This is the second year in a row that I have completed a 21-day financial fast as part of my personal and professional growth plan. I was inspired to undertake this challenge after listening to the keynote speaker Michelle Singletary at the YWCA Money Conference for Women in Connecticut.
This year the money conference fell on November 11th which meant that I had to endure the discipline of financial fasting during Thanksgiving and leading up to Christmas holiday. My 50th birthday also fell during the fast period, which was another interesting challenge. (how to celebrate without going into debt?)
What’s involved in a Financial Fast?
Here are the “rules” of a 21-day financial fast as I understand them from Michelle Singletary, author of the book The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom.
- You can spend money only on NEEDS not wants. Asking yourself the question before every purchase “is this a want or a need?” will help guide your spending behavior through the 21-days.
- You must use CASH to buy things. You cannot pull out your credit card or debit card for any purchase (note: an MIT study showed that payment using any form of plastic (credit cards or debit cards) results in 50% or more spending than planned)
- No dining out or purchasing coffee from restaurants or cafes during the 21-days. Note: You can brew your favorite Dunkin’ Brands or Starbucks coffee beans at home and get the same taste. You can save a great deal of money and eat better when you pack your lunch and cook at home.
- Tithing and giving to charitable organizations is permitted during your financial fast. Michelle Singletary suggests this is the first item on your spending plan.
- Journal and record every penny you spend during your 21-days. Every penny has a purpose.You’ll want to know where you money went.
These “rules” are really guidelines and you may find, as I did, that you break them now and again. The key is to be AWARE of your financial decision making in the moment. Conscious money management is vital to your prosperity.
On Tuesday, January 31, 2012 I was interviewed on the radio by Mary Jones of the Mary Jones Show. She accidentally referred to my fast as a 21-day financial feast. Interview is 23 minutes.
What did I learn from this year’s Financial Fast?
Below is a summary of the major lessons and benefits that I gained during this 21-day financial fast.
- Financial discipline is a family affair. It’s hard to be a frugalist in a house full of shoppers (ask my husband). Why not motivate your spouse and children to join you on this “little experiment” for 21-days of financial fasting. See how much you can save together. Talk it up. Make a game out of it.
- You rarely save money when you spend it. Look at every coupon and special offer with a skeptic’s eye.They are working really hard to get you to buy something you most likely don’t need. If you don’t buy it, you save the most money.
- No deal is good enough to get into debt (or pepper spraying your fellow Wal-Mart shoppers). Black Friday (the shopping day after Thanksgiving) fell during my financial fast. The reports of aggressive shoppers were truly shocking. No bargain is worth hurting someone else to get it.
- The best way to save money is to stay out of the stores. It takes extreme discipline to go to a grocery story and only buy the 1/2 gallon of milk that you were needing. Impulse shopping has become part of the American way of life. Sometimes it’s best to resist all temptation and just not go there. Take a walk, go to the library, meditate instead – all these things will cost you nothing, and benefit you greatly.
My Facebook Daily Log
Below is a recap of the day by day journaling that I did on Facebook.
21-Day Financial Fast
Kathy McAfee – 2011 Daily Log
DAY #1 FINANCIAL FAST. Okay, here we go. The first day of my 21-day financial fast. I am really excited about this experience and will be sharing with you what I did with my money each day for 21 days. Michelle Singletary is my inspiration. Today she encouraged us to log our daily spending and to differentiate WANTS from NEEDS. Today, I paid CASH for Koi fish food – $15.94 (NEED) and 2 bottles of white wine total of $10.61 (WANT). Knowing that I was going on this fast, yesterday I ordered things from on-line catalogs totaling $262. Shameful! No more of that for 21 days!
- COMMENTS Zakhar Glukhovsky, Anne Witkavitch and Cyndi Papia like this. Gurye Johns Smith You have a sort of “Mardi Gras,” before your fast! lol Lisa Lane Sundean Question: If you prepare for the financial fast by ferociously spending before the start of the fast, are you really fasting???
Day #2 FINANCIAL FAST. It’s Sunday and my goal is not to spend a single penny. My strategy is to stay out of all stores and to just enjoy what I have at the house (the pantry is plenty stocked). My boys are collecting wood for next year (so many fallen tress after the bad snowstorm in CT). I may go to the YMCA and enjoy a swim and maybe take a yoga class. (that is, use the fitness membership that we have already paid for!). I did go through my wallet this morning and removed all non-critical credit cards and frequent shopper cards. No need for extra plastic in my life.
- COMMENTS Arlan S Lieblick, Leslie Hammond, Zakhar Glukhovsky and 9 others like this. Kathleen Oyanadel i went to Christmas Tree Shops today and helped the economy….too bad it was China’s. Nancy Anton It will work until you need gas!
Day #3 FINANCIAL FAST. Another day of zero spending. Hurray. I had two speaking engagements today and was on the road from 9am-7pm. The first client invited me to stay for lunch, which I did and got to network more with the professional women of UTC. My second client treated me to a cup of tea before my evening engagement. I did not stop for dinner, but went straight home to get dinner. The money in my wallet stayed there the entire day. No plastic used. Success!!!
- COMMENTS Susan Petroskey Boop, Kellie Fenton, Lewis Green and 7 others like this. Dennis Murphy Keep on keepin’ on America Marketing Motavator! Cool (and timely) project, have you tried to pull any PR from this, enquiring minds want to know!!!Cindy Whitney Clark So inspirational, Kathy! Thanks for posting your progress. Loving following this – it’s motivating me to do the same! Dorien Roelofs-Boon van Ostade Yup, I knew it, you are Dutch!
Day #4 FINANCIAL FAST – drove to the bank today and withdrew $200 cash to pay for necessities of the day. Specifically paid $133 cash for my dental check up (NEED) – saving 10% b/c I paid that day!; also paid $30 cash to fill up my car (NEED) – saved 10 cents per gallon by using my stop ‘n shop card and driving to the participating Shell station. I still have some cash in my wallet, but I am determined to have it stay there. No more spending today. I’m done.
- COMMENTS Susan Petroskey Boop, Chris John Amorosino, Princess Bola Adelani and 8 others like this. Jerry McGeehan I am enjoying following your progress. Keep up the great work. Kellie Fenton Sometimes we may feel like we can’t save money because we have to pay for certain things. May I suggest that we take a moment to appreciate when we can use the money we earned to pay for these NEEDS. Yay – teeth cleaning!!
Day #5 FINANCIAL FAST. I did not personally spend any money today. My husband went shopping and called to ask me if I wanted anything. I bit my lip and said “No – I’m fine.” Pam Lacko of Smart Clicks LLC recommended that I purchase computer back up service called Carbonite.com I was prepared to make a business investment of $59, but signed up for their 15-day free trial. Try before you buy.
- COMMENTS Lori French Linn, Nancy Lees Guthrie and Gurye Johns Smith like this. Debbie Roth Fay As long as you’re enjoying it, I’m cheering you on.Linda Pulford I’ve finished my holiday shopping, but have to stay out of the stores to keep from over shopping. library, walks, museums and friends are free.
Day #6 FINANCIAL FAST. Does it count when your husband does the shopping but not you? Not sure how the Financial Fast police would judge this one. In preparation for a little birthday gathering that Byron is hosting for me on Saturday, he spent $263 at COSTCO in food. Food is a basic necessity, but parties are not. However, when you turn 50 years old, you gotta bend the rules and have a little fun. Would you agree?
- COMMENTS Marcia Maroni Kielb, Kristin Waitkus McDaniel, Cynthia Campos and 11 others like this. Dorothy MartinNeville Some things absolutely need to celebrated and the success of achieving it sane is a bigger gift!Rose Marie Garcia Fontana Of course you al had to celebrate! And frankly, the amount Byron spend was quite frugal, in my opinion! Hope your special day was beyond wonderful…love you! Rosi and Chu
Day #7 FINANCIAL FAST – this day marked my 50th birthday. I had to balance my inclination for celebration and for self-discipline. Byron and I took the day off (off-line too) and took a long drive in the car, after enjoying a morning swim at the YMCA. We made our way north, stopping to eat at some of our favorite little places in MA. I am pleased to say that we paid for almost everything in CASH (except for gasoline), including $3.50 for a cream puff, $5.00 for hot cider and french fries, $85 for dinner out at my one my favorite restaurants- Arugula in West Hartford, CT. Our neighbors watched our kids while we were out (saving money on babysitting!) One final thing, after dinner we stopped off at Best Buy to see how much money we could save if we downgraded our cell phones to the basic service (do we really need mobile internet connection 24/7?). We checked out their pay-as-you-go plans. We resisted buying on the spot, knowing that we need to do more research on options before making our move.
Day #8 FINANCIAL FAST – we attended a funeral of a dear neighbor this morning which reminded me that the richness in our lives is really friends and family, not wealth and possessions. In the afternoon, we readied our house for a birthday party that Byron had organized for me. Nothing like planning a party to get your house cleaned and in order! Byron sent me out to the store to pick up a few last things. Nearly out of gas, I had to put $40 worth of petrol in the car, paying cash. Stopped to get the food first – $18.03 in groceries. I struggled with the price of the all-natural mayonnaise vs. the chemically enhanced cheaper brands. (went with the healthy choice). Then I made my way to the Wine Store, worrying that I didn’t have enough cash to buy both the red and the white wine that we would need for the party. I was delighted when I got to the register that I almost had enough cash – just 10 cents short. I thought the store clerk would let me go with this meager short-fall. Apparently, he knows that every penny has a purpose too. So he held me order while I dashed to the car to get 10 pennies. I felt so empowered to get what I needed without having to take out my debit or credit card. VICTORY!
Day 9-10-11 FINANCIAL FAST. I was doing so well, having spent no incremental money on Sunday and Monday. Today, I caved. I got an offer from Lands End that I just couldn’t resist – save 30% and free shipping. I just spent (using credit card) $72 on 4 turtleneck sweaters. I bought one for my birthday earlier and absolutely love it. Then I got a call from Lands End to see how I like my order. Love that customer service touch. My justification is that on my earlier order I will returning a dress and boots that don’t fit/aren’t my style. I call that rationale – McAfee logic. It allows me to justify spending. Boy, have I fallen off the financial fast bandwagon. Credit cards (the modern version of lay-away) make your wants feel like real immediate needs.
Day 12 FINANCIAL FAST. Back on track today. Spent $25 cash for a gift certificate to a nail salon for my wonderful neighbor and friend Luana whose birthday is tomorrow. Thought a pampering service would be better than more STUFF. Over to the pharmacy where I spent $21 and change (paid cash) for prescription and support materials I need for a doctor’s appt next week. My husband on the other hand pulled out the credit card a few times today. He is frugal by nature, so his expenditures were modest (Turkey at the grocery store, shoes/jacket at a consignment shop). All told he charged $33 on credit cards today. He is getting used to me asking “Did you pay cash?” Everyone in the family is aware that I am on this financial fast. Awareness is the first step towards changing habits.
Day 13 FINANCIAL FAST. It’s Thanksgiving Day, a day where we give thanks for what we have (as opposed to wanting more and more stuff). The only thing I spent today was time with friends and family. It was a great investment and yielding immediate and joyful returns. It is ironic that Black Friday sales have creeped into Thanksgiving Day. We saw people camping outside of BestBuy, just waiting for the doors to open at 12:01am – so they could buy things that they probably don’t really need with money that they don’t yet have.
Day 14 FINANCIAL FAST. I awoke this morning to find my husband missing. I thought that maybe he was downstairs reading or working, but then I discovered his car was gone. He left a note that said “I was up so I went out.” I feared the worst…. No, not that he had left me for another woman, but that he had been lured to the stores for the Black Friday specials. (like we really need another big screen TV??). He came home at 8am (after being out since 3am). Fortunately, he only purchased 2 ladders that he needed for his construction business. Here’s a financial tip for the holidays: stay out of the stores. No deal is that good to put you in debt.
Day 15 FINANCIAL FAST. It was an unseasonably warm fall day today – perfect for working/playing outside (and staying out of the stores). I enjoyed a morning class in Tae Kwon Do (working off the turkey feast the day before). Gave my sons $4 cash for hot chocolate during their Boy Scout Xmas tree sales event. Paid $2.53 to mail my book via media mail (vs. $5.50 for priority mail). Needed gasoline, so I paid $38.95 in cash to fill up my car, leaving me $8 for groceries. I know that I should have balanced that a little better. Got to the food store and was reminded how expensive food is. Bought the milk and bananas that were on my list. Picked up a few vegetables for the turkey soup we wanted to make. Got to the register and was bummed that I was $2 short. Embarrassed, I pulled out my debit card and charged the remaining $2 to my bank account. I resisted the urge to get cash back. I walked out of the store with what I needed for the moment ….and, yes, an empty wallet.
Day 16 FINANCIAL FAST. They say that Sunday is the day of rest. Well, I rested my financial self at home, spending no additional money. I found plenty of food to eat in the pantry and refrigerator, lots of clean water from our tap (filtered by a Britta pitcher) and plenty of things to do around the house and garden to entertain myself. Speaking of entertainment, last night we attended Simsbury Celebrates, an annual outdoor holiday kickoff with free shows, performances, and festivities. While there were things to buy, like food and drink, we stuck to our financial fast and just enjoyed what was offered for free. When we got home, we watched a great movie -Ghost Writer – that we checked out from our library….for free!
Day 17 FINANCIAL FAST. I made a few business expenditures today. $11 at the post office, $59 for a Carbonite.com back-up files service. I utilized my YMCA membership to get a great workout and swim this morning. You know how many people buy gym memberships and then don’t use them? Lastly, I drove to the bank to withdraw $100 in $5 bills, so that I’d have change to make for book sales after my motivational talk tomorrow with The Breakfast Club in Manchester, CT. It reminded me that you have to have money to make money. And if you save money, you’ll have more money to invest it in things that really matter to you.
Day 18 FINANCIAL FAST. I stopped at Sears today after my morning speaking engagement to return part of a Lands End order (a splurge before I began this 21-day spending fast). I was determined to return merchandise only and not buy anything while I was there. I was curious as to what was on the 75% clearance rack, but walked away without peaking. On the drive home, I heard a radio commercial for a FREE parenting program to help with defiant children (that’s a whole other story). I called the 800 number, skeptical about its promise of free. Boy are they good at building rapport on the telephone. Kyle talked me into getting the FREE program for only $138 charge to my credit card. Of course this will be refunded as will the 2 following payments of $119 if I return the completed survey within 90 days. That’s how you get it for free. Ha! I suppose that I am a sucker…and my teenage sons are a real challenge right now. I do need some intervention and help. I guess that makes that purchase a NEED (if not a deterrent). When I arrived home my husband brought in the mail to find SURPRISE another Lands End package. I really do like their turtlenecks. I now have 4 more in different colors. Oh dear, perhaps I haven’t really learned anything on this financial fast after all.
Day 19 and 20 FINANCIAL FAST. Can you believe it? Only one more day to go to complete my 21-day financial fast. In the past 2 days I have spent a total of $40 on gasoline in CASH. It’s amazing to pay for fuel and groceries in cash – you really realize how expensive these necessities are. Yesterday I had a colonoscopy (now that I’m 50, it’s time). I elected to have the screening procedure this calendar year as my insurance deductible was fully paid up thanks to my unexpected cancer treatments. Timing it just right might have saved me $1,700-$3,000. Best yet, the results came out clear and healthy. Investing in preventative health care with proper screenings, good nutrition, exercise and wellness is the BEST investment you can make. I encourage you to prioritize this kind of spending in your budget.
Day 21 FINANCIAL FAST. It’s taken me a few days to write my final log entry. I can’t believe that 21-days has come and gone so quickly. In an odd way, I am going to miss my financial fast experiment. On my last day which was a Friday, I spent no money out of pocket. We cooked at home, got our entertainment at home, used the YMCA for exercise, making good use of our monthly membership. All was as it should be. However, I did have a nightmare that I was caught at a day spa driving up my credit card on manicure/pedicure and facials. In the two days that followed the completion of this financial fast, I have made an effort to continue my cash-only spending and focus on needs not wants. I will once again plan on conducting a 21-day financial fast in my 2012 personal goals. I encourage you to do the same. It’s good for you and it’s good for your future.
I invite YOU to take the challenge of a 21-day Financial Fast
I want to encourage you to take the 21-day financial fast challenge. Why not plan it in as part of your 2012 new years resolutions or goal setting? I am going to do it every year. It’s fun, it’s insightful, and it is prosperous.
I also encourage you to use FACEBOOK to record your daily experiences on your 21-day financial fast. It’s a great way to engage your network and get the support you’ll need to get through it with grace and ease.
About the writer:Kathy McAfee is known as America’s Marketing Motivator and is author of the book Networking Ahead for Business (Kiwi Publishing 2010). In her role as Executive Presentation Coach and Professional Speaker, Kathy helps her clients to become the recognized leaders in their fields by mastering the art of high engagement presentations and more effective networking and connecting. To learn more about Kathy, visit her web site www.AmericasMarketingMotivator.com