Start at zero

Students, if you’re constantly feeling frantic, overscheduled, and just plain too busy, try using zero-based budgeting to allocate your expenses of time.

Traditional budgeting presumes that whatever you spent money on last quarter or last year belongs in your new budget. If you spent $500 last year on your cell phone bill, you assume that you’ll once again spend that same money, maybe even a little more, this year.

But zero-based budgeting starts from scratch. It forces you to scrutinize every proposed expense, both new and old. Is there a cheaper cell phone plan? Could you take steps to decrease the monthly cost? Do you even need a cell phone at all? Zero-based budgeting asks those questions. And starting at zero often leads to new, more informed decisions.

If you analyzed all your time expenditures, would they pass the zero-based budgeting scrutiny?

That time you spend reading and replying to comments on your social media?

The test-prep you’re doing again in the hopes of raising your score just a bit more?

That recurring club meeting you attend every Tuesday?

The twice-a-week trigonometry tutoring to boost you from your B+ to an A-?

Sometimes just asking the question leads to more efficient spending.

Remember, zero-based budgeting doesn’t presume or recommend the criteria to evaluate your expenses. It only requires that you re-examine and decide again. You might decide that the 45 minutes a day you spend watching YouTube videos is worth the expense because you enjoy it, because there’s no measuring or stress associated, or because you’re guaranteed to laugh or learn or just flat-out have fun. If so, it’s earned a place in your budget. But you don’t spend it again just because you’ve spent it before. It has to pass the scrutiny of zero-based budgeting first.

There really are only 24 hours in a day, and many of them are already spoken for. Sleeping, eating, attending school, homework–plenty of line items will be in your budget simply because you cannot take them out without consequences you can’t afford. But you get to decide how to allocate those expenditures of time that you do control. If you’re finding yourself spending that time simply because you’ve always spent if before, take a new approach and start at zero.