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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fasting The Way To Financial Freedom

Michelle Singletary's financial challenge involves not spending money for 21 days, except on essential items. (401(K) 2012/Flickr)

Michelle Singletary’s financial challenge involves not spending money for 21 days, except on essential items. (401(K) 2012/Flickr)

Working out every day, eating better, keeping in better touch with family and friends. Just some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions.

Oh, and don’t forget money. Managing it wisely, saving it abundantly. But what about not spending it at all?

Financial columnist Michelle Singletary joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss her 21-day financial fast, in which you can buy only t





From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

You know the list of resolutions. They involve weight, maybe drinking. What about a New Year's resolution about money? Michelle Singletary is the nationally syndicated personal finance columnist for The Washington Post. And she's got an idea: a 21-day financial fast. She joins us from the studios of NPR in Washington. Michelle, no spending at all?

MICHELLE SINGLETARY: None. None at all, except for the things that are necessities, and that list is a lot shorter than you think.

YOUNG: Like what?

SINGLETARY: Well, I mean groceries, medicine, things like that. But you can't go shopping, can't get your hair done, no movies, no eating out, all that kind of stuff.

YOUNG: You say don't even go into a mall, don't window shop.

SINGLETARY: That's right. You know, that's like temptation. I call the mall the den of iniquity...


SINGLETARY: ...because you go in there and you can't resist all that sinful temptation to spend with money that you don't have.

YOUNG: OK. So fast for 21 days, except if you need things for the children, you know, food and necessities and things like that. And you know what, I do this. I love this. And I do it around this time of year. And Psychology Today, the magazine, addressed this. And they say one of the reasons that if you have in common, you have money, it's never enough, and it doesn't bring you happiness because you always want more, and they suggest just this, a fast so that you bring yourself back to the days when you might have been scrounging, and if some people are already doing this, obviously, you know, you don't need to do this. But back to the days when you might have been getting quarters in couch, and it makes you feel better. Is...

SINGLETARY: That's right.

YOUNG: Is that what you're...

SINGLETARY: Absolutely.

YOUNG: Is that what you're getting at?

SINGLETARY: That's exactly right. You absolutely described it. It's to jumpstart that thing in you that you want to do better with your money. And what better time to do it than now as the new year is beginning. So you know, it's a quick way to sort of slap yourself and say, look, I've got to stop all this unnecessary spending. I need to save more. I need to save for my retirement. I've got kids. I want to send them to college without having to - have them take one debt. And this is what the financial fast is doing, 21 days, because they say it takes about that long for something to stick with you.

YOUNG: Right, two weeks.

SINGLETARY: And so that's why it's that long.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well - and, you know, they were pointing out in Psychology Today, it's, you know, good if you change your financial ways. But it's also about when you go back, you appreciate what you have and you don't need to up the ante again. And for you there's also a spiritual component to this.

SINGLETARY: Absolutely. The fast came out of a ministry that I run at my church in Maryland, First Baptist Church of (unintelligible) got to get a shout to them.


SINGLETARY: And essentially what it was is that so many people were coming up to me, how can you help me personally - and I thought, let's do this thing. Let's - because I'm doing the Daniel Fast at that time where you fast from food. And I though, why don't I apply the same principles to your money.

YOUNG: I have to jump in...

SINGLETARY: So you shut everything down - go ahead.

YOUNG: I have to jump in, the Daniel Fast.

SINGLETARY: Right. That's a spiritual fast in which you don't eat any meat or sugar and sodas, and you cut out all the impurities. You just eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and it's a way to cleanse your system. And the fast - the financial fast has a similar principle. Shut down all that shopping, and you can't use plastic. No credit.


SINGLETARY: Ah. I'll tell you, it sounds a lot easier. People think, oh, I can do that. But just think about all the unconscious spending that you do. And listen, this fast is not just for people who are financially challenged, as I call them. If you're good with your money, it's a way for you to sort of reassess. Are you on the same road that you put yourself in at the beginning when you started saving?

YOUNG: Yeah. So no credit cards, no - nothing that you don't need. And when does this start?

SINGLETARY: Well, I'm going to do a nationwide fast on - starting January the 13th, Monday, January 13. So I figured I gave you a week after, you know, New Year's to get settled. And I'm asking people all across the country to join me on this fast. And you can email at, go to The Washington Post,, sign up. And I'm telling you, already we've got, you know, dozens and dozens of people ready to take this challenge, to go into the new year with a different aspect about their money.

YOUNG: Okey-doke. We'll link people up at so they can join you. Michelle Singletary, a personal finance columnist for The Washington Post. Thank you and Happy New Year.

SINGLETARY: Happy New Year to you too. And I hope you'll join me on the fast.

YOUNG: I will. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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