Money Expert Q&A: A Financial Fast to Curb Unnecessary Spending

Author and Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary offers a take on financial fasting that might have some raising an eyebrow. Mention the idea of not using a credit card and some will say, “That’s doable.” But asking someone not to use plastic at all, including debit cards, might have them shaking their head in strong defiance.

In her latest book, The Power to Prosper, 21 Days to Financial Freedom (Zondervan; $14.95), Singletary poses just that challenge:  For 21 days, put away those cards and buy only what you need to live. Singletary talked with about how to approach such a challenge:

  • First, limit what you buy. Only purchase necessities such as food and medicine. Extras, such as a new pair of shoes, tech gadget, or a visit to your favorite nail shop for a pedicure/manicure are out of the question. And if you can afford to do without things such as a cell phone, cut that out as well.
  • Take your credit and debit cards out of your wallet. It will limit the possibility that you will spend without thought, Singletary says. For example, you intend to buy one thing at the grocery store and you come out with a cart full of groceries, even if you have food at home.  “It’s often because we can pay for it with plastic, including debit cards,” Singletary says. And don’t believe the myth that not using your credit card will damage your credit standing. “Refraining from using your credit card [for a period of time] will not hurt your credit. The biggest impact is not paying on time,” she says.
  • Change how you spend your time. Alter routines that might tempt you to spend unnecessarily. For example, if you pass your favorite store on your way to work every day, change your route.
  • Get an accountability partner you can trust. Find someone who can support and encourage you not to buy something. “It’s like having a workout partner,” Singletary says.  Whenever you feel the itch to buy something that is not necessary for your survival, call your accountability partner.