A 21-day financial fast will improve your money management

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, January 3, 2010

I'm inviting you to take a 21-day financial fast in which you will buy only necessities. The fast is really about curbing the need to consume. It doesn't matter whether you're a good steward or a spendthrift; all of us consume more than we need.

This fast is for you if you're at your financial wit's end. This fast is for you if the stress of money is causing pain in your relationship with your spouse, friends or family. It's for you if you're worried about your retirement portfolio or saving enough to send your children to college. It's for you if you're not sure whether you'll have enough money to carry you through a long, prosperous retirement. If you have more month than money, this fast is designed just for you.

Whatever your financial situation, I challenge you to spend the next 21 days fasting. The path to prosperity begins by breaking the yoke to buy and buy and then buy some more.

What is a financial fast?

This isn't some gimmick. The 21-day financial fast has been field-tested for several years in my home church, First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Prince George's County.

I introduced the fast several years ago as part of a volunteer program called Prosperity Partners Ministry. In this ministry, men and women who are good stewards over their personal finances become accountability partners for members who are struggling.

During this fast, you will not shop or use your credit cards. For three weeks you must refrain from buying anything that is not a necessity. And by necessity, I mean the bare essentials, such as food and medicine.

You will refrain from going to the mall or retail stores. Even window shopping is off-limits.

No restaurant meals -- fast food or otherwise. This includes buying breakfast or lunch at work. You can't stop for coffee. Make it at home instead.

You are not permitted to buy gifts or gift cards. I often get a lot of objections on this last rule. People are hesitant to show up empty-handed at a birthday party or wedding. So they ask if they can tell the birthday person or bride and groom that they'll get a gift for them later. No.

Instead, use this opportunity to share with the honored person why you are fasting. Then find a way to bless them without purchasing something. This may be particularly hard if you have children. As any parent knows, birthday parties have become grand coronations, with children expecting a table full of presents. At one party, in lieu of gifts, the mother asked partygoers to bring books to exchange. I loved that idea. Your child can make a gift from supplies you have at home or make a wonderful handmade birthday card.

I want you to internalize that you can celebrate life's greatest occasions without having to bring or receive a gift. I know this will be tough, but what in the world do most of us need anyway? Find a way to give of yourself without spending.

The perils of plastic

Curtailing your consumption is just one part of the fast. The second part is eliminating the use of plastic, both credit and debit. There's a real danger in relying on credit even if you pay off your bill every month. Paying with plastic just makes buying too easy. Swipe, and within seconds you can be mired in debt. Let's consider the example of purchasing a flat-screen television. If you had to stand at a cash register and count out bill after bill after bill after bill to pay the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for a television, you certainly would contemplate whether the purchase made financial sense. You might even do some mental accounting to calculate what debts you could pay down or pay off instead. Plastic doesn't allow for that deliberation.

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