The 21-Day Financial Fast Begins!

Could you go 21 days without buying ANYTHING? (Other than food and other true necessities, of course.) Could you that long go without using your credit cards at all?

That’s the question that Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary posed in her book The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom.

As we noted in our interview with Singletary in the January/February 2012 issue of the Green American, there are multiple benefits to taking what she calls “the 21-day Financial Fast”:

  • You’ll shift spending patterns that have become automatic—like buying an expensive latte every morning—for the better
  • You’ll save more, because you’ll be spending far less!
  • You’ll focus more on the things that are important to you, like family time, artistic pursuits, etc.
  • You’ll be able to take a closer look at whether you’re really putting your money where your values are.
  • You’ll have the chance to examine whether you’re being generous with your money, and using it to do good in the world—whether by helping out a friend in need or donating to a charity you care about.

When Green America senior writer Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist and I first talked about doing the fast with our readers, we both felt like we’d be starting the fast in a good place, since we feel we’re pretty good with our money. (I hope that doesn’t sound smug, but we do research and write about using our money mindfully on a daily basis, so it’d be sick and wrong if we didn’t walk our talk!) We have retirement accounts and college savings accounts for our children, invested in socially responsible vehicles. We have emergency funds and socially responsible credit cards. We both try to be mindful about our spending, buying used and bartering for what we need whenever possible.

But when I gave my spending habits some more thought, I realized that I do have some weaknesses: I could be putting more money into savings. I also hate cooking with the white-hot fiery passion of a thousand suns, so I have a tendency to opt for restaurant meals more often than I should. And I love books; having an iPad—and several writer friends who depend on royalties from new book sales to make a living—has made it all too easy to download an interesting novel or nonfiction tome from the Internet.

Here’s another confession: I don’t have a current budget. (I’m sure all you Green American members are mentally pelting me with copies of our Guide to Socially Responsible Investing right now….) I have a set amount I put into my various savings accounts, but I tend to guesstimate how much I can spend, rather than setting hard limits, which would likely help me in my goal to save more.

So here I go … I’m going to go 21 days without buying things–even electronic things. If if I can bump up my savings accounts a bit—and get my husband and myself cooking healthy meals at home more often, I’ll consider it all worth it. And yes, perhaps I’ll actually do that pesky budget.

If you’d like to join me, there are two rules:

1) Do not buy anything you don’t absolutely need, like toothpaste or healthy food.

2) Pay for everything in cash, since it’s much easier to picture your hard-earned money going away with every purchase, instead of using the “magic money” of credit cards.

C’mon–it’ll be fun! Okay, maybe not fun, but I do think it’ll be rewarding in the end!

If you went 21 days without buying anything, what would be your biggest challenges? What spending habits do you think a 21-day financial fast would help you improve? And if anyone has any kid-friendly, quick-and-easy meal ideas they’d love to share, I’m all ears!

Tomorrow, I’ll post some questions for reflection for this week from Singletary’s book. Remember: You don’t have to have the book to participate in the fast.

P.S. Singletary’s book is written from a Christian perspective, which makes it a great choice for a church book club. Out of respect for all of our members, who come from a wide variety of spiritual traditions or may choose not to have one, we’ll be keeping the faith element optional and to a minimum in our challenge here on the Green America blog.


  1. (Tough not to include a faith element, since a person has to have faith that an economic system does exist and that it benefits society in some way. IOW, one has to have some beliefs about money, financial institutions and management of money for this process to make sense.)
    I surfed my way to finding a great web-based app that does not require any sharing of any secure information to track my spending. Why not just use a spreadsheet or a memo book? Because this little app has features that remind me to track and the entries are very simple. Best of all, it jumps starts the analysis process with lists, pie-charts and graphs. is the website for this great tool. I have been trying to follow this fast since January 1. So far, I have reduced monthly fixed expenses by $146. Day-to-day, impulsive spending is down significantly– but I need to make it MORE significant! The ability to see where my out-of-pocket money is going opens my eyes and helps me close my wallet.

  2. Genie, that’s all true, what you say about having faith that an economic system benefits society in some way. I think, as Green Americans, we also have to have faith that we can change our current, broken economic system into something better, that has even more of a benefit to society. I meant that we were going to minimize the religious aspect of Singletary’s fast, since not every Green American is a Christian or even a person of faith. But please feel free to reflect on the spiritual aspect in the comments, if that part spoke to you.

    I am going to check out the app you suggested right now. It sounds amazing! So glad to hear that the fast is working for you. I can’t wait to hear more about your experiences as we go along.

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