What is the Zero Day Challenge?
Zero Day Challenge (ZDC) is essentially what happens when no-spend day challenges and a money diary were to have a baby and that baby happens to be frugal. The downside with a general no-spend challenge is that people who take part in no-spend days tend to have a relapse and give up from there. That or after it’s over…it’s over. The habits didn’t changed, it was just merely a short-term (pointless) deprivation.
I’ve known people like that and that’s what makes the ZDC different. The interesting thing about the Zero Day Challenge is the overall focus on the bigger picture (and I’m all about that). Financial fitness is very much like going on a real diet, the fads doesn’t work, you need to change habits over a longer period of time. I think the concept is darn good and the best part is it’s simple enough to use. It goes like this:
Did you have a day without any unnecessary spending?
Yeah? Then Goose Egg that baby and pat yourself on the back.
No? How was it worth it Spendy-Sally?
David @ Zero Day Finance sent me a spreadsheet (which you can download after signing up over at ZDC) to track my expenditures. There is a tab for each month and you enter in your expenses for each day. The spreadsheet will then calculate cumulative spending, total progress and count your zero days.
My favorite feature on the spreadsheet page is the end of the year summary – now that’s fun! Anything longitudinal where you can see the long-term progress and fruits of your labor, I’m all for that. My only pet peeve with the spreadsheet is the orientation of the inputs. Since it’s spread out through 30 days on a single horizontal line my husband brought up it would be easier to view and scroll if it was on a vertical plane.
Although the general concept is the same whichever way you do it, I prefer doing it on the whiteboard. I’m a visual person. My husband would have done it on the spreadsheet since he’s a numbers and sheets guy. I love my white board though, it’s easier to visualize and I was tempted to draw what I ate next to each number but I ran out of room.
I’m all for a Zero Day themed calendar.
The white board is the best because when I come home – it’s one of the first things I see and the first thing that greets me (besides Grace.) I can make a mental note then if I had a zero day or non-zero day and fill it out at night. I pretend like I was playing bowling and trying to knock out as many pins (getting as many zeros) as possible.
I had a quiet goal of at least half month of zero days.
I have never had a spending problem primarily because I didn’t grow up with a lot of money so the lure of most commodities has very little effect on me. I feel very little temptation and since I don’t want to rent a car just to go somewhere and I’m too lazy to walk 15 minutes to go anywhere…
When David approached me a few months ago proposing I try his Zero Day Challenge, I was initially excited but then it hit me: I don’t spend that much on stuff. My husband was with me when and he said “but you don’t spend very much, what’s the point?”
Would I be the right sample for his demographic? What about the AirBnB? The snacks and personal care items for my guests that I occasionally use and/or munch on myself. How do I expense that? Plus my father lives with us and he handles the grocery shopping most of the time so the only outlet of which I could squander money is limited as well. My only splurge at the time was the monthly Amazon Subscribe & Save box (5+ items that are already usually heavily discounted) and pretty necessary for my AirBnB guests any way.
I think my preoccupation with labeling it “right” was missing the real premise of the Zero Day Challenge completely. For me now the Zero Day Challenge is not only about trying to cut spending and saving money but more reflecting back on the things that are personally important so I can reconsider it the next time a similar situation arises and advise myself from there.
I took the Zero Day Challenge as a 32 day deal because that was the amount of time the old man (dad) was gone. I could take the challenge as if I was a more realistic sample because I now have more control over my expenditures. All of the spending charted was mine and only mine.
I was being conservative. Things like mortgage, utilities, bus transportation and basic groceries I didn’t count but everything else that was not a staple, I counted. If I ran low on shampoo and brought a generic bottle on sale then that’s considered a zero day but if I splurged for a name-brand mid range to “fancy pant” shampoo then that’s considered a non-zero day. If I stopped by a garage sale and brought a 25 cent chew toy for my dog I would have counted it as a non-zero day. That’s because Grace has toys already.
By the ¾ of the month I began to notice something funny: an overwhelming part of my expenses were spent on food.
Non-food related expense:
#1) Earlier this week I took a trip to the neighborhood thrift store. We brought our primary residence just so I could be near greasy spoon diners, rundown mom n’ pop stores and thrift stores. The thrift store can be labeled as an investment. I will probably sell those knit knacks later for a profit so it’s not really frivolous. However because I haven’t moved any inventory, I feel better if I counted them as regular spending – aka non-zero days.
#2) The last non-food related expense were just some Payless shoes. I needed new shoes as I mentioned before the pain in my foot was getting worst. The ones I purchased from Amazon were too small and I was about to exchange it for a larger size before I heard the news that Payless Shoes was going out of business. So I hopped on their website for a quick peek and they were indeed having a blow out sale. I bought 4 pairs of shoes and 2 sets of men’s socks for $70. #frugalwin
I charted Payless shoes as a non-zero day because I purchased 4 pairs of shoes. I only needed to buy one pair of running shoes but I would rather roll over and die than pay for shipping so I bought back up pairs of running shoes. If I don’t like them, I’ll just return it in-store and still get free shipping. I liked 2 out of 4 of them so I will be returning $40 worth of merchandise but for book-keeping sake, let’s just say I blew $70 for 2 years worth of shoes. The good thing is that I don’t have to worry or care about shoes now (or socks for my husband.)
If it wasn’t for those 2 non-zero day expenses I described above…literally 100% of my expenses would have been food.
Not surprising. I’ve always known food + me = weakness. There is simply no way around it. Besides liking money, I like to eat. The only reason I would ever travel is if there’s the promise of better food during my excursion. Pure and simple. I don’t want handbags, shoes, coffee, or a Tesla. I just want a T-rex sized steak, medium rare with all the trimmings.
(…and scalloped potatoes and garlic asparagus with button mushrooms, please and thank you.)
I’ll show you the transactions below of my 32-day ZDC adventure:
Just to clear up: “35 friends” was for eating conveyor belt sushi with a friend. “30 mexican” is me getting Mexican food the next day. I didn’t buy a “mexican” for $30 like when my husband took a look at the board and inquired – please don’t think that’s who I am as a person 😬
I had about 16 zero days total which I don’t consider bad at all. That’s 50/50! I thought I would have 8 zero days max. My July 15th to August 15th non-zero day spending totaled $347.75.
What’s Important to Me
Well obviously, the food. My July 15th to August 15th spending totaled $347.75. That’s a bit scary for 16 non-zero days. That means every time I did spend carelessly it was $22 gone. If you exclude shoes and thrift store shopping, I spent $212.75 on eating out alone.
The only thing I blow on is food and not even fancy food where they have a wine menu or 3 pages of appetizers. I like greasy spoons with dingy but warm atmospheres. The reason why we brought our house on the edge of everything was because I wanted to be near thrift stores and small time scrap eats.
What I learned
It’s not that I think $212.75 is a large amount of money for an entire month of frivolous eating but my favorite dives are so minimally priced so that’s why that number caught me a bit off guard. Those $6 sandwiches and $9 combo plates do add up! 😋😋😋
So now I’ve fessed up to that and seen the total spent, am I OK with $212 a month on eating out for myself?
$212 a month is roughly $2,550 a year.
That’s sort of a big number, huh?
If you know how much I can pack away in my belly, you wouldn’t think I’m a big spender 😸😸😸
Seeing as that most of my expenses will continue to be in food, according to my calculations, if I spend the next 30 years eating out like this then I would have probably spend at least $100K on restaurant food.
Not including inflation.
Dining out for 1. Just to get full and turn it into number 2.
Would I do it again?
Yes, I would.
There are so little things that actually bring joy to my piggie heart. Food is important to me. So I’ll chalk it up as my main demon. I’ve thrown tantrums at my husband before over a $8 burrito. I fought him for 2 days over a missing burrito. I rather have a functioning marriage and as long as I’m fed, I’m an angel. If the next person rejects me food – I will hang them.
Now if my piggie bank ran empty then I’ll know immediately what to cut but thankfully until that happens I shall nomnomnom until I pass out. And although a $100K food bill is hard to swallow…margherita pizzas from a fire brick oven, spicy tuna and seared salmon volcano rolls, the iconic McDonald’s fries, spicy tofu stews, roasted ducks and pad kee maos are very, very easy to swallow.
What I’m Proud of…
I didn’t spend money on anything that I thought would have been cool to have. Even when I went out with my friend all the charges were food related. We walked around H-mart in Seattle (it’s a Asian supermarket) and left almost empty handed except for a slab of salmon sashimi and 2 rolls of gimbap. I didn’t buy the cute handmade soaps or adorable Totoro shaped lunch boxes…I also left without buying any kitty cat thigh high socks or kitty cat pot holders.
At the airport after a 2 hour flight delay, I gave in and spent $3 on fries instead of $11 on a burger because it was my 2nd to last day on the challenge and I simply didn’t not want to overpay $11 for a gross cafeteria burger.
In essence the ZDC did do exactly what I thought it was going to do. It made me aware of the spending and I opted for a lesser dollar damaging option. Plus I don’t think it was a coincidence I had a secret goal of 50/50 and got just that with 16 non-zero days and 16 zero days. Pretty clever, with half the effort 😉 A part of me did put myself up for the challenge in an effort to control spending. I can recall 3 different occasions that I could have blown more money on something but I didn’t because I wanted my goose egg.
Nice mental key.
Take the Zero Day Challenge! Do ittttt. It was fun – more fun than I would have guessed. I knew faintly of my food problem before but now that it’s in whiteboard writing with clear numerical values, I can choose to accept it or reject it.
I spoke to the my husband about my results and he (probably experiencing flashbacks from the burrito fiasco) said “you can eat 1/2 of our mortgage but please for the love of God YOU HAVE TO BE HAPPY. No more whining for food at 2AM.”
Do you think my expenses are justified? Am I just a huge quitter for being OK with spending over $100K on dining out for the next 30 years? (Tread carefully and never blame the food. Never blame the food.)