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?

  • 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.

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