21 Days

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During a three-week “financial fast,” you’re supposed to go cold turkey on all nonessential purchases. And for a lot of people, most purchases are nonessential purchases.

“The Color of Money” columnist Michelle Singletary is the one heralding the 21-day financial fast, which is part of her new book The Power to Prosper. She writes:

During this fast, you will not shop or use your credit cards. For three weeks you must refrain from buying anything that is not a necessity. And by necessity, I mean the bare essentials, such as food and medicine.

You will refrain from going to the mall or retail stores. Even window shopping is off-limits.

No restaurant meals — fast food or otherwise. This includes buying breakfast or lunch at work. You can’t stop for coffee. Make it at home instead.

What’s the point? Obviously, to save money. But not just for three weeks. The idea is to take this time to become more aware of how you normally spend, and to figure out a smarter, long-term approach, including what expenditures you can do without long after the fast is over.

Singletary has a long list of rules for what’s OK and not OK during the fast, including:

Use cash.

Don’t browse retail catalogues.

Don’t window shop.

Don’t go to the movies.

Do you need to follow every one of her rules to learn more about your spending habits and find ways to save? No, not at all. The fast is a short-lived gimmick, which is not to say that it doesn’t work. Some people actually do keep the weight off after heeding to a fad diet and learning how to manage their relationships with food. Then again, plenty of people return to their old habits once the “fast” has ended. The point is to set goals (realistic ones), and then to live up to them—hopefully for a lot longer than three weeks.