Countdown to the 21-Day Financial Fast: There’s still time to sign up

You still have time to participate in my 21-day financial fast, which starts Jan. 13.

In my Sunday column I explain the fast, which is based on my book “The 21-Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom.” This is an updated and expanded version of an earlier edition about a financial fast that I started at my church in 2005.

Unlike a traditional fast, in which you refrain from eating certain foods, this fast requires you to stop shopping. You can’t buy anything that is not a necessity. And you can’t use credit.

But here’s the thing. This fast isn’t just about shutting down your shopping. The idea is for you to spend some time thinking about various financial issues in your life. Each day of the fast, I address the issues that may have blocked your path to prosperity. Among other topics, I discuss the evils of entitlement, why you can’t buy contentment, the benefits of budgeting, the salvation of saving, love and money, the curse of credit, and the need to guard against greed.

To kick off the fast, I’ll be hosting a Twitter chat at noon ET on Monday. Use the hashtag #FinancialFast to follow along.

You can sign up for the fast here. Enter your e-mail address to get daily messages of inspiration. I’ll also be posting daily videos on the site to encourage you so that you won’t break the fast.

I encourage you to share publicly on Facebook, Twitter or on other social media sites. I want this to feel like a community with all of us cheering each other on to successfully complete the fast. You’ll find having accountability partners will help you on days you’re tempted to cheat. And yes, asking somebody else to pay for you to eat out is not in the spirity of the fast.

So why a fast?

I wanted to do something to help you if year after year you make a resolution to fix your finances only to abandon the cause before the year is out. And you know what? You pay the price when you neglect to get your financial house in order. Nearly 70 percent of people who failed to stick to their goals estimated that the failure cost them more than $1,000, reports Kerri Anne Renzulli of Money Magazine.

According to a recent survey by Vital Research, a corporate training firm, that figure includes lost promotions, health care costs and other long-term expenses.

Here are the top five financial goals Money readers made for 2014:

1. Simplify my finances

2. Save more for retirement

3. Pay down debt

4. Donate more to charity

5. Create and stick to a budget

Renzulli provides some very useful tips to help keep you on track, including the need to have a specific plan of attack. So, what’s your plan to get your money straight in 2014?

If not the fast, then what?

Color of Money Question of the Week

How do you plan to keep any resolutions you made to become a better money manager for your personal finances? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “Financial New Year’s Resolutions” in the subject line.

New Year, More Money

CNN Money has compiled a list of 10 things that will cost more in 2014. Here are some increases you should know about:

--Stamps: Starting Jan. 26, the price of a stamp will increase from 46 cents to 49 cents.

--Homeownership: Expect to pay almost five percent more when purchasing a house this year, according to CoreLogic. In addition, the cost of borrowing will be higher.

--Health care: The average employee costs, including premiums and out-of-pocket expenses such as co-pays and deductibles, are expected to reach nearly $5,000, an increase of almost 150 percent from a decade ago, reports CNN Money.

“We’ve seen that consistently year-over-year, more and more of the cost is being shifted to employees, something we expect to continue going forward,” said Geoffrey Kuhn, a senior vice president at Aon Hewitt told CNN Money.

Cold Snap Could Cost You More Money

It’s not surprising that the Polar Vortex that has put so much of the country in a deep freeze will send people’s heating bills soaring. Natural gas prices surged, and demand reached an all-time high this week, at the coldest weather in decades hit much of the United States, reports CNN Money.

“This is record demand, and I’m quite sure nobody saw this coming,” said Samantha Santa Maria, a managing editor at the commodity research firm Platts. “I think a lot of people were caught short.”

As CNN Money reports, fortunately for residential consumers, most gas that is purchased is done via longer-term futures contracts, so those prices tend to be more stable and lower.

Nonetheless, the cold could heat up your budget in other areas. Stay warm, but don’t overdue it with your heating. I’m pulling out my footy pajamas.

People may see higher bills electricity charges from running a space heater, writes consumer reporter John Matarese.

Matarese also points out — in his “Don’t Waste Your Money” feature -- that many people don’t realize or think about the extra costs when the temperate drops. “Edmunds says freezing temperatures below 30 degrees can reduce gas mileage by 10 percent or more. This happens because when engines idle, they need more fuel when the air coming into the engine is ice cold,” he writes. “In addition, seat heaters, your heater blower, and window defrosters all tax the alternator. When the alternator has to work harder, it actually reduces gas mileage.”

Matarese advises that you may want to budget a bit more for January’s fuel bills.

Color of Money Live Chat Resumes Jan. 16

Please join me next week for my first live online chat for 2014.

I’ll be available to take your questions about the financial fast or any other personal money issues you have concerns about.

Yellen Is Confirmed

Janet Yellen has been confirmed as the next head of the Federal Reserve. The history-making Senate vote, 56 to 26, makes Yellen the first female to hold this position, reports Ylan Q. Mui of The Washington Post.

Yellen, who was vice chairwoman under Ben Bernanke, will be in charge while the Fed is at a crossroads, Mui writes.

“Yellen will inherit an economy that is no longer in free fall but is far from fully healed,” Mui says. “Unemployment remains stubbornly high while inflation is perplexingly low, and government spending cuts have undermined the recovery’s momentum. Stock markets have soared to record highs, but economic growth has been so anemic that many Americans believe the nation is still in recession.”

Yellen is scheduled to take office on Feb. 1.

“She has proven through her extensive and impressive record in public service and academia that she is most qualified to be the next chair,” Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said Monday. “Americans should feel reassured that we will have her at the helm of the Fed as our nation continues to recover from the Great Recession.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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