggestions about your specific situation, feel free to visit the tips and tricks page which will give you several examples to help you out.
Step 3: Evaluate Your Spending
At this point, we have a system to track our spending, and we know which spending we will track. Now, we just live our daily lives. For the first few days, I would just observe what you spend money on. Of course track your spending using your preferred method.
But after the first few days, start to question everything that you spend money on. “Is spending $15 per day on lunch worth it?” Do I really need my paid subscription to cats.com?” (just kidding, they don’t offer a paid subscription).
My point is that every time you spend money, ask yourself if the cost was worth it. There are plenty of expenses that are absolutely worth it. Gasoline for your car, groceries for your family. There are also plenty of expenses that are worthless.
Like this “paper clip wallet” from Prada. Just don’t buy it, seriously, you don’t need it. After 6 months of my Zero Day Challenge, I’ve found more than $1,500 per month in wasted spending. I’m sure you’ll find some too.
I would never advocate that you stop spending money on things that you enjoy. Seriously, that would suck. But you should look at your spending, and see if what you buy makes you happy. Maybe you really need your morning Starbucks coffee for $4. But you don’t need that extra $2 cookie or doughnut.
Finding these small purchases that we make without even thinking about is a great way to reduce your spending. But preserving spending on things that give us enjoyment is very important too.
Step 4: Analyze Your Results
Now that we know how to track our spending, what to track, and we’re evaluating all of our spending, it’s time to analyze the results. This is where the Zero Day Challenge spreadsheet really comes in handy.
You need to go through your monthly spending, and count how many “zero days” you have. Remember, a “zero day” is just a day when you haven’t spent any money. It’s a big fat zero!
Analyze your progress through the weeks. Did you tend to spend more during the weekdays or weekend? Are most of your expenses small or large? Did you go several days in a row and then splurge?
This is the most important part. Start analyzing your spending behavior, and you will notice patterns. Maybe you always buy coffee, a lunch and that $3 chocolate chip cookie because Mondays suck.
The other thing is you’ve set your baseline, can you do better? Maybe last week you had 2 zero days. Can you try for 3 this week? The more you are able to improve, the more zero days you can earn each week, the lower your spending will be.
Pushing yourself to consistently improve will significantly reduce your spending. If you go from 1 to 2 to 3 zero days every week, you will see your spending decrease, leaving you with more money in your pocket.
Step 5: (Optional) Enjoy Your Extra Money!
If you stick with the Zero Day Challenge, your monthly spending will decrease. This means extra cash in your pocket! Make sure you take advantage of this. I would recommend you do the following with your extra money:
- Create a $1,000 emergency fund
- Pay off high-interest debts
- Build a 3-6 month emergency fund
- Contribute to your retirement savings
You’ll see that this gets really addictive. Seeing a bunch of extra money in your bank account each month feels great. This is the point. We are fighting against decades of conditioning that tells us to spend money because we’re bored or unhappy. Breaking away from the chains that the massive advertising companies have locked us in feels great.
If you still aren’t convinced, check out my testimonials page to see what other people think about the Zero Day Challenge. Now that you’ve made the decision to start…
If you aren’t a Twitter person, at least find somebody to tell. I mention this because having somebody ask you “how was your spending today?” or “did you get a zero day today?” will make sure that you constantly push yourself.
Next, make sure to join the Zero Day Challenge mailing list! I’ll send you my exclusive budgeting spreadsheet that will make tracking zero days significantly easier. I will also send out special goodies including my personal progress in the Zero Day Challenge.
If you run a blog, you can also display your Zero Day Challenge pride by displaying my badge!
Finally, well it’s time to begin! Start with step #1: think about how you want to track your spending, and then do it! To quote Morpheus from the Matrix: “I can only show you the door. You have got to walk through it.”
And remember, if you have any questions, feel free to comment here and ask, and check out the tips and tricks page for more help!