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Welcome back to Two Cents, a Q&A series that reveals how individuals of different ages, cities, and professions feel about their current financial situation. This post is extra special because we’re going to dive into the brain of David, the blogger behind Zero Day Finance. I love when PF bloggers contribute to this series – it’s a peek into the driving factors behind why they write (take a look at the last blogger Two Cents here). David’s got a great site with a cool concept, and he’s got the drive to reach his financial goals. Enjoy his story!
My name is David, I started Zero Day Finance this year! I’m a Millennial with two degrees in Computer Science, who also happens to be a personal finance nerd. I have a pretty bad spending problem that I’m trying to deal with. When I get stressed out, I really enjoy baking. It helps my stress level, but not my waistline.
How would you describe your current financial situation?
My financial situation right now is very good. I have an emergency fund with 6 months worth of spending saved. I’ve maxed out my 401k for the past 3 years, and this will be the first year that I max out my Roth IRA. I’m finished with my student loans. The only area that I really need to improve is my home down payment fund which is a few years away from affording anything where I live.
What made you decide to create Zero Day Finance?
The decision to start Zero Day Finance has been a long one. It technically started in 2014. In January of 2014, I posted “The best day to invest was 20 years ago, the second best day to invest is today” on Facebook. Over the summer, one of my high school friends, Michael, messaged me and said that he took my status to heart, and started investing. This was the first time I realized that I could help people out.
In addition, I’ve known that I have a spending problem. I also have a high income which ended up masking it for years. When I looked at my spending for 2016, I was shocked. That was the catalyst that finally made me take the dive and start my blog.
Why “Zero Day Finance”?
The first thing I did after deciding that I would start a blog is brainstorm what I should call it. I knew I wanted the name to focus on budgeting and saving; two things I thought I was great at, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I also wanted the name to relate to my day job. I’m a Computer Scientist and used to work in the security field. When the media talks about computer security, they focus on “zero days.” A “zero day” is basically a software exploit that gives hackers control of your computer. Some people make these for fun, others sell them to governments and individuals, such as the Italian company “Hacking Team.”
In addition, I decided I wanted to focus on minimizing spending through not spending any money, i.e. “zero days.” This is where I got my name from. “Zero Day” refers to both my challenge and the fact that “zero days” is a specific term that references my old position. In addition, you can equate a “zero day” to hacking, so then my blog name would be “hacking finance.” A lot of what I post about is finding small optimizations (i.e. hacking) that will have a big effect on your overall financial picture.
How well have you stuck to Zero Days?
Decently well. I have a bunch of bills that hit my credit card on certain days. I’ve done a good job of going food shopping, getting gas, etc on the same day to get more “zero days.” I think the biggest thing about the challenge is it forces you to think about spending before you do it. The end goal is that spending money should be the exception, not the rule.
In addition, I have about four months of Zero Day Challenge data now. If I were to plot my overall spending with the total number of zero days, I would see a negative correlation. As the number of zero days increases, my spending decreases. My zero days have been decreasing since January because “things always come up,” but hopefully my spending will level out again, as my monthly zero days go up as well.
What future do you envision for your site?
I see plenty of PF bloggers who make a lot of money doing this. I’m not going to lie, it would be fantastic if Zero Day Finance ended up making money. However, that isn’t its primary purpose, and it will never be. First and foremost, it will be a way to keep my spending in check. I actually feel embarrassed if I have to post that I’ve spent how many thousand dollars a month. Second, I want it to be a place where you can find sound financial advice, and maybe some inspiration to help change your life.
What financial advice would you have wished to hear when you started working?
I wish somebody told me not to buy a brand new, fast car. My parents got me a good used car when I graduated college. Unfortunately, it had some issues and after $5,000 in maintenance, I decided to buy a new, fast car for $25,000. I’ll be paying this thing off for 5 years, and the $400 or so a month is starting to sting.
Where do you turn to for financial advice today? What resources do you use?
For pure investment advice, I usually turn to books. My two favorites are The Four Pillars of Investing and A Random Walk Down Wall Street. Anytime I think that I should start buying individual securities, I re-read one of those books.
For personal finance advice, I actually read most of the blogs that I currently follow on Twitter. Yes, there are a lot of them. If I had to pinpoint the first personal finance blog that I ever read, it would be Financial Samurai. I read his post “The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Person” which really started my path towards FIRE.
What financial achievement are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the fact that I found a way to pay for my college and paid off my debt within 2 years. I worked my butt off in high school and received a scholarship for college. I also worked 20 hours a week as a TA and worked internships every summer to pay for housing. Finally, I started taking Masters courses Junior year so I finished my grad degree in an extra semester (instead of 4) which saved about $150,000.
How has blogging helped you stick to your financial goals?
Blogging has pushed me to spend money more efficiently and eliminate waste. It really helps me track in real time how much I spend. I’ve tried doing this before, but the public nature of my blog really helps. Plus, I need to actually capture the data to post on my site, and that makes me more aware of spending as well.
What are your long-term financial goals?
My long-term financial goals are FI by 40, and potentially RE somewhere in my mid 40’s. Once I become FI, I’d like to work for a non-profit and volunteer more. We’ll see how this goes of course. As a stretch, I’d like to be able to pay for my children’s college tuition.
My FI number is $2 million which should generate about $80,000 relatively risk-free. Currently, I won’t hit $2 million by 40, but this gap will be filled with “hard work” and perhaps getting lucky.
What are your short-term financial goals?
My short-term financial goals are to increase my NW by 50-60% a year for the next few years. This gets harder every year, but I should be able to hit the target if I can keep my savings rate around 65%, and we don’t have a market correction.
This provided a lot more insight into myself than I thought. I’ve really enjoyed running Zero Day Finance for the past few months. At this point, I’m trying to broaden my audience and help out people who want it. Thank you for having me on your blog!