Color of Money Book Club

Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, January 22, 2010; 12:00 PM

Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary hosted a live discussion on Friday, January 22 at Noon ET about her new book, "The Power to Prosper" The Color of Money Book Club selection for January. She will be joined by Dr. Celeste Owens, a licensed psychologist, motivational speaker, and panelist for The Washington Post's On Success who can help unravel the emotional and psychological aspects of your financial decisions.

Read an excerpt of the book and download the budget templates to help you get started.

A transcript follows.


Michelle Singletary: Welcome everyone and again Happy New Year.

I hope you are able to keep both warm and dry.

Lots of questions so let's get started.


Lithia Springs, Ga.: My husband and I started the 21-Day Fast a week ago now. In reading the chapter on entitlement, I began to wonder after the fast how would I best determine if I am buying something based on entitlement or just because its something I want to do. The best example would be getting my hair, nails, or brows done as a part of my monthly upkeep as a woman.

Celeste Owens: Congrats on starting the fast. Michelle's 21-day fast is designed to make you rethink how to spend your money. Like anything new there will be challenges. You may discover that those things you considered a need before the fast, may be re-categorized as a want. Ask yourself, "Is getting my hair, nails and brows done a need or a want?" You may conclude that you could do without one or two (if not all three) for 21 days. Remember, those situations that require the most sacrifice reap the greatest reward.

Michelle Singletary: Celeste is so right about your questioning your grooming needs.

It's really your decision whether this is a need or want. I have a dear friend who swears getting her hair done every week is a "need." For me it wouldn't be.

But the important thing is to make sure your wants don't take you over your budget. So if you decide that getting your hair, nails and brows is something you want or need, just make sure it's affordable. Make sure it's not interfering with your getting out of debt or saving for something else that YOU determine is more important.

I'm okay with people getting Starbucks coffee or their hair done or going to the movies every week (as one friend swears is a need so she can wind down for the week). It's just you can't do it all. So decide what's really important to you and do that with the money you have.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Michelle, I have followed your advice and while it took me a lot of patience and determination, saved up a life happens fund and emergency fund of 3 months of income. I cut back on miscellaneous expenses and I have even cut back on how much my family uses utilities, which saves us much more than I ever thought.

Now that I have an emergency fund, should I keep saving or use that amount to pay down debt? I have a federal job so I feel secure, but I'd like to have more savings because I'd feel better in this economy. But I do have a significant amount of student loan debt, and I have already been paying at least the private loans more than my standard payment. Should I take the amount I usually save and put it towards my debt or split it between saving and paying debt? I'm just not sure. At any rate, I have a long way to go on my loans even with paying the extra that I do.


Michelle Singletary: If you have reached your goal for your emergency fund, you can just stop putting money in that pot.

If you have a good amount of cash in your life happens fund, then stop putting money in that pot too.

Now with the money you were putting in those two pots and any other funds you can get from your budget, begin to pay down the student loan debt.You should also check out the The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to see if you qualify. Here's a link:


Washington, D.C.: I am a 21-year-old college student who has a stable part-time government job. How can I "capitalize" on the $150-$300 I have every month to invest and/or save?

Thank you,

Lauren Grimes

Michelle Singletary: Good question and I'm glad you are thinking about this now.

If you have student loan debt, you really could do yourself a great service by applying some of that money to that debt -- yes even while you are still in college. This will help reduce the interest you are paying.

But also, build up an emergency fund and a life happens fund.

The emergency is in case you lose that part-time job. (Maybe just one month of expenses)

The life happens fund is money you save to help pay for any car repairs, stuff in life that happens. Maybe for you start with a goal of $500 to a $1,000 in that fund.


Buffalo, N.Y.: As I thought I was doing well with keeping my head above water in debt, I realize there is a lot more I can do, thanks. But my question is regarding family vacations... My husband and I think differently, he feels until the debit is completely paid that we shouldn't go anywhere. Our debt consists of a mortgage of $90K, school loan of $25K and one credit card of $9K. It will take a lifeline to pay it ALL off. I'm focused on paying off the credit card by December 2010 with the income from my second job. What's your take on vacations?

Michelle Singletary: I get this question ALL the time.

So how about a compromise you both may be able to live with?

How about you DON'T take a vacation (with lots of expenses, etc.) UNTIL you have at least paid off the $9,000 in credit card debt?

I think it's perfectly okay to take a family vacation if you have mortgage debt. If you don't, you are right 20 or 30 years will go by before you enjoy the fruits of your hard work. I only have mortgage debt and we take a family vacation every year for two weeks.

As for the student loan debt, why not set up price points whereby when you get it down to a certain level you treat yourself to a family vacation?

This way, you both get what you want and stay responsible to getting rid of the consumer debt.


Richardson, Tex.: Hi Michelle,

I am scheduled to get a $4000 tax refund. I owe $2000 left on my car note and have about $1000 in savings. Should I put it all in savings, as it needs some beefing up, and just not pay the car off early? Thanks by the way for always being such an inspiration! It is because of your columns/chats/advice I am not taking the $4000 and going on vacation. (saving for that)

Michelle Singletary: Glad to hear you have something better in store for that $4,000.

Me, I might take half and just get rid of the car loan and be done with it. If you are fairly sure your job is stable, do that.Then take the remaining $2,000 and add it to your savings.

And I want you to have two savings.

Emergency Fund with three to six months of living expenses

Life Happens Fund for car repairs, stuff that you might need done to your home, etc.

This way if you have a Life Happens Fund, you won't rob your emergency fund.

Also keep in mind building up these funds is a process. Don't worry if you haven't met the goal yet. Just take is slow.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Michelle and Dr. Owens, I'm sure you hear about this a lot and I even saw it recently in one of Michelle's newsletters. I borrowed a lot of money to go to school and sometimes, it is so hard to live with this decision. I have done so much to fix my finances and cut back expenses so that I can pay extra on some of my loans every month. But sometimes I look at my repayment plans and even with the extra I pay, I feel like a black hole is opening up under me when I know I will be paying back this money for many years. How do I get past this emotion and just focus on living my life and doing the best I can? Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed and I know I am lucky to even be employed, but with paying loans and feeding my family, I wonder why this country doesn't do more to warn students not to take such heavy debt.

Celeste Owens: Living well requires that you make peace with past decisions (good and bad). If there is nothing that you can do to change it, keep looking forward. Rather than focusing on the black hole of student loan debt, find a new focus. Let's see you are employed, have a family and because you went to college, the capacity to excel in your place of employment (not a guarantee, but it does increase your odds). Statistics show that college graduates on average make significantly more than non-college graduates.

So you made a good decision by going to college. Don't forget your ability to pay more towards your loan will increase as you continue to work and become eligible for promotions that allow you to make more than you make now. You financial situation will change; you just need to exercise some patience and enjoy the journey.

Michelle Singletary: I agree with Celeste.

You HAVE to stop beating yourself up. Even though I preach and preach about staying out of as much student loan debt as you can, I understand people make the decisions they think are right for them.

So my job is to help you fix or get past the decisions that may be now weighing you down.

Look back only to see how much you've paid off. Then look forward to the day it's over. And in the in-between time, just remember this too will pass.


Portsmouth, N.H.: Michelle, you rock! Just a comment to the live chatters today: I'm a freelancer whose business has been cut by about 70%. If I can't earn money, I try to "find" money, and I urge y'all to, too. I did a top-to-bottom audit of our monthly expenses and by comparison shopping, have been slashing hundreds of dollars per year in cell phone costs, cable TV & internet fees, car & homeowners' insurance...and Michelle, you'll be happy to know that this allowed me and my husband to make a $1,000 donation to our church (on top of our pledge, which was smaller this year due to my drop in income). So everybody, YOU can free yourselves of the shackles of debt by looking FIRST at what you CAN control, comparison-shopping and cutting out wasteful spending.

Michelle Singletary: Amen to you!!!

It's amazing what you can do when you really set your mind to it. That's what we are talking about today, making life-changing decisions that put you on a better road.

Good for you.


Cash or credit: Hi Michelle, I can't wait to get a copy of your new book!

In the meantime, I'm hoping you can give me your advice about a car purchase. My husband and I want to purchase a car to replace the one I currently have (it's old and I owe nothing on it).

Long story short, my parents have generously given us $10,000 to put towards the purchase (I was hoping to get something under or around $20,000). My husband and I could buy the car with cash (he has a small trust fund and I have a money market account). The only debt we have is a mortgage and I do not want to add any other monthly payments with interest!

Maybe this is a dumb question, but should we pay cash for the car since we can?


Michelle Singletary: CASH BABY CASH!!!

If it were me, I wouldn't even be looking to add to (or much more) to that $10,000.

By the way, can your parents adopt me?How generous and sweet of them. Give them a hug for me.

You clearly are doing a lot of things right.

You can get a really nice reliable used car for $10,000 to $15,000.

So do that and pay cash. No debt is good debt!


NOVA: Hi Michelle,

I bought your book and intend to start the fast Feb 1. I have one question that I'm wavering on. I have a housekeeper come once a month - mainly b/c I have a chronic disease and have a hard time doing the heavy cleaning. That said, I'll admit it's an indulgence. So, do I cancel that service for the fast? Part of me feels like it's an indulgence I can do without, but the other part feels like my housekeeper depends on the cash and my trying to save money and do a fast could hurt her more than it helps me. I know, seems like a petty point, but I am fairly conflicted about it. Thanks in advance!

Celeste Owens: If you require a housekeeper for medical reasons, it's not an indulgence but necessary to sustain your quality of life.

So often we (especially women) feel guilty for taking care of ourselves; believing we should be able to do it all. That is not the case.

If the housekeeper is a need (as it sounds like it is) keep her as part of your expenses.

Michelle Singletary: First congrats on doing the 21-Day Financial Fast.I hope you find it very helpful.

As for your question, don't cancel the housekeeper.

In fact, for my Sunday column I address some questions about the fast. I would consider this a regular service, which I don't ask people to drop during the fast.

Mostly for the fast I'm asking you to stop "shopping" and using credit.

So you are good and well within the spirit of the fast. But isn't it good that you are thinking about this? That's what the fast is intended to do -- to get you to think about the money you spend.

If you have this service and need and want it, it might mean shaving from someplace else.

By the way, if you are wondering what this fast is about, it's based on my new book, "The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom."

You can go to to read about it and see if it's right for you.


LOVE the book: Hi, Michelle. I have been doing the financial fast, and have noticed a big difference in what our family spends, and the fast has given me occasion to reinforce needs vs. wants with my child. During the fast, I have taken the dollars and cents we would normally have spent on that meal out, or that new purchase, and put the cash into a family piggy bank. That's our new vacation fund. Makes that once a week splurge on starbucks Friday after school/work taste SOOO much better!

Michelle Singletary: Oh, I'm so proud of you. And glad to see that you are already seeing results.


Fairfax, Va.: We are two-thirds through the 21 day financial fast. Man it is not easy, especially the weekends. How do you just sit around at home all weekend long, doing nothing? I'm pretty tired of just watching TV, and I can't buy any books or magazines (thank goodness we get the Post on the weekends, or I'd be out of my mind). And even though I shopped (reasonably) in advance of the fast, I still find that I don't have enough snacks and food for my family if we do go out to buy necessities (our only opportunity to get out of the house). That said, I'm amazed at how much we spend unnecessarily. And I do realize what is important to me and what isn't. Buying "Game Change" as soon as it comes out? Not necessary. Buying a $2.50 cappuccino when I'm exhausted at 2 pm and need a reward to get me through the rest of the day. Necessary. So thank you for helping us prioritize a bit and try to distinguish between what are, for us, reasonable and unreasonable expenses.

Michelle Singletary: LOL.

I would kill for a whole weekend of nothing, seriously.

Thought I could chill today after the chat. NOPE. Going to a prison facility to work with inmates who will be released soon. Helping them with their money issues. Basketball game after that for my son. Got to take daughter to swim practice. Cleaning tomorrow for a book club meeting with friends on Sunday after church.

See where I'm going.

Time, so precious.

Enjoy it during the fast.

And you know what we do during the fast -- when we aren't running around? We pull out ALL those games the kids get and we get and have a family game night. It's sooooo much fun.

Or read.

Or just talk.

Nonetheless I do understand the boredom.

But oh what joy you will have seeing all the money you've saved.

P.S. I agree about the coffee. You choose what's important to you and spend on that. It's the essence of the fast.


Rockville, Md.: Michelle- I loved your column yesterday about how financial decisions are made when one spouse outearns the other. From my perspective, that of a wife who has outearned my husband for all of our married life (except for the years I stayed home with the kids), I think the reason why I make most of the decisions is because my husband is not interested in making them - which might also be why he doesn't care about the fact that I make more money. He just doesn't want to think about money, so I guess it was a good thing that he married me. I don't necessarily want to spend that much time thinking about money either, but I am perhaps more concerned about what happens when neither of us do! The psychologist you have on today may have a comment or two about that! Thanks for doing your chats and columns! They are great.

Celeste Owens: To quote Michelle from her article, "Married college graduates make more money, says Pew report," "If you see marriage as a partnership, then it shouldn't matter who earns more. In a marriage, you should act as a well-functioning team, making decisions together."

What works in one marriage doesn't necessarily work in another. If the two of you are content with your arrangement/circumstances that's great. If you would like for things to be different, communicate that with him and work towards change. Married college graduates make more money, Pew report says

Michelle Singletary: If you didn't read the article, here's the link.


Grand Rapids, Mich.: Thanks, Michelle, for posting those templates online. I'm working through them today, and we are ready to readjust our budget due to lower income. Thank you for making these tools so easy to use!! Michelle's budget templates

Michelle Singletary: You are so very, very welcome.


Atlanta, Ga.: Hello Michelle, any suggestions on giving your book as a gift without being offensive?

Michelle Singletary: Interesting question.

I have been at a few book signings and I was surprised to see that most people WERE buying it for someone else.

Mothers and fathers for their adult children. One of my Facebook friends came in to buy a book for his brother who just graduated and started working.

I think if you give it with a really nice note, hopefully the person won't be offended.

Or you can say, I'm trying this (and hopefully you will) and I thought you might like to try it with me. I really do encourage people to do the fast with someone anyway.


Falls Church, Va.: Hi Michelle!

I know this isn't related to the book this week, but I was hoping you could help. My fiance and I are getting married this year, I'm starting my first job out of law school, and my student loans are coming due. We'd like to meet with a financial planner to help us figure out what to do and how to do it. We know that we should have a rainy day fund, but we're stuck on prioritizing - can you suggest a good way to find a reputable financial planner?

Michelle Singletary: What you really need is a credit counselor rather than someone just to help with investments, which is mostly what financial planners do.

I mean, they do help you develop an overall, short-term and long-term plan for your money but it's consumer credit counselors who can help you come up with a budget and help determine which debts to concentrate on.

To find an agency in your area, go to

Many people think credit counseling is ONLY if you are in terrible, uncontrolable debt, but a good agency will also have counselors who can help you come up with a budget, etc.


Is Fairfax, Va. kidding?: Michelle -

I often think that the DC metro area is a great place to go on a financial fast. We have an abundance of museums, historical landmarks, parks, libraries, concerts, etc. that are all FREE OF CHARGE. If you cannot find something to do around here, you are not looking very hard.

Michelle Singletary: True. This is a good area to find free stuff.

But I also know how sometimes you are just too tired to make the effort. I understood where Fairfax was coming from.

For me to go downtown with my brood is more than a notion.


20036: Hi Michelle--love your columns!

I would love some advice on how to diversify my savings. I currently have a lot in my checking account. As in, 3+ years of living expenses. I know! A 2010 resolution was to get everything but a 3-month living cushion into other savings vehicles. What would you suggest to get started? I'm a single 31-year old woman with a stable job and zero debt.

Michelle Singletary: Wow. That's even better than me (three years of living expenses).

Well, you might transfer some to the Life Happens Fund.

Then take what's left and perhaps invest it in a low-cost mutual fund so that long-term it grows and could help pay for your next car in cash. If you are a homeowner, pay down your home loan. If you are a renter, go toward buying a home, etc.

The thing is you need to sit down and figure out what are your financial priorities and see if some of the extra cash can be used toward those goals.


Anonymous: Ms. Singletary,

Congratulations on the book.

My husband and I have been unemployed a year and a half. He got a significant severance, but that has just about dried. We had bought savings bonds for years, and used them to survive in 2009. But now they're tapped out, too. We are nearing the end of our "available" savings.

I'm now in school part-time to update my Web skills. We were both journalists for 30 years. My husband is working four months for free for an start-up Internet Web site.

He's early 50s, I'm 56.

We have 1 milllion-plus between us in 401(k)s. We owe only $50k on mortgage. Otherwise no debts, only living expenses. Daughter graduates from college in a year and a half (she has a prepaid tuition plan, along with a scholarship).

We seemingly have no alternative but to begin tapping into 401(k)s, hoping we can start earning money sometime this year or by next.

What would you recommend? We have always lived frugally.

Thanks, Susan Whigham

Michelle Singletary: I'm so sorry for your job losses.

It's so tough out there.

With so much in retirement, you are so much better off. When you find you do have to tap the money, be sure to tap your retirement pot first since at 56 you won't be penalized for an early withdrawal. Think of it as early retirement. It is why you have been saving all your life for -- times like this.


this may be an unpopular comment: While I agree that paying off debts is very important, I have to disagree with what I perceive as an attitude that vacations are somehow frivolous. Even if they are "staycations", time off from work/everyday life is incredibly important for one's mental health and for relationship health. Just as sleep is important to recharge your body, time off is important. Several health experts would back me up on this. Let's not lump that into the same category as designer clothes or hair dye.

Michelle Singletary: Slow your roll here.

I never said don't take time off. I said don't spend money on a vacation if you have debt.

I, too, believe that vacations are important, but they are a want in a time when you are saddled with debt.

You should not be taking a vacation in which you are spending a lot of money when you have consumer debt.

I often get push back from this, but I have the testimonies and history to know I'm right. In one of my workshops at my church a woman and her husband asked me this. The husband, an educator, had about $60,000 in student loans. He said to his wife that he expected to have that debt well into his retirement.

They wanted to take vacations spending bonus money the wife got at the end of the year.

I suggested they take the bonus money and pay down the student loan debt first.

Some in the room, like you, told her not to listen to me.

But she/they did.

In less than three years between the bonus money and cutting back expenses they paid off the student loans. They are so grateful. Now when they take a vacation, they are really relaxing knowing they aren't coming home to debt.

I'm just asking people for a season to get their financial house in order before they leave that house for a pleasure trip they can't afford.


McLean, Va.: Good afternoon Michelle and thank you for doing this chat, it provides a great service to us, my question is for Dr. Owens. Do you feel that there is a psychological aspect to why people spend more than they should, and can money fasts like the 21-day fast help them, or will they do it and then go back to their spending ways?

Celeste Owens: Socrates said "the unexamined life is not worth living." Everyone should slow down to examine their lives and make changes accordingly.

Research indicates that it takes about 21 days/3 weeks to effectively form a new habit. (Michelle is right on point with this fast.)

Usually people don't make it to 21 days. Prochaska, DiClemente and Norcross (1992) devised a theory to explain this phenomenon. In the Stages of Change Model they outlined steps that occur before one sees lasting change:

1. Pre-contemplation -- "ignorance is bliss," unaware there is a problem.

2. Contemplation -- "sitting on the fence," ambivalent about change.

3. Preparation -- "testing the waters," trying to change.

4. Action -- practicing a behavior for three to six months.

5. Maintenance -- continued commitment to sustain new behavior.

Change isn't easy but it sure is worth it!


For faster: You can read! Try the library. Books and DVDs galore.

Michelle Singletary: Lots of tips for Fairfax faster.


Alexandria, Va.: We have a 10-year-old car with 125,000 miles on it. Still runs fine, but won't last forever, so we were thinking about maybe replacing it within a year or so.

Then some $%-&;- backed into it while it was parked, smashing in the trunk, breaking the tail-light, destroying the bumper. Of course, no note left. So - do we pay to get it fixed (we have a high deductible on our insurance, so will likely be all out of pocket), or call it a day and buy a new car now (we have enough money to pay cash for a new one)? It feels like a waste of money to spend $1,000 or more fixing an old car that will be traded soon anyway, but it's certainly cheaper than buying a new car would be. What would Michelle do?

Michelle Singletary: If you have the money for the car and you were going to replace it anyway, I might go ahead and do that now.

Or if you think you can squeeze another two or three years out of the car after fixing it (I'll assume that the other person left the scene, otherwise why would you have to pay the deductible?)...I might hold on to it and my cash.

Really, I don't think going either way will be a big mistake.


Anonymous: I started a life happens fund after reading your columns and chats. Sure enough, I just got hit with an $1150 car repair bill, and I had the cash! Now, though, I only have about $100 left in it and I feel more bummed that the money is gone than I feel happy that I had it. Oh, well - time to start over.

Michelle Singletary: Don't feel bummed. That's what that pot is for.

I often tell people the life happens fund is supposed to go up and down. So rejoice you listened to me and you had the money and didn't have to rob your emergency fund.


Buffalo, N.Y.: Visiting my Aunt in Monroe, N.C. this Christmas, I realized that i no longer wanted to be broke :-). This is a woman that I have seen prosper in so many areas of her life and truly my inspiration. I asked her to help me save and we sat down and went over my budget. I have no car note, my rent is $685 a month, no utilities, no credit, my yearly income is around $50k a year and I'm BROKE!!!! I have a shopping habit and I don't know how to save. 2010 is my year to prosper. I'm taking baby steps but it's truly a struggle! I have a hard time keeping money in the bank. Is there anything else I can do?

Celeste Owens: My maternal grandmother had a saying, "Give us this day." That meant that whatever we wanted we could have because tomorrow is not promised.

I spent most of my 20's believing this statement was the gospel truth. It also took me many years to eliminate the debt I had incurred and the notion that tomorrow was not promised.

You need to understand why you spend. During the 21-day fast, you will have plenty of time to get in touch with your beliefs about spending and learn what voids the spending may be meeting. For example, do you spend out of boredom, loneliness or as a way of rewarding some good behavior?

I hope you learn a great deal and make 2009 the last year that you lived paycheck to paycheck.


Arlington, Va.: So I have a pretty frivolous (and kind of fun) question for you. My boyfriend has a dog--big slobbery, loveable labrador. His mom also loves this dog, and will often tuck $20 into a card to cover dog-related expenses. Yes, she's a sweet and generous woman. So these gifts have been adding up over the past year, and it probably totals several hundred dollars at this point. he's been keeping it in a jar in the kitchen, jokingly referring to it as 'Fido's College Fund', but would you recommend putting it in his bank account? Can't decide if it makes more sense to hold on to separately in case of unexpected vet care, medication, etc., or to "make it work" in an interest-bearing account of some kind. Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: Not a frivolous question.

I might move the jar out of plain sight, but if he intends on using it for the dog, okay by me if he keeps it in the house.

But I agree with you that I would have it in the bank.

But his dog. His money.

Don't sweat it.


Washington, D.C.: Hello, I am about 100K in debt (student loans) and have as good a credit score as possible (750) since I pay all bills, etc. on time and have very little credit card debt. I have a decent but not high paying job. My sister is a single parent who makes much less than I do and struggles to pay her bills every month. This month I happen to have extra money to pay my bills, etc. so I wanted to send my sister a $100 check to help her out. She, by the way, has no student loan debt and also very little credit card debt. Her job is just low paying.

When I told my fiance I wanted to send her the $$, he was perplexed and asked why I didn't put the extra toward my considerable student loan debt. His philosophy is that I will never be in a real position to help her as long as I have the mountains of debt that I have; I should therefore put every extra cent towards paying my debt.

What do you think?

Michelle Singletary: I think you were being very generous and that's okay, even when you have a lot of debt.

But I get -- and you should get -- his point.

If you want to help your sister out, just build that into your budget along with an aggressive, aggressive plan to get rid of that $100,000 in student loans.

I'm not sure what you studied to amass that amount of debt, but start living on a lot less so you can get rid of it or as much of it before you take it into your marriage. So with that amount of debt, I'm assuming you are NOT planning on spending a lot on a wedding, right?

Like hardly anything?

Like having a nice ceremony and cake and Kool-Aid in the backyard?


Central Mass.: Hi Michelle,

I'm single, middle-aged, in good health. I am wondering whether it would be a good idea to get long-term care insurance if I could find an affordable policy. I want to do the responsible thing and cover myself, but I'm leery about committing to a pricey policy that may not cover every situation 20 or more years down the road.

What is your opinion of these policies? What should I look for or avoid in terms of features?


Michelle Singletary: For the right person, who can afford the policy long-term, I think long-term care insurance is worth it.

But you are right, do lots of research. Go to AARP's Web site. You will find a lot of info and tips to help you begin to search for a policy. I'm planning to start looking at around 50 or 55.


Laurel, Md.: In reading the posted questions and comments, I realize I have a lot to do. I reduced my clothing/shoes budget from $250 per month to $50. Instead of going to the mall on the weekends, I browse the thrift shops and goodwill stores. It was difficult at first, but through this process I realize that I don't need anything and have not even been to the thrift store in 2 months. I also "fired" my hairstylist. In February, I will eliminate my credit card debt of $2500. My fear is that I will somehow get off track by trying so desperately to stay on track. Any tips for staying focused?

Celeste Owens: Don't buy into the fear. Change takes time. There will be moments when it feels that it would be easier to go back to your "old self" or way of being, but stay focused. You will reap handsomely if you don't give up.


22202: Last year, we bought a brand new Hyundai Elantra for $14,000 (in cash). So new may be an option too.

Michelle Singletary: Thanks. Good point to the couple with the $10,000 for a car.


Arlington, Va.: Michelle, I just thought I'd tell you that I read about your fast and I talked about it with my husband and son. I broke the fast last Monday and am starting over again. DS is fasting too, although it's easy for him. He is 9 1/2 years old. The big purchase he's saving for is back ordered & won't come in until mid Feb. He still doesn't have quite enough to pay for it. However, when I talk about spending with my son we talk about is it a -need- or a -want-? I figure that the more I talk about finances with my son the more he'll learn about it. Knowledge is power. We even talk about why/how I broke my fast - 30% off coupon at a store having a huge sale. I spent $200 & got about $900 worth of clothes which I've been wearing ever since. This has been really good for both of us.

Michelle Singletary: Yup, this is what the fast is all about. Talking about money and how you really want to save and spend it.

Good for you. And it's okay you broke the fast, as you pointed out, just get right back on it!

I hope the book helps as a guide. Don't forget to share Chapter 11 with your son, which is about leaving an inheritance for your children.


time off from work/everyday life is incredibly important for one's mental health and for relationship health: Sorry, but if you're deeply in debt, you need to be earning money elsewhere during your vacation time. Lying around the house lazily (even if not spending) isn't enough.

Michelle Singletary: Not sure about this. I think people do need to recharge.

And you can get a second job and still take a vacation at home from both jobs.

Mental peace is important.


Fairfax, Va.: I have a 1 1/2 year old and am 8 months pregnant and generally unable to walk, so most free options are out for us, although maybe the library is something I could finagle.

Michelle Singletary: See, I knew there was something else to this.

Can you get friends to get books, tapes for you or just come over and spend time with you?

Anyway, it's good you are trying the fast. Besides it's just 21 days, so not a lifetime of weekend boredom :)


Nashville, Tenn.: I feel that a lot of our budget goes toward alcohol, both at home and out. When I brought up doing the financial fast, the first question my husband asked was, "Can I buy beer?" I assume this is not part of the necessities. How do I have that conversation and still keep him on board?

Michelle Singletary: Good question.

Yes, beer would not be allowed. But really, this is a small battle to win the war.

So if he's like, "I'll do it only if I can have my beer," (responsibly drinking of course) let him have his beer.

The important thing is to get him on board to getting your financial life in order. Maybe, just maybe, once he starts he will see how much you are saving and drop the beer for the fast.


Michelle Singletary: Wow, the time just flew.

Really good questions. And as always, I'm so sorry if I didn't get to yours. I really try!

But keep an eye out for my print column and my weekly eletter. I often answer leftover questions in both. You can subscribe to the eletter by going to the Post main page and typing in the search engine "The Power to Prosper."

It's mostly about the book, but you can skip what you are not interested in and sign up for the letter.

I want to thank Celeste for joining me. And thank all of you. I just love chatting with you all.

Take care.


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