I Took The 30 Day Zero Day (No Spend) Challenge – This Is What I Learned


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 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.


zero-day-challenge-year-endMy 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.

My Impression

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 AAirbnbguests 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.


Good timing

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.

My Criteria

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.

My Results

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:

Excuse my chicken scratch hand writing…

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! 😋😋😋

A possum broke into an Australian bakery and ate so many pastries it couldn’t move. This is how they found him.

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?

Let’s see.

$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.

Post tax.

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.

The only reason why I live – Ethiopian combo platter at Raz Dashen.
Pulled pork + side salad.
Hamachi, sake. maguro, albacore, ebi.
Lumpia and egg over easy.
Mongolian beef.
Pupusas, maduros, baleada, rice and beans. Me stuffing my face. (Lol you can see I was also holding 2 Thai cook books under my wallet hahahaha.)
Grilled hamachi kama (yellowtail neck).
Bossam (Korean pork belly)
Taco plate.
$60 bucks of sushi platter – futo maki, tako, philly, tekka maki etc.

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.

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.


26 thoughts on “I Took The 30 Day Zero Day (No Spend) Challenge – This Is What I Learned”

  • Awesome write up Lily! The ZDC is an awesome way to learn more about your spending, and it gives you the chance to introspect and prioritize.

    Consciously making the decision to spend money on food — and not feeling bad about it is the whole point. Spend money on what you truly want, not what society wants from you.

    And thanks for the advice on the horizontal vs vertical tracking! That’s already fixed in my version 1.5 of the spreadsheet (not published yet). I’ll be releasing an updated spreadsheet as part of a… special ZDC challenge event in October. Community engagement, cash prizes, oh my!

    • Yay David!!! That’s awesome. Just FYI I had to critique something, I don’t want people to think this was sponsored or forced. If it’s a worthwhile exercise I’ll spread the word. Vertical tracking sounds great and I’m looking forward to those prizes 🙊🙊🙊

  • First of all, that possum photo is hilarious! How did that thing eat so much he couldn’t move?!? (oh wait, I’ve done that too… never mind.)

    I haven’t taken the ZDC yet, but I think I would be similar. Much of our spending is food/basic groceries. I have been trying to be more aware of our spending/spending frequency this year, and this sounds like a really good way to get aligned 🙂
    Mrs. Adventure Rich recently posted…Leveraging our Property for Half a Pig

    • I counted house things as necessary. The packets of glow in the dark stars that I brought are going into the Airbnb room so it’s business hehe.

      LOL I imagined you gave a gladiator scream “fooooodpooorrrnnn” hahahahaa.

  • Thanks for this write-up – I may try doing this in November.

    My initial reactions to these types of challenges really remind me of something like dieting. It gives people a short-term look on losing weight or eating healthy, then they go right back to old habits. It looks like this isn’t the whole picture here.

    I’ve still been hesitant to do this because from another example like a no spend weekend, you can cheat the system. What do I mean?

    If I wanted to, I can buy all my supplies on Thursday for the weekend, then have a no spend weekend. Is that any different than not buying supplies for the weekend on Thursday, then buying them throughout the weekend? Ehh not so much.

    From your write-up though, it sounds like it reduces your spending for the month and teaches you what you spend money on (btw food is a great thing to spend on in my humble opinion).

    Have a great week !
    Chris @ Duke of Dollars recently posted…One Huge Step for Creating The FIRE Future You Desire! Create a Milestone Map P2

    • Terrific point! I should add that to the post. Cheating really only hurts the cheater – habits are so much more important. The weekend no spends are a bit silly.

  • I’m more surprised you got THAT much delicious food for only $212! I think that’s a steal. I can spend anywhere from $200-400 a month on eating out, though I guess my coffee budget and 50% off deli lunch are part of that. Even so, it’s totally worth it to spend on the things you love! Because what are you going to spend the 100k on if you saved it and didn’t allow yourself to indulge in anything you actually thought money was worth spending on! Great ZDC Lily!!! 🙂
    Jing recently posted…Money Diaries: August Week 4

    • My foodporn files didn’t make the transfer (curses technology) so it’s vintage foodporn already on my computer 😅

      I’m glad you agree Jing! $100K is cheap for happiness.

    • I’m suprised they went out of business. People need cheap shoes right? Much be bad management. Haha I stocked up enough for the next 2 years, I’ll figure out something by then 😃

  • My wife and I found the same when we looked at our expenses. Minus the essentials like housing, utilities, etc., most of our funds were spent on food. We have our favorite restaurants that we rotate between, and they’re not fancy by any means. But it’s hard to get out of there as a couple having spent less than $40-50. So I feel you when it comes to the food. As for ZDC, inspirational, though I don’t think I’m quite ready to do it yet …

    • It really is! Everytime we go out it’s at least $30 gone after a quick sit down lunch (the 10% sales tax here doesn’t help) and if we go to a nicer restaurant it’s $50-$60. It adds up so much just ack, piggies must eat.

  • I also eat so much… I love to eat! I’m not eating out this month, but your eating out pics are killing me (there are VERY limited take-out options in my neck of the woods). I concur that the possum picture is a winner. And thanks for clarifying what was going on there in the caption. I was thinking, “sewer rat? Somebody’s pet something?”

    And now I’m going to start my first day of 5:2 tomorrow and not look at any of your delicious take out pictures while I sip weak tea…
    [email protected] recently posted…Thinking of Changing Careers? Why and How I Did at 36

    • Hahaha Laurie you are so hilarious! It was down in Australia, whatever magical creatures are there. I thought it was a lemur. I hope your first day was wonderful darling!!!

  • Damn, I just had lunch and all those pictures made me hungry again!

    It brings you joy, so go for it. You can be frugal and achieve FI while still spending on the things you care about. $100K over 30 yrs is not worth it if you’re unhappy (2am or otherwise 🙂 )

  • Thanks for the heads up on Payless- definitely hit up their clearance section. *sigh, why do I love shoes so much?

    I’m with Jing, it’s impressive that you got that much delicious food for only $212! And think of it this way- you’re helping to support local businesses and also indulging in a bit of budget-friendly #treatyoself

    • Thanks Ying, always nice to see you here :3 I added up the total of the foodporn and it’s probably around $200 not including tax so actually…not bad eh. The dollar goes further in my neck of the woods than expensive Boston or SF.

  • Food! I’m lucky I’m so picky and don’t like most food – it definitely helps keep the spending down.

    Glad you took the challenge! Looks like it worked : ) And I’m glad that you’re not going to sacrifice your eating out any time soon – you’re definitely getting a lot out of it!

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