Michelle Singletary's 21-Day Financial Fast

Fasting. Budgeting. I used to think those terms were dirty words. Made me shiver. But with maturity, I’ve realized cutting back does more good than harm.

So I was moved to action when a Facebook friend shared that she joined Michelle Singletary’s 21-day fast, which started Monday, Jan. 13. Singletary is a best-selling author and syndicated columnist for The Washington Post. She’s been writing about all things moolah in her advice column, Color of Money, for years.

That Facebook post got my wheels turning.

Should I join the fast? Should I cancel the lunch date I just booked with a friend five minutes ago? Why not?

So I joined the fast a day late and $21 dollars short. On the day it started, I spent $3.94 on a chicken wrap combo. Then I rushed to the bookstore during my lunch break on the second day and bought Singletary’s book for $17.07.

But I’ve repented. I’m in the last week of the fast and still going strong.

My tools include Singletary’s book “The 21-Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom”, a Google spreadsheet for listing expenses, and the Toshl and Mint personal finance apps.

In her book, Singletary asks us to complete an assignment each day. They range from creating a budget to pondering ways to bond with a loved one without exchanging gifts.

It’s a strict challenge. No credit card use. No hair maintenance. No manis or pedis. No trips to the coffee shop. No concerts. No visits to the office vending machine. And no shopping with gift cards.

“Dang!” I thought. “I can’t even spend anyone else’s money. I mean, it was a gift!”

But I get it. The fast is a practice in self-sufficiency and spending what you earn.

The fast is designed for people who want to reign in their spending, reduce debt, track expenses and get a good start to the rest of the year. Obvious, right?

Here are some others reasons I’ve taken on the challenge:

1. I’ve tried the fast alone…and failed.

There’s power in the collective. Left to my own devices, I would tell myself that I wouldn’t eat out for an entire month. A few days after my secret declaration, I would be checking out the value menu at Wendy’s.

It’s different when you tell the world your intentions. This fast allows for positive peer pressure. If the ladies in the group are talking about staying out of stores and taking their home-cooked meals to work, then I’m more likely to do the same for solidarity. Plus, I tweeted Michelle Singletary a pic of me mugging next to her book. I can’t turn back now.

2. Michelle Singletary seems genuinely excited to help others achieve their goals.

I asked her a question via Twitter, and she responded within a few hours. Singletary fielded questions from other participants throughout the day. That’s one indication that she’s serious about shepherding us through this journey. She’s also releasing daily YouTube videos for encouragement. Besides having tons of credentials, she has years of experience leading her church family through the fast. I’m willing to trust her methods for three weeks.

3. The potential to connect with other people

Just following the #FinancialFast hashtag has given me little nuggets of wisdom from women all over the country. I might incorporate some of their money-saving tricks into my process to see how they work. Plus, whenever I’m tempted by another 30 percent off coupon, I could turn to social media for a pep talk. We’ll hold each other accountable.

4. The financial fast will help me achieve non-fiscal goals.

Another goal is try a new recipe each month. During the fast, I’ll aim to finally use everything in my kitchen cupboards to avoid spending much on groceries. This forces me come up with creative ways to prepare the roughly 12 pounds of frozen chicken breasts and tenderloins in my fridge. Yeah, I probably have enough yard bird for a 42-day fast.

Grocery shopping will be planned now, and shopping for fun is out of the question. That leaves more time to actually read the book for my book club and call loved ones – not just Facebook and text them. These activities are $Free.99 and will enrich my life, much more than a lamp or another dress.

So who else is doing the Financial Fast? What are you’re methods for sticking to your budget and saving money?

  • http://gravatar.com/geenababe geenababe

    Hmm this seems a little to hard for me. My major things are buying little snacks and tea everyday at work which has became part of my reoutine. Also online shopping on most weekends nothing major just little things. I am going to try to cut these things out to reach my goal by the end of the next month.

  • Tina L

    I definitely am interested in this. I read about it in the Washington Post. My only issue with her, like a lot of Post readers, is that she is telling people they need to cut unnecessary spending while telling them that they need to spend $17 on her book to do the fast properly.

  • Danielle

    It’s free.99 at the library :)

  • Danielle

    You can make your own tea at home and carry it in a cute thermos! Buy snacks in bulk and portion it for work. This alone can save a few bucks a week.

  • http://gravatar.com/geenababe geenababe

    telling people they need to cut unnecessary spending while telling them that they need to spend $17 on her book to do the fast properly
    LOl I guess she thinks her book is a necessary expense.

  • http://clutchmagazineblog.wordpress.com Ajaveen

    Good point Tina. Its like speaking in two tongues. Save money
    but buy my book.

  • RaiseTheBar

    Why I would NOT join this 21-Day Financial Fast or any other “Financial Fast”:

    Having the understanding that 21 days is the amount of time to replace bad habits with new and empowering habits:

    1) “Financial Fasting” “FEELS” like an early 20th century solution to 21st Century Challenges.

    2) With the greatest uncertainty of the times in which we live (earthquakes, floods, tornados, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.), 21days of total deprivation of a want that makes getting out of bed to face whatever challenges the day may hold in store is NOT a plan I support (i.e., 1 size does not fit all).

    3) “There’s power in the collective” Yeah, Mobs and Sheep — neither of which I am drawn to.

    4) “It’s a strict challenge. No credit card use.” I can see how “many” should abstain from the use of credit cards; I earn $s from the use of my credit cards – The usage of credit cards is NOT the problem, it how and when they are used that creates problems.

  • http://gravatar.com/geenababe geenababe

    You can make your own tea at home and carry it in a cute thermos! Buy snacks in bulk and portion it for work.

    Funny thing is I know these tips, I think I am just addicted to the routine of going to the little store on my break. I feel so naked when I don’t have any money to go in there

  • Justina

    After reading this article, it seems as though I have been living this fast for many years now. I am sad to report that I am not any richer. I take all of these financial “advisors” with a grain of salt, especially Suze Orman. They all seem to have the magic cure to turn your life around and get you on track to living like the 1% but you have to buy their books/cd’s/dvd’s in order to do so.
    Mind you neither of these people are financial advisors for any of the 1%. Also where were all of these people with their magical financial solutions, books, and dvd’s when the economy was going in the crapper? Why weren’t they amongst the first to sound the alarm?
    Telling someone to create a budget is not brand new information. That is something most people learn about in their high school economics class. Most of us have no choice but to learn to exist within the confines of a budget. However, budgeting doesn’t work for everyone because let’s face it some people have crap jobs with crap wages. A McDonald’s or Walmart employee who is barely making minimum wage and barely has two nickels to rub together is probably already on a budget sans credit cards but still struggling.
    Yes, I agree that there are options that we can take ourselves to have better financial footing but I think it goes further than that. Perhaps when these companies start offering fair wage/salaries that are actually livable by today’s standards then we can all get to higher ground. I really don’t believe that the general public is as fiscally irresponsible as these “advisors” would like us to believe.
    Perhaps they should stop blaming the general public and focus on writing a financial how to book for the politicians and corporations so that they can stop spending irresponsibly. Maybe if there was a how to book for the politicians and corporations they could figure out how to start allocating money to programs that actually benefit their constituents and create jobs within this changing economy. Instead of utilizing funds for bailouts of companies that go under, bankrupt states, close schools, diminish health care and etc… All whilst doling out even higher salaries corporate CEO’s in that coveted 1% spot. But that is just my 2 cents on all of this. Feel free to keep spending money on these books if you feel like your salvation is within those pages.

  • Lola289

    I just checked prices on Amazon for her book…
    There are other options*, ladies.
    *Such as Kindle (put it on ur smartphone)

  • vintage3000

    gee I could save money by walking past Starbucks and bringing my own lunch–realllly??!! And forget about all those gift cards I still have from Christmas too, let ‘em sit in my drawer! Well let me just go on over to Amazon and buy this book then!

    Let me know when a book is written that tells me how to legally pay off my student loans before retirement age.

  • omfg

    let a sista make some money. this will help someone. they can sell the book when they finish or give it to someone else – pay it forward.

    personally, i wouldn’t buy it because i’ve been on a fast for years.

  • vintage3000

    WORD, Justina.

    I am slowly recovering from the recession after being laid off in 2012. I am making a fraction of my last salary, and have kept my head above water working for financial services companies that have screwed everyone except the 1% you mentioned. It’s an insult for someone to suggest to grown folks my financial freedom is doing my own mani/pedis and cancelling cable. There needs to be major changes in legislation, including having to pay tax on unemployment benefits, and having to pay penalties for cashing out 401k benefits for emergencies like rent, mortgages, medical expenses. Look at how much trouble Obama is having just to raise minimum wages. I think of books like this author’s as leeches in a depression.

    These are the things we already do to SURVIVE, not save money and neither of these so called budget experts will admit that. I tried reading one of these articles a few years ago in Essence. I stopped when the woman they were “helping” had the epiphany that cancelling her annual trips to the Caribbean would save her money in the long run.

  • Tee

    17 dollars is a small investment. There is a great likelihood that you are going to get the money back and some by using the money saving information she researched and provides for you. I assume from your comment you will never buy any books again? If you will, why not buy this book?Especially when so many black people have the habit of paying astronomical amounts of money for things they want.Things that may not even be healthy or good for them.And they buy these things from people who don’t even respect them.

    I was really taken back by your comment and the others that co-signed your comment.Black women really need not boycott businesses by black women.

  • march pisces

    i like to read the amazon comments before i buy certain books. i read those marked two and three stars b/c i feel they generally offer the best opinion of the book. one person makes note that michelle offers advise based on conservative christian views. if that would be an issue for you allow me to suggest “girl, get your money straight” by glinda bridgforth. i read it years ago although i remember nothing i read. if you not ready for certain things they don’t stick. because of this post i’m going to pull it out again and take a look at what i can possible do differently to “legally pay off my student loans before retirement age.”<<<<vintage3000 that made me holla…..

  • http://jahmellasimmons.wordpress.com Jahmella

    Not totally against it but not all for it either. I have learned to make commitments I know I will keep in the long run and this is not one of them, I have good spending habits, don’t own a credit card but would like to improve to save more money.

  • me

    “so many black people have the habit of paying astronomical amounts of money for things they want.Things that may not even be healthy or good for them.And they buy these things from people who don’t even respect them.”

    how you know she fall into any of them categories? and just cuz she might buy another book in her life don’t mean she gotta waste any of that budget on this book. probably plenty other books that could possibly serve get better in her life. and she even said she thought the idea was interesting. you doing like the pr person for this author trying to drum up business. plus tina is right. lots of writers pull that “i got the secrets of the world but only if you pay me” stunt and half of them ain’t worth the money.

  • LJohns

    If you don’t have the money to buy the book you can always go to your local library to check it out. If it is not available you can request the library to purchase it. Nice to see a Black woman telling us how to save a few pennie. Although I have saved all of my life and now I am enjoying some of the benefits of those investments.

  • Overseas_Honeybee

    Doing the fast now and I’m happy I decided to take part. Yes I even bought the book too. I figured, I’ve spent money on so many other things (hair, nails, eating out etc)…so why not invest in myself to prosper long-term. $17 (or free at the library) is nothing to do that.

    Michelle is straight up and speaks from a Biblical perspective which I liked (non-believers can still apply the same principles too) and that’s exactly what motivated me to get busy

    Many of us (myself included) are struggling because of things like not having a budget, co-signing for folk, not discussing money management with our spouses/children and living above our means. We don’t have to live like that.

    Black folks have to have more discussions (and follow through) on how to better manage our money and educate the next generation. For those that are already doing it … how many are taking the time out to teach others? I salute her for doing her thing and I encourage everyone to try it out.

    You can also go online for FREE and read her financial columns in the Washington Post and see Fasting videos (covers what’s already in the book) on her YouTube channel.

  • Me

    i just don’t believe that “21 days to break a habit” saying that people keep saying. especially when some people been working on their bad habits for years. 21 days is gonna undo years of spending like a crazy person, eating like you always starving, cursing like a sailor, sexing up everybody you meet, etc. etc.? i don’t think so.

    but beside that, all 4 of your points just sound like you don’t wanna do it. if that’s the case then just say you don’t wanna.

  • Lauren

    I did this last year around this time and it’s tough. Sometimes you have to do something different to change your behavior. I spend too much on food. I may do it again soon as I’m trying to cut down on my variable expenses. I love how she talked about a home-wtecking hussy account in her section about marriage. Fun-ny!

  • LJohns

    After reading this article and comments I decided to see if I could cut a few corners on my budget. I called my cable company and told them I wanted to try and reduce my cable bill and the rep told me if I cut off *on demand* I could save a few dollars…well bingo. Then I called my wireless phone company and told them the same circumstances and since I was a “loyal customer” my bill was reduced again. All you have to do is be *nice* to those reps while talking on the phone to them and they will usually bend over backwards to keep your account….lol. Black folks wake up! It is about saving those *coins* now so you can live just a little bitter better…:) Black folks we are loyal customer…get those forty acres and a mule while we can.

Latest Stories

Cheers! 30 Not-As-Obvious Occasions That Call For Champagne


Maker of Infamous ‘Sizzurp’ Takes it Off the Market


How To Rock: Black Women In Orange Lipstick


Newsflash: Most People Aren’t Down With the ‘Swirl’

More in Financial Fast, money and finance
Sick of the Broke Life? Dig Clutch Money Management:101

Fun & Interesting Ways to Save That Dough