By Andrew Housser
When some people feel that their eating habits are out of control, they turn to fasting as a way to cleanse their bodies of impurities and restart their diets. Some abstain from food in order to focus on prayer as part of spiritual fasting. Whenever and however a person fasts, the body must learn to make do for days on a sparse diet. A financial fast embraces the same basic concept of doing without. The difference is that the focus is on your spending habits. Just as a dietary fast is not the healthiest step for everyone, neither is a financial fast. Learn more about what is involved before you commit to "going without."
What is a financial fast? Many people set a goal of going three weeks--21 days--without buying anything that is not considered an absolute necessity. Food and medicine are considered necessities (only with cash; no credit cards allowed). But you will have to say "no" to most other purchases, even if an item is something you would use and is on sale. People who strictly follow the rules of a financial fast may not even know about sales, because retail store visits are off limits. Even window shopping is forbidden. Financial fasters avoid dining out, too. Instead, they enjoy meals at home (or brought from home) and relearn how to use the coffee maker, with no purchases from the local coffee shop.
Will I be able to get by? Just as a person does not prepare for a dietary fast by overeating the week before, the same holds true for financial fasting. Do not go on a shopping frenzy or stockpile cupboards with excess food. A financial fast is designed to show you that you really can get by on less than you think. Here are a few ways to survive those 21 days:
Clean out your cupboards and freezer. Americans throw out 263 million pounds of food every day. Groceries get shoved in the back of the freezer and forgotten. Recipes you meant to try out and bought ingredients for never get made. During your financial fast, take stock of what you have on hand and get creative with meal planning. You are sure to save money on your grocery bill by not setting foot in a grocery store (or going as infrequently as possible, and only for perishable necessities).
Find free activities. You may be surprised at how many free activities are offered in your community. Check libraries and museums for open events. Hike or take walks around your neighborhood. Use this time to volunteer and help out others in need.
Take stock of your home. This is also a great time to organize your home and get an inventory of items that you can donate, and items you forgot you even own. Toss out broken and expired items. Sell gently used items at consignment shops. Use neglected craft supplies to make gifts for upcoming birthdays and holidays (buying gifts or gift cards also is a financial fasting "don't").
Have a family finance meeting. A good time to review your spending habits is when little money is flowing out. Review all monthly bills, and cancel or cut back on anything that is not necessary.
Is a financial fast right for you? If you are just starting to master the basics of money management--budgeting, paying off debt, trying to build up savings--fasting may be too much of a challenge. On the other hand, if you are looking for a way to pay off a debt more quickly or achieve a savings goal (and you are generally good at managing your money), a financial fast may be the boost you need.
A financial fast does not mean that you will not spend any money during those 21 days. However, it does provide an opportunity for you to be very intentional about spending. This, in turn, helps to rein in bad spending habits. A financial fast also can be a good motivator if you are lagging on hitting your monetary goals.
Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.