The other day, I wrote about my daily budgeting strategy, which is what finally got me serious about budgeting and being mindful of my spending.
The process is straightforward, but I wouldn’t call it simple. It forces you to categorize your regular expenses and identify which of them are more variable or voluntary in nature. What’s more, if done properly, the process never ends. For instance, each new month means a new evaluation of my baseline expenses, a new assessment of financial goals, and often a new daily spending target. To get the most out of it, you need a certain level of discipline and enthusiasm for your goals.
The concept I want to talk about today isn’t like that at all.
I want to share another tool I use to help control my spending. It is extremely simple, easy to execute, and fully customized to any individual situation. Even though I think my full budgeting process is a robust method that I encourage everyone to try out, I realize that complexity breeds uncertainty, and uncertainty leads to inaction. And above all, the most important thing for any of us to do in any problem area of our lives is to take some amount of action, no matter how small. Whether regarding finances, exercise, diet, parenting or any other activity, THE MOST EFFECTIVE STRATEGY IS THE ONE YOU STICK WITH.
Note: the following strategy is most effective for somebody who currently has no detailed budget, and who doesn’t generally discriminate about day-to-day spending. This was totally me before (and for a while after) going broke in Las Vegas. I would eat takeout at least once per day, impulsively buy things on Amazon, etc. if you aren’t exactly frugal, read on.
Zero Dollar Day
Spend absolutely no money for an entire day. Okay, bye!
Kidding. This sounds ruthlessly simple, and that’s because it is. But it’s the thought process behind it that is so important.
If you spend no money for an entire day, you have shown the world and yourself that you aren’t some consumer sheep. You’ve also shown that you care more about your goals than your comforts or convenience. And even though the savings are small in the micro, making it a habit is incredibly powerful in the macro.
Just imagine, if you can skip all spending for just one day every week (No Money Monday, Tightwad Tuesday, Wallet-less Wednesday, Frugal Friday, etc.) and keep that up for a whole year, you would have gone the equivalent of almost 8 weeks without spending any money! Assuming you went all other days spending at normal levels, you would have saved around 16% on your day-to-day expenses for the year!
For many of us, it’s already pretty normal to go a couple days per week without spending money, and that’s great! Figure out how often you do it, and push for one extra day. Or push for a certain number of days every month. Make it into a game and see how many days you can rack up. Every Zero Dollar Day helps, even if you aren’t particularly disciplined in between them.
It’s a real satisfying ritual to look at my daily spending for the month in Mint, and see my $0 days interrupting the pattern of the bar chart.
If you have trouble reining in your spending (like I did), then this may be just the trick you need. Start small. If you are paycheck to paycheck, you don’t have to try to cut your expenses by $500 this month. Just go a day this week where you normally would spend some money, and don’t spend it. Bring your lunch to work, make coffee at home, etc. Then see if you can repeat or beat it next week.
What do you think? Would this trick work for you?