Are You Ready for the 21-Day Financial Fast?

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If you want to be rich, change. Grow. Get organized. Make the decision that you want to prosper.

Those are the lesson I’ve learned since I first created the 21-day financial fast. At the time, I was fasting from food when it occurred to me that the same concept of discipline and self-denial might be applied to people’s finances. My epiphany for the fast came long before the Great Recession. In fact, the country was enjoying growth and prosperity when I had the idea for the fast. Yet I was concerned and weary from watching people struggle with their finances even though times were good.

In the years to come, the economy will both prosper and decline. The employment numbers will rise and fall. And, as we learned in the last recession, home values can drop as well as increase. The stock market will do what it has always done — we will have bearish (bad) and bullish (good) years.

But through it all, you need to be steady with how you handle your money. What never changes is the work it takes to create lasting wealth.

Real net worth is created by hard work, delayed gratification, and financial education. So I’m asking you to work at your wealth building. I’m challenging you to take twenty-one days and curb your consumerism. Buy only what’s necessary. For three weeks, stop using credit. Use the twenty-one days to consider what being rich means to you.

And in case you’re wondering, when I use the word rich, I’m not talking about material wealth. I’m talking about the peace that comes when you’ve done all you can to wisely use the financial resources God has entrusted to you. The 21-day financial fast is about preparing yourself to prosper and leaving a legacy for your family that allows them to prosper, too.

The fast is also about getting your financial house in order. Aren’t you tired of the chaos and clutter? When you get your financial house in order, it directly impacts your financial life.

Let me explain.

I’ve dealt with a lot of death. My grandfather, brother, and father-in-law died from lung cancer. They died with their affairs not in order. I contrast their situations to what happened when a close friend, Juanita Ann Waller, died in an automobile accident in 2012. She was the most ardent supporter of my 21-day financial fast.

Juanita left her personal financial affairs and her apartment in an astonishingly organized condition. She got her finances and house in order, never anticipating she would die at age fifty-four. She left a will, life insurance, and the necessary paperwork to take care of her estate. But there was a higher level of organization in her affairs than I’ve ever seen. She not only freed herself from debt, she freed herself from wanting, buying, and accumulating too much stuff.

Juanita had a place for everything. She catalogued what was in her file cabinet. She had a notebook that detailed what was in each cabinet drawer. As a result, when several of us who were her friends went to pack up her belongings, we didn’t have to look through her private papers to be able to label the boxes. There wasn’t a single junk drawer in her apartment. There were no stacks of papers on her desk threatening to unleash an avalanche of craziness on the floor. Nor did she have bags of papers stuffed in corners or in her closets. She didn’t even have a trash can because there wasn’t much waste to throw away. Her closets weren’t overstuffed. Her pantry and refrigerator weren’t overstocked with food that would take months to eat or go to waste. There wasn’t a single item in any room that we could tell went unused for very long.

My friend was a financial fast devotee striving to get people to reduce their consumption and material possessions. Her place was so tidy and uncluttered that I wept. It made me ashamed of my personal living space, my disorderly office, and my hoarding of things that long ago should have been tossed, recycled, or donated.

Over the years, I’ve promised myself to get organized. But whenever I clean my office, it’s cluttered again a few weeks later with piles of papers sitting in stacks on the floor.

Just think about this: If you were to die, how long would it take for people to go through your stuff?

How many hours would they have to take off from their jobs to find and organize your personal property? Could they find your will? Where would they look for any instructions on your estate? Have you written down in a secure place the passwords to your computer or phone so friends and family can contact people if you pass away?

Juanita wasn’t obsessive with her orderliness. She was organized for a purpose…. I want you to get what Juanita got. I want you to understand that you have so much already.

I want you to take your prosperity seriously by consuming less, shunning debt, and organizing your financial life. I want you to be rich in the way Juanita was rich.

This Fast Is For You

The Bible is the key source for this book. Even if you are not religious, the Old and New Testaments give the best and most basic advice on how to handle your money — in good times and bad. We’ve seen what the world can evolve into by listening to and following the corrupt and greedy advice of financial companies and advisers. The Bible says, “The wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:19). So why not give Scripture a chance to change your financial life?

I love the way the Bible provides a roadmap to wealth — it promises prosperity, but prosperity with a purpose as a means to an end that isn’t about stuff. It all boils down to this: The more you get, the more you are commanded to give. This universal concept is one we all can and should embrace.

The key feature of my book [The 21-Day Financial Fast] is the financial fast. But if you think you can do this 21-day financial fast on your own, you are mistaken. It’s going to take discipline. The discipline of fasting forces you to turn your focus away from the things of the world — credit and shopping — and reach out to God. Fasting at its essence is about self-denial. And Lord knows there’s a need these days for people to deny their desires. For it’s these wanton desires that have caused financial pain for so many.

Fasting is also about obedience. Scripture gives us many examples of people who fasted. Moses fasted. Elijah fasted. David fasted. Daniel fasted. And Jesus fasted.

This fast is for you if you’re at your financial wit’s end. This fast is for you if the stress of money is causing pain in your relationship with your spouse, friends, or family. It’s for you if you’re worried about your retirement portfolio or saving enough to send your children to college. It’s for you if you’re not sure whether you’ll have enough money to carry you through a long, prosperous retirement. If you have more month than money, this fast is designed just for you. Or maybe you are already a good money manager, and now you’re looking for ways to do better with the resources God has given you. This fast is for you even if you’re doing just fine financially.

Whatever your financial situation, I challenge you to spend the next twenty-one days fasting.

Now this isn’t going to be like any fast you’ve heard about or done before. Rather than eliminating only food or certain types of food, you’re going to curtail your consumption in everything you buy.

The path to prosperity begins by breaking the yoke to buy and buy and then buy some more.

Take the Cleansing Challenge

I’m inviting you to take a 21-day financial fast in which you will purchase only necessities.

The fast is really about curbing the need to consume. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good steward or a spendthrift; all of us consume more than we need. We shop so much, we don’t even stop to think about what we’re buying. How many times have you gone to Walmart or Target with the intention of buying just a few things, but you ended up tossing more than a few things into your shopping cart? You get to the register, and a trip that should have cost you $20 ends up costing you $200.

If we all waited longer before making many of our purchases, we’d have more money. During this fast, don’t even go window-shopping. Take shopping off your weekend to-do list.

For twenty-one days, you will exercise discipline in your use of credit. I want you to become acquainted again with the feel and limitations of cash. Using plastic in any form — credit card or debit card — makes it too easy to overspend. By breaking your attachment to credit and debit cards, I hope to help you realize how much you’ve come to rely on this plastic devil. You might protest, “But why give up my debit card? Isn’t it the same as cash?” No, a debit card is not the same as cash because you can still spend more than you have. Despite how the banks have marketed debit cards, many people have found themselves hit with countless overdraft fees for swiping when they didn’t have enough money in their bank accounts.

This book includes twenty-one chapters — one for each day of the fast — and is divided into four parts:

  • Part 1: Why a Financial Fast?
  • Part 2: Fasting for a Better Financial Life
  • Part 3: Fasting to Avoid Financial Drama
  • Part 4: Fasting for Financial Peace

The chapters and parts build on each other to help you establish a strong foundation for financial peace and freedom.

This fast may be hard for you. Perhaps you have used shopping as a form of entertainment for so long, you can’t even imagine going one weekend, let alone twenty-one days, without a trip to the mall. If you’ve become addicted to shopping or if you’ve been brainwashed to believe you can use credit wisely, prepare to be challenged!

Or maybe the fast won’t be hard for you at all. You may already be a faithful steward over your money. And yet, I’m sure there are areas in which you can grow even more. Perhaps you’re so tight with your money that you aren’t as generous as you could be. Or maybe you’re afraid to spend and enjoy your wealth because you fear poverty. This was a bond I had to break.

Wherever you fall on the financial spectrum — compulsive spender or good steward — you’ll be surprised at how much more you can have when you follow God’s blueprint for making, keeping, and giving away money. My prayer for you is that this 21-day financial fast will give you both the biblical principles and the practical tools to achieve the prosperity God promises.

Get the FREE Download – 21 Day Financial Fast Budget Worksheet and Journal

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Your Turn

Does reading this make you cringe at the thought of your closet, file cabinet, desk, and household as it does for me?  If you were to pass away, how long would it take people to go through your stuff? Are you ready for the challenge of a 21-day financial fast? Let’s make 2014 the year we consume less, get rid of debt, and organize our financial lives! Come join the conversation on our blog!

Michelle Singletary

Michelle Singletary writes an award-winning personal finance column for The Washington Post called 'The Color of Money,' which appears in more than one hundred newspapers across the country. The author of two other books, Singletary has appeared on numerous national television and radio programs, including Oprah, The Today Show, The Early Show, The View, Meet the Press, CNN, MSNBC, Nightline, Tavis Smiley, NPR, The Diane Rehm Show, The Tom Joyner Morning Show, and Yolanda Adams Morning Show. Her television program, Singletary Says, can still be seen on TV One.

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