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Do No Spend Days Work?

Posted By Jim On 01/23/2013 @ 7:19 am In Personal Finance | 10 Comments

A few years ago (it’s actually now more than ten years… but in an effort to not feel as old, I’ll say “just a few”), when I was tracking my budget down to the penny [3], I went a little overboard with Excel and my love of statistics. After a few minutes of finding every delta and calculating every percentage, you don’t really have much that the spreadsheet can grind for you. You run out of things to calculate.

So one of the things I thought to track was something I called $0 Spend Days. Today, people call them “no spend days” or “zero spend days.” The basic gist was that it was a day in which you charged nothing to a credit card and spent none of your cash. You’d still have amortized fixed costs (rent, car payment, gas – things you paid for once but used over several days) but that wouldn’t count.

Benefits of No Spend Days

The big benefit of tracking no spend days was that I now had a greater understanding of my spending habits, even more so than just budgeting. With budgeting, I didn’t have a goal. I just tracked my spending.

With no spend days, I felt like I was playing a game in which there was a score. After the first month, I realized that so much of my spending was on lunch. My patterns emerged because I looked with purpose. My weekends were shot because I was going out with friends, but Monday through Thursday represented the best opportunity to have a no spend day because most of the time it was just $6-8 on lunch.

Mondays usually had a grocery store trip and Tuesdays were the most frequent no spend days, but Wednesday and Thursday were toss ups. So to increase the no spend days I started bringing lunch in.

Gaming No Spend Days

There’s no real reason to game no spend days because no one else saw my budget and, even if they did, it’s not a game. If, however, you wanted to, it’s quite easy to defer or accelerate spending. I could easily buy everything I needed on a Sunday (buy groceries, fill up the car) and then made it four days without spending a penny.

This is part of the reason why those “don’t buy gas on this date” is symbolic but otherwise useless. OPEC doesn’t care, oil companies don’t care, and only the gas station cares a little bit. Deferring or accelerating spending is a simple matter, especially if it’s just by one day. Plus, if you’re really in a jam, nothing is hurt if you break the self imposed symbolic embargo.

Do They Work?

The big question is do they work in terms of managing your money? I think that anything that increases your awareness of your spending will help you in the long run. Calculating no spend days isn’t necessarily going to help a tremendous amount but you never know. I gained a greater understanding of my spending habits, but that’s something I could’ve done if I made a concerted effort to sit down and study my spending habits (which I didn’t). The no spend concept simply made it a game for me.

(photo: taxcredits [4])


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[3] budget down to the penny: http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/dont-budget-to-the-penny.html

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