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A 21-day financial fast will improve your money management

With this strategy you ignore interest rates. You list your debts starting with the lowest balance. Then you take the extra money you make from cutting your expenses, a second job or both and apply it to that debt, while making the minimum payments on the other debts. When you've paid off the first debt, apply the full payment amount from the first debt to the one with the next-lowest balance until that one is paid. Continue with the third, and so on.

By attacking the lowest-balance debt first, you'll be able to pay off smaller bills in a matter of months. That, in turn, can motivate you to aggressively cut back your expenses and find more cash to throw at your debts.

Here's how you get started:

-- Forgive yourself. Things happen. You've made mistakes, and now you're trying to make up for them. If you've been beating yourself up, stop!

-- Gather up all your bills, credit card statements and so on. You can't turn things around if you continue to ignore what you owe.

-- List all your debts, starting with the one carrying the lowest balance.

-- Identify any extra cash you can make by cutting your expenses, getting another job or both. Put it all toward paying down the debt with the lowest balance. Be sure you inform the lender that the extra payments are to be put toward the principal and not counted as an extra payment.

Most important, make a commitment to keep your debts to a minimum.

The good stewards

Prosperity gives us the power to bless others. This fast was designed in part to help those who have mismanaged money to become good stewards, and to strengthen the financial skills of those who are managing well what they have. If you're already a good steward, think of the fast as a checkup, much like getting required maintenance on your car.

No matter where you were financially, participating in the fast should help you with everything from addressing serious problems to making the small adjustments that keep your finances running well. You might even consider doing the fast over and over again, perhaps once a year.

There is one thing I can say for sure about the many people who complete this fast. Those who stick with it do become better stewards over their money. Those who repeatedly do the fast continue to be challenged and learn something about themselves. They see their financial lives improve because they've shown they can be trusted with what they have.

I pray that you will not limit your definition of what it means to be rich. It can mean having a lot of material things, but it also, and more importantly, means learning to live with less so that you can live your life more abundantly. It means having financial peace, which is priceless.

Taken from "The Power to Prosper" by Michelle Singletary. Copyright 2010 by Michelle Singletary. Used by permission of Zondervan (

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