If you’ve found yourself physically and mentally strained from shopping too much, it may be time for a break. Your budget could probably use a break, too.
Whether you’re shopping on your computer at home during the coronavirus pandemic or fighting the crowds during the busy Christmas shopping season or any other time of the year, it can be wise to go on a money diet.
A “financial fast” for 21 days can break bad spending habits, lead to being debt free, and put your financial future in focus and on a better path.
What is a Financial Fast?
A financial fast requires not spending any unnecessary money for 21 days. Food, shelter and other essential expenses are allowed, but the idea is to make do with what you already have.
It’s a term made popular by Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary in her book “The 21-Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom.”
The main goal is to break bad, long-term spending habits in a short period. Three weeks is ideal because less time may not allow your financial habits to change, and more time fasting can be unreasonable.
How to Start
The first and main step is to understand that a financial fast requires buying only what you need to survive. Other expenses are eliminated for three weeks.
This means not spending money on:
- Hair stylist
- Restaurant dinners
- Online purchases
- Happy hour at a bar
- Birthday gifts
That’s just a short list of what not to buy. If you don’t know what you spend money on, you will shortly.
When you do spend money on necessities such as food, housing, and medication, pay with cash only. This will help you be mindful of how much you’re spending.
After every necessary expense, write it down in a spending journal. Also use the journal to list things you didn’t buy and thus saved money. This can give you encouragement to continue not spending and can show you habits worth keeping.
How a Financial Fast Can Help
Writing down how you were tempted to spend $5 on a coffee in the morning, $12 on lunch out in the afternoon, and a $6 visit to a froyo store after dinner at home will do more than show how you avoided spending more than $20 on snacks and eating out throughout the day.
It should make you more conscious of your spending habits. Cutting expenditures during a financial fast gives you a good look at where your money goes, and should be an incentive for cutting unnecessary spending.
Saving $20 or so per day can also show you how much it adds up to ($7,300 per year) and how reaching your savings goals may be easier than you thought.
A financial fast can also show you how much you’re spending on credit cards. By not using credit cards during a fast for three weeks, you’ll likely see your spending drop.
This is because people typically spend more when using a credit card instead of cash, and it especially increases when they want to buy something but don’t have enough money on them.
Lastly, you’ll see spending temptations drop fast by not shopping online or going to stores for 21 days. Who knows, you may find other, more enjoyable ways to spend your time.
Once the fast is over, you may be tempted to return to your old ways and go shopping immediately to make up for the stuff you wanted during the fast but didn’t buy.
Don’t fall for it. Give yourself 24 hours to think over any purchase you’re considering, including impulse buys. Do you really need that new shirt you saw on sale? Don’t you have enough clothes in your closet? Let the urge rest for a day.
A fast won’t solve deep financial problems you have. It may get you to think about them more and hopefully work to solve them, but it won’t eliminate your debt or pay your taxes for you. A financial fast may encourage you to start a budget or seek financial advice, but big money issues are unlikely to be solved during this money break.
Remember, this is only for 21 days. Don’t do it longer. The main goal is to see where you can change your spending habits. From there you can figure out saving and spending goals.
Celebrate Ending the Fast
When the 21 days are over, celebrate it. Treat yourself to a modest gift such as lunch out with your spouse or a friend.
Those could be your new monthly goals after realizing poor financial habits that may be preventing you from paying off debts or having an emergency fund in case you lose your job.
A financial fast won’t solve any out-of-control spending you have, but it can be a step toward being financially responsible.