Money Goals! Michael Foguth, Brighton Personal Finance Expert, Comments on the Zero-Dollar Days Method
By Rachel Chang
From expenses tracking and receipt saving to micro-budgeting and major cost-cutting, saving money for the long term can quickly become a tedious process. But the zero-dollar day method cuts out a lot of the head-scratching stress—making it both simple and effective to save up major sums of money.
For 28-year-old mother of three Merliee Speigner in Corpus Christi, Texas, she was able to pay off $70K of debt in two years and eight months using this method.
The concept is simple: “A zero-dollar day is exactly that—you spend zero dollars. No filling up your gas tank, no buying lunch out, no stopping for water or gum,” explains Michael Foguth, founder of Foguth Financial Group in Brighton, Michigan. “You literally spend no money for the entire day.”
While that can seem daunting, Foguth emphasizes not to think about what you’re depriving yourself of: “It’s not about not spending money,” he says. “It’s about saving money.”
Why the Zero-Dollar Days Method Works
For Speigner’s family, which includes a 5-year-old, 4-year-old and 7-month old, they settled on dedicating Sunday as their zero-dollar day—just one day of every week.
What initially started as a religious reason not to spend on Sundays eventually came to have significant payoff. “The financial benefits can’t be emphasized enough,” she says. “By intentionally not swiping and spending four to five days out of the month, we cut out about 15 percent of the spending we might normally do. I love having one day out of every week where I know money isn’t draining out of our account. It also feels like a nice reset for the week.”
And the method isn’t just for families, individuals can benefit from it as well. Jordan Bishop, the 27-year-old, founder of the personal finance blogs Yore Oyster and How I Travel also adopted what he calls “Stingy Sundays.”
“Sunday is a pretty slow day for me, so the most difficult thing was when friends and I made plans to go for dinner,” he explains. “I made a rule for myself from the start that I wouldn’t let Stingy Sundays impede my social life, so in those instances I made deals with friends for non-financial favors.”
While that could feel awkward, Bishop says remaining honest with his friends has paid off, saving about $4,000 over three years. “For example, when we sat down to dinner, I’d explain that I didn’t have my wallet because it was Stingy Sunday—and then offer whoever paid my part of the bill a massage or help them clean their apartment. My friends never let me down!”
How Do You Start Zero-Dollar Days?
“It is very easy to get started, but you must make sure you plan ahead,” Foguth advises. “Meaning, if you are going to have a zero-dollar day tomorrow, but you need gas, it is not going to work. So, planning ahead is key.”
This can range in all aspects of your daily life where you don’t realize you’re spending, he says, advising: “Pack your lunch and use a refillable water bottle. Strategically pick the days that you want to do this on. Zero-dollar days may be easier on the weekend when you don’t have to be anywhere. You can perhaps walk or ride a bike to get to where you are going and you can do things that don’t cost you money, like a home packed picnic lunch at your local park.”
Urzula Makowska, a 24-year-old fashion blogger, came across the method after her private college debts started putting a strain on her spending at the end of 2016. “My student loans were adding up with interest and on top of that I was spending my entire credit card limits on clothing to continue my successful career as an influencer and fashion blogger,” she says.
After researching the method, she determined her strategy and put it into practice. “I decided that I would take seven days throughout the month to not spend a penny on one single thing which for example included transportation and food,” she shares. “I chose to opt out on spendings and utilize public transportation and cooking at home.”
How Do Zero-Dollar Days Affect Your Habits?
The added advantage of zero-dollar days is simply making yourself aware where you are spending money — and how you’re doing it. And that can lead to improved spending habits.
“You might be thinking that we just do the exact same spending the day before or after, but we are spending less money without a debt,” Speigner describes. “The less you swipe, the less you’ll spend overall. Period. I tell people to go to the grocery store less often too for the same reason. You’ll spend more if you’re going more regularly. Going less often forces you to stretch out what you have, and zero-money days do the same thing.”
What are the Challenges of Zero-Dollar Days?
The reality is, there will simply be days where it’s not easy to stick to the method. “You try so hard to limit your spending, but sometimes you just need to,” Makowska says. “It’s not because you want to, but you have to.”
For example, Speigner admits there have been times where there might be necessary exceptions: “The only time we’ve had to ‘cheat’ is if I spaced gassing up the car the night before! Thankfully, we really didn’t spend more the days before or after to be able to stick to our zero spend on Sundays.”
Why Should You Try Zero-Dollar Days?
The mental challenge of not using any money in a 24 hour period is a good drill for everyone to better understand their own habits. “My best advice is to try it and see what works for you,” Speigner says. “Doing it once a week works for us because it’s a routine we can stick to and remember, and it doesn’t require very much prep and thought since it’s just once a week.”
But she adds that others may find a different pace, depending on their needs. “You might enjoy doing it for a week or more to really challenge yourself and reset your spending. If you do that, make sure you set boundaries for things you won’t spend money on (like clothes, coffee, dining out) and things that are okay (like gas, groceries, etc). You can’t spend literally nothing for a month. Those zero spend on non-essential challenges really help!”
How Can Zero-Dollar Days Work in the Long Term?
CPA Tyler Martin with FinancialYou.com explains that the zero-day spending can have more lasting benefits when used as part of the similarly-named zero-based budget, a popular Dave Ramsey method. “You have to spend money on some days as you have bills,” he says, noting that zero-dollar days can be fun challenges.
But it does take more to make a dent. “A zero-based budget is a great way for people to budget their money as they identify exactly where each dollar goes from their paycheck,” Martin explains. “Following this plan allows them to plan for current and future expenses and either pay off debt or save for the future. This method creates great spending habits.”
Diligent Excel tables can provide eye-opening realizations as to where money is being spent and help reign it into more effective uses. Martin advises starting on a zero-based budget on payday or the day before, as well as using Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover book as a guide.