End of financial fast is beginning
of different economic living

So what happened to the end of the 21-day financial fast, you wonder?

I completed it. But more important, I paid attention to the things I learned on it.

I paid off my car (and am about to pay off one of the only two credit cards I have).

I do not buy anything major now without giving myself a week to think about it.

And I’m cleaning up my house and life, getting rid of all the crap and not replacing it with things I don’t need.

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 12.09.35 PMWhen I began Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary’s 21-Day Financial Fast, I figured I’d save a few bucks, learn a few things and go back to business as usual.

I saved a lot. I learned more about myself than my money. And things will never be the same.

Example? I went to have my annual teeth cleaning. I’m a big baby at the dentist’s office. The hygienist said “You want nitrous (the wonderful gas, nitrous oxide that makes you not care that she’s in your mouth)? Rather than immediately say “Yes!”, I asked “How much?”

It was $40. I said no.

What?!

I needed a new wallet. I went shopping in my closet. I found one with the tag still on, and I have had great compliments on the style and color. I don’t even remember buying it.

My next task is to clean the garage, so I can take the stuff I have in storage and put it in the garage. That stuff has been there since April 2012 because I didn’t have time to deal with it. When I realized that the money I’d spent holding onto it would have paid for a trip to Paris, I got motivated.

checkbookSo I want to thank Michelle and the fast. And she’ll be happy to know that, unlike some people who might not have wanted people to know what they were doing, I talked to everybody. The best encouragement I got was a gift from a dear friend, who knew that I would be experiencing several special occasions occurring during the fast, including my birthday. She gave me a checkbook whose checks were actually dollar bills.

“Snack on these and stick to your fast,” she told me. Continue Reading

Co-signing credit is giving your reputation
to someone else to use and lose

It’s not that I’m selfish, but Days 13 and 14 of the 21-Day Financial Fast were easy.

Chapter 13 in Michelle Singletary’s book that accompanies the fast explained the curse of credit. That curse taught me a harsh lesson more than a decade ago. That curse kicked my butt.

Suffice it to say, after my foray into unlimited twentysomething spending, I soon learned to treat credit cards like alcohol, and I didn’t want to become an alcoholic.

I cut up all my credit cards but one, (My company gave me a second for business expenses.), and I began paying off my bills.  That was a huge step for someone who got her first credit card when she was 19.

creditcardsChapter 14 was one I didn’t even have to read. It was called co-signing is crazy. As I said, it’s not that I’m selfish, but I wouldn’t co-sign something for anyone, not even my mother.

What I would do is find a way to get what she needed, whether it was a car or a house without attaching my name to someone else’s credit.

It is a standard I’ve always had, but one that became a life mantra that speaks to a larger issue: Do not give your reputation to someone else to use and lose! If they mess it up, you can’t get it back – not for a long time.

So these days, these chapters, were easy: Do not get a bunch of credit cards. They are not money, and you’re still broke. And don’t let someone else’s poor credit keep you from using your own.

Got it!

ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer and blogger whose posts here are about her personal adventures. You can read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley, and she hopes you will support her Kickstarter campaign to record an acoustic gospel album here!

Financial Fast helps reveal unhealthy obsession

I have 64 handbags, purses and pocketbooks.

handbagsI hated writing that out loud because first, it’s stupid and second, it’s just stupid.

But there’s more. I have 52 pairs of shoes and 11 pairs of boots.

That is not bragging. That is an admission of guilt. This is a revelation of an obsession. If there was any evidence needed of my indiscriminate and unnecessary spending, those numbers are it.

For about five minutes, I sat down, just sat down and said out loud: I’m a hoarder. Why do I have these things? Who needs 64 purses (and six laptop cases?) I hadn’t even seen some of the purses since I bought them; 17 were still brand new or used once. Who am I?

I wouldn’t have been in my closet – and come out of my compulsive-spending closet – had it not been for the 21-Day Financial Fast that I stumbled onto on Michelle Singletary’s Twitter feed. She’s The Washington Post columnist who created a spirit-based plan to teach us about money and spending and debt.

I know that I’m blessed. I know that I have loved shopping for longer than is necessary to say. I just never thought about how far my shopping had gone. Having the ability to buy is a blessing; wasting that ability is a curse.

What I have learned over 13 days is that I don’t have to spend all the money I make. It’s OK to save it.  For big things. For rainy days. For storms. For no reason other than it’s smart.

I can’t believe what my past patterns were. I can’t believe I’m talking about them out loud.

But I will say this: If I have learned only one lesson from this fast (and there have been more than one), it is that I will never spend money the same way again.

I have gone to the supermarket and purchased just what I needed without picking up 22 other things.

I have made meals in my own kitchen for 13 days. That is a record, yes a record.

I went to a restaurant for the first time in nearly two weeks yesterday – but only because a friend treated. I had an amazing taco salad. I know because I have the fixings at home. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Continue Reading

DAY 11: Fasting to help others is still fasting for you

So I mentioned that I skipped Day 10 on the 21-Day Financial Fast because I was still working on a budget from Chapter 7 and because Chapter 7.

I also skipped it because it was the chapter in Michelle Singletary’s book “The 21-Day Financial Fast” about Marrying Your Money. That meant it was for married couples or people who are about to get married.

That’s not me, and while I would marry for money, among other necessary things, I couldn’t take anything from this chapter and give it to anyone – because I also don’t interfere in the business of married couples.

But Chapter 11?

That was different.

Chapter 11 (How odd that it shares a name with a type of  bankruptcy, but I digress . . . ) is a chapter about leaving a legacy of good money sense.

And I was feeling guilt.

My daughter is 24, and while I’m sure I taught money lessons – and even wrote about teaching her money lessons, I also let her watch me spend sometimes indiscriminately, just because we wanted things.

She is proving now that she learned both lessons, but I think the wants sometimes outweigh the needs. So I’ve decided to share this chapter with her and other young women to help them learn what to teach their children.

“As parents, we know it’s imperative to teach our kids to say no to drugs and alcohol,” Michelle writes on Page 134. “But can you honestly say you’re doing your best to help them fend off consumerism and credit card pushers?”

How-to-Teach-Your-Kids-About-Money-Management_full_article_verticalI know I had some success when my daughter entered college and got as many credit card applications as there were professors on campus – and ignored them.

How do I know she ignored them? Because she asked me for things that, had she had a credit card, she would have just gotten them. I won’t detail any of those requests here. But let’s just say that one had to do with some really dumb cosmetic surgery.

I remember when she was little, and the best I way I could teach her lessons about money was through sacrifice. I didn’t believe in time-outs because, as a busy reporter, editor, then news executive, I didn’t want any of the precious time I had with her spent with her sitting in a corner. Continue Reading

DAYS 7 & 8: Financial Fast gets harder when required to plan

You haven’t heard from me since DAY 6 of Michelle Singletary’s 21-Day Financial Fast for two good reasons:  I got lost in my closet and DAY 7 required me to do a budget.

I have never done a budget. Not in my entire adult life. DAY 7 was Sunday. Today is Tuesday, and I’m still trying to do a budget.

budget calculator budget for rotator_0Oh, I had every excuse in the world:

Microsoft Excel sucks.

There’s no way to calculate what I might spend on some things.

I don’t want to.

None of the excuses were good ones, and I’ve put it off long enough. So between the NBC Nightly News and the 19 other tasks I have on my plate tonight, I’m going back to the numbers.

I will create a living document. I will place it on the wall where I can see it every day.

I have learned so much about myself: how quickly I spend money, how much I waste money; how little I pay attention to ways I could save money. I’ve kicked myself with questions: Why didn’t I refinance my house three years ago? Why didn’t I save more?

Michelle writes in the book that guides the fast about Joseph (from Genesis 41: 47-4) who stored grain from the fields even when they were overflowing. He stored so much that “he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.  He stored for when the famine came.

We think a famine isn’t coming – even as one is just ending. Joseph’s instructions came to him in a dream. Ours come from parables that we can use to guide our judgment or ignore at our own peril.

In the book, Michelle asks: “How many blessings are you missing because you spend every dime you make? Who are you failing to connect with and bless because you don’t have enough to share – because you’ve failed to save?”

I thought of the trip to Africa I’m taking in the spring and how I canceled going to this year’s Sundance Film Festival. I was patting myself on the back until I realized that had I budgeted better, saved better, I could have done both. Continue Reading

Financial Fast coincides with plans to clean, count blessings

OK. So now, Michelle Singletary is psychic.

Well, that’s not true. But it felt that way last night when I began reading Chapter 6 of the 21-Day Financial Fast, which coincides with DAY 6 of the fast the Washington Post columnist is leading people on across the country.

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 12.09.35 PMI had had a great DAY 5, and was up late. So I began reading Chapter 6 early.

I need to read Chapter 6 every day – even when this fast ends. Its title: You Can’t Buy Contentment. Its purpose: Reminding us to be content with and thankful for what we have.

I was already on that road. As I searched my closets for something to wear to a gala, I stopped for a minute and saw all the stuff I had. And I felt overwhelming guilt that I had not been thankful enough for what’s already in my house.

The gala went great, and as I sat having a cup of coffee, I was happy. But it didn’t last long because I began whining in my head about what I couldn’t do Saturday.

Saturdays are my favorite day.  Saturdays are the day that, no matter what, I get to choose what I’m doing. There is no activity already on the calendar, no work, no meetings, no plans.

I usually have a great lunch somewhere outside my house, alone or with friends – and I go to the movies. My daughter and I used to go to the movies on Friday nights. We’d see movies as soon as they premiered. When she grew up, I continued to do that like it would kill me to hear conversations Saturday about a  movie I hadn’t seen. And I began preferring to go alone most times  (I’m one of those people who cannot stand conversations in theaters. I think there should be fines).

hr_Jack_Ryan-_Shadow_Recruit_14I had already begun to whine in my head about not being able to see the new Jack Ryan movie. And that lemon artichoke tilapia that I love at a nearby restaurant? It was calling me!

But, I told myself, the movie will be playing for at least a month and will show up on the DVR. And the restaurant will still be open in February. (Thank you, God, for giving me a moment of clarity about why I’m doing this fast in the first place). Continue Reading

21-Day Financial Fast Offers Chance for Reflection

10207_10151981969443381_2102068173_nDAY TWO _ The day can be summed up in a single moment. When I got ready to type my credit card numbers into a shopping site, I quit the site, closed the computer and went to read a book.

Yep, that’s what this abstinence from unnecessary spending has meant.

I ended today’s effort reeling from the fact that I did not waste money. It was weird. It was exhilarating. It felt good. For the first time in a long time, I am actually thinking about how I’m spending money.

When I signed on for Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary’s 21-Day Financial Fast, I did it with serious intentions. I just didn’t know how long I’d last.

Now I’m trying to figure out why I haven’t paid more attention before.

That moment when I closed the computer, I was actually about to buy a boot hanger for my closet. Suddenly, I realized “I do not need this.” My boots are fine, lined up in the bedroom I converted into a closet two years ago. I didn’t need a boot hanger. Besides, I told myself, if I really want it, I can wait and buy it after the Super Bowl.

Instead, I read a book that I’d gotten from the library (instead of buying it from the bookstore – Sorry Barnes & Noble) and made dinner – for the second day in a row – which means I’ve already saved $100 bucks in just two days.

But more important than anything, I’m thinking before spending. If that is what this fast really is about, I’ve already won.