Have you ever tried a 21-day financial fast?
Here’s what we mean: For 21 days, forego every expenditure except necessities.
How do you define a necessity? For most of us, our smartphone has become as necessary as food (and while we wouldn’t put it in that category, we’re also not advocating getting behind on your monthly payments).
But you’d be surprised how many things you consume on a monthly, weekly and even daily basis, once you start keeping track.
Read on to learn how—and, most importanly, why—to go on a financial fast.
We Are Addicted to Consumerism
Our dopamine-fueled shopping addiction is no longer limited by business hours. We can go online at any time and buy whatever we want (within the limits of our bank accounts).
“The dollar amount that we’re spending is going up, even though the cost of things is going down… It’s estimated that most of the clothes we donate actually end up in landfills.”
— Alana Samuels, Staff Writer for The Atlantic
The culprit can only be consumerism, not actual need.
In fact, with the internet age, we get a double dopamine hit! A hit when we click that “Buy Now” button AND another hit when we open that box.
(How many of us have watched unboxing videos on YouTube? Addicting, right? And definitely a problem once our kids catch on!)
Be honest. How many of you have bought something on Amazon at 1 a.m. in your PJs? (raises hand then looks around and puts it back down).
Just me? Okay. I’ll stop writing this blog post then…
Nope! Not buying it. Let’s fact it. We could all use a 21-day financial fast.
We Make Purchasing Decisions Too Quickly
Even people who use credit cards responsibly often buy more with credit cards than they would have with cash.
This is because it’s just too easy to swipe, swipe, swipe. And in the case of online purchases, retailers have made it easier than ever before with one-click payments, storing your information or taking a picture of your credit card.
The loss of money just doesn’t feel real anymore, like it would if you were counting out all those bills by hand.
The Rules of a Financial Fast
Obviously, you have to follow through on your obligations like your monthly rent or mortgage, utilities and car payment. But during a financial fast, you abstain from buying anything new that is not a necessity.
What counts as a necessity?
- Food (groceries, not the Cheesecake Factory with your work buddies)
- Necessary personal hygiene products
- Clothing (*ONLY if everything you have is completely unfit for the occasion).
- Gas (but keep in mind what you’re using it for—to go to work, visit family and buy groceries or go to a shopping mall?)
That means NO restaurant meals, no gifts and no Starbucks. For 21 days, you make your coffee at home or drink the free coffee at work.
If a 21-day financial fast seems like too much right now, consider starting with one of these “mini-fasts” that focust on one category, and then work your way up.
- 30 days with no consumer purchases
- 60 days without visiting the mall
- 120 days without buying clothes
Get accountability! If none of your friends want to do the fast with you, you can still ask them to check in and offer support.
Your 21-day financial fast could also be a great opportunity to build community and strengthen friendships, whether you suggest a picnic in the park instead of the typical restaurant Happy Hour or give your friend a coupon to babysit their kids instead of buying a traditional gift for their birthday.
Make a Plan
A financial fast is only one piece of the puzzle. Whether you’re just trying to live a more minimalist lifestyle, or you have some serious debt you need to erase, you ultimately need to create (and maintain) a budget if you want to stay on track.
I’ve found Mint to be a really useful tool for tracking all your assets and expenditures in one place. It’s an easy way to see what’s in your checking account (plus other accounts like investments and money market) vs. what you owe on all your credit cards and bank statements.
Focus On What Really Matters
A 21-day financial fast can also help us focus on the important things in life. Many of us are addicted to consumerism not because we need more things, but because we’re trying to fill a hole that “more stuff” can’t possibly fill.
Our nation’s opioid epidemic, alarming amounts of screen time, rising rates of depression and other social problems tell us that we’re trying to fill basic human needs with things that simply weren’t designed to fill them.
Find what gives your life meaning. For many people, it’s focusing on experiences over things — doing things instead of buying things.
But even beyond that, everyone needs meaningful, healthy relationships. Isolation fuels addiction, and genuine human connection can heal many of the cravings that lead to unhealthy habits, both personal and financial. “Faith, family and friends” isn’t just a motto on generic Bed Bath & Beyond decor — these three things are essential to human thriving.
So whether your goal is getting out of debt, preparing for retirement, saving more money for dental care or simply cutting down on consumerism, a 21-day financial fast can be a great way to get started.
Joshua Becker sums it up well on Becoming Minimalist:
“Make intentionality your highest pursuit. Not consumerism.”