“What steps should I consider in hitting the reset button for 2016?” the person said, adding, “I have current credit card debt (have stopped using cards), old debt that has been turned over to creditors, surprise medical and dental bills. Thankfully the mortgage is current, older cars, no student loans. I’m in my mid-50s working on having an emergency fund (concerned about aging furnace). What will have the biggest impact in getting back on track to being financially healthy for the new year?”

Here’s a way for you to reboot in 2016. Take the 21-day financial fast challenge. Last year, I took people nationwide through a fast that I developed several years ago in the financial ministry I direct at my church. People have urged me to do the fast again this year.

So are you ready for an experience that can change your financial life?

First, I’d like you to get my book, “The 21 Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom.” You’ll read it for this month’s Color of Money Book selection. Complete the fast and you’ll learn how to pay off debt, build an emergency fund, break bad spending habits and, most importantly, find financial peace.

The nationwide fast begins Jan. 10 and ends Jan. 30. You can follow me on Twitter @SingletaryM and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary for links to daily videos of inspiration.

With the 21-day fast, you’ll spend only on necessities. You’ll cut out unnecessary shopping. And you can’t use credit. You won’t use your debit card, either.

You’ll read one chapter a day. Each chapter challenges you in a different part of your financial life. To help, here are some frequently asked questions and my answers.

QUESTION: What do you mean when you say I can spend only on necessities?

ANSWER: You need food, maybe medicine, shelter, etc. So you spend only on the things you need. You’ll shop at the grocery store for food, but you can’t eat at a restaurant. You can’t go to the movies or buy clothes (you know you have enough already). I try to get women not to get their hair done, but I lose that battle most of the time. You continue to pay your household expenses — rent or mortgage, auto loan, utilities, even your cable bill. The point is you spend money only on things you really need and financial obligations you already have.

QUESTION: Can I still go out to eat or to the movies if someone else pays?

ANSWER: No. I want you to remove yourself from situations where money is being spent on a want. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Find things to do or places to go that are free.

QUESTION: Why can’t I go to the mall even if I promise not to buy anything?

ANSWER: One purpose of the fast is to teach you to stop using shopping as a form of entertainment.

QUESTION: I understand the ban on using my credit card, but why can’t I use my debit card?

ANSWER: Researchers have found that even when people use plastic — credit or debit — they spend more money than when they use cash.

QUESTION: Is the 21-day financial fast like a diet, which often doesn’t work long-term?

ANSWER: Just like eating healthier, you have to commit to a much longer period of adjustment than 21 days. But a fast can inspire you to do better. In this case, you shut down your spending and credit use just for a little while so that you concentrate on what you really want to do with your money. Use the time to understand why you can’t save or why you get out of debt only to slip right back into it. When the fast is over, hopefully it will be the beginning of a commitment to turn your financial life around.

“It doesn’t make sense to work or fight for more money until we develop a disciplined approach to using the money that we have,” said DeForest Soaries Jr., senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, N.J., which is participating in the 21-day financial fast this year.

Soaries created a debt-free strategy called “dfree” and is asking the 500 churches participating in his effort to also join in our national fast.

The 21-day financial fast has become a new year’s ritual for a lot of folks. Join us, even if you’re a good money manager. I know I’ve got some things I need to reset. How about you?

Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas but cannot offer specific financial advice. Write to her c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071, or email singletarym@washpost.com.

Commenting is limited to Times-Dispatch subscribers. To sign up, click here.
If you’re already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.