Personal Finance: Are you ready to change?

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Michelle Singletary
Thursday, January 7, 2010; 9:33 AM

Did you falter in 2008 trying to get your finances straight? Did you end 2009 with your finances still not fine?Have you vowed to win in 2010 the struggle to manage your money?

Are you tired of my crazy questions? Okay, I'm done with the cute rhyming.

Now is the time to get serious about finally getting out of debt, balancing your monthly budget or eliminating the money fights with your honey. Stop promising to be a better money manager tomorrow and do it today.

My daughter, Jillian, said something to me once that shook me into action. After I continued to break a promise by telling her I would do it tomorrow, she woke up one morning and said, "Mommy, today is tomorrow."

Brilliant child.

Make today your tomorrow. And I have a way to make it happen.

Sunday, the Post ran an excerpt from my new book, "The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom." In the book, I challenge you to go 21 days without spending money on anything but necessities. You can't use a credit or debit card. Cash is king.

For three weeks, you curtail your consumption. You can't go to the mall (no window shopping, please). No eating out. No extras at all. I ask you to take a pledge to put away the plastic. Don't be afraid, it's only a temporary break from your love affair with credit. Although there are some useful things about it, it can also cause people to overspend, even those who pay off their bill every month.

By shutting down the shopping, you can look back and see how much money you waste. You might finally see that you can save. You may realize how often you whip out the credit card to pay for things you really don't need. Even if you are a good money manager, you may find you can be better.

This is a financial fast that can truly change your life. It can change the legacy of your family. It might even help heal your marriage, since we know one of the top reasons couples fight is over money.

So, are you up for the 21-day financial fast challenge? Can you handle the truth that may come out during the fast?

If so, I want to hear from you. I would like to follow some readers on their journey to a better financial life. E-mail me at colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put "21 Days To Financial Freedom" in the subject line. I'll choose a few people and post updates of their progress during the three weeks they are fasting. I'm looking for folks who are not afraid to be candid.

To do this right, you have to get the book. Each day, you read one chapter and have tasks to complete. For example, on Day Seven, "The Providence of Preparation," you have to create a budget. To help you with this, I've posted Excel budget templates, which do the math for you. In the book you will find instructions on how to use the spreadsheet. You will also find a template to help you keep a journal of your journey.

And the plan I lay out has more to it than just focusing on shopping and credit. There is a a lot of information that addresses other financial issues, including teaching your children about money, the dangers of co-signing, talking about your money with people you are dating.

Additionally, I want to see how you are doing.

On a special page we've launched for "The Power to Prosper" through washingtonpost.com, submit a YouTube video diary of your 21-day challenge. Because this fast can be hard, I thought it would be fun and inspiring to see how others are sticking to the fast. Be creative.

If it's a tough road, show us. If your hair is looking a hot mess because you can't get it done during the fast, how are you taming your mane?

Get a group together and record your progress and post the videos. Make it a family affair, a ministry project or an office challenge. If you are teaching students about money, get them to do the fast and record their progress.

Whether the economy is recovering or still deep in a recession, it's important that you do what you can to shore up your finances.

I've done the fast myself and found some areas I needed to improve. I've seen how it has helped others jumpstart their path to prosperity.

In 21 days, your life can change. Are you ready?

Chat Today

You've missed me, right?

After a brief holiday break, I'm back live online today. Did you spend too much during the holiday and now need a stern talking-to to get that debt down? Wondering about how to implement your financial New Year's Resolutions? Well, join me today at noon ET. I'll be taking your basic personal finance questions, and I'll also tackle questions about my new book and the 21-day financial fast.

If you can't join me live, you can submit a question early. If you miss the chat, read the transcript.

A Return to Saving

The recent economic crisis has caused many American to re-embrace frugality and save.

With the savings rate in October reaching 4.4 percent, up from 0.8 percent in April 2008, many economists say they think savings will return to the 7 to 8 percent levels recorded before 1990, reports the Post's V. Dion Haynes.

The story features Marty Morua, a former Wall Street stockbroker who believes losing his $70,000-a-year job taught him to budget.

"In a strange way, losing the job has been a blessing to teach me how to become aggressive and wise about saving and ways to save," he told Haynes.

While the new trend may be potentially harmful for the economy because of the lack of spending, Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics, said consumers need this respite to regroup and repair their tattered balance sheets.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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