The Financial Fast

It is easy for the public, and for many doctors, to fall into the stereotypical thinking that most physicians are Fat Cats, but there are many who struggle financially for a variety of reasons.

It is easy for the public, and for many doctors, to fall into the stereotypical thinking that most physicians are Fat Cats. But from the young doc still burdened with educational debt to the chronically disorganized and overwhelmed mid-career physician, there are many of us who are struggling, nowhere near Fat Cat status. Included are the docs doing low-paying but satisfying charitable work; the recession-ravaged pension plan late-career boomer medics; the docs who are too busy to learn about and pay attention to financial affairs; and the just plain financial bad luck docs.

So as we start the new year with hope in our hearts for a new, improved financial year, let’s segue from our freshly minted weight loss diet to consideration of a so-called financial fast as a way to catalyze a turnaround in our financial lives.

Michelle Singletary, a writer for The Washington Post has written a book after this idea called The 21 Day Financial Fast; Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom. She kicked off a group effort in her column and online (michelle.singletary@washpost.com) on Jan. 13, for those of you who are in need and for those who are doing ok but are just curious to pick up some new ideas.

The basic concept is to provide time and emotional space to focus on this important area of your life and to think through what it is that you really want to do with the money that you have and/or can plan upon getting in the future.

The method revolves around reading one chapter per day and completing a few simple tasks on that subject. It is a cookbook approach that will get you off the dime and do it in concert with a group of others dealing with each issue methodically together. It’s useful and reassuring to have your questions, often raised by others, answered promptly as you encounter that day’s subject.

The first chapter is the most revealing, and I think the most important. She delves into “…the evils of entitlement,” “…the ‘curse’ of credit,” “…the salvation of saving,” “…why you can’t buy contentment,” and “…the need to guard against greed.” Heavy stuff that you shouldn’t gloss over. Our emotions are the too-frequent demolition drivers of our financial lives so we need to become aware of them and make a plan to remediate the uncovered problems.

Singletary is asking us to stop shopping, stop buying non-vital things and for three weeks only use cash when you must make a purchase. A kind of “cleansing,” a re-boot, a shake of the tree — call it what you will. And then you may find the space to engage all of the financial areas that you have ignored, botched, been unaware of or been victimized by.

She is also doing a live Twitter chat (@SingletaryM, #FinancialFast). All of her postings will be aggregated at wapo.st/financialfast. And no, I have no financial or other interest in any of this, just curiosity. And so might you. The program is unlikely to make your situation worse or cost you any money so you might give it a try.

Along with starting to exercise and losing weight, the “financial fast” could be a nice way to start the year, make you some money, and most important of all, as Singletary is anxious to point out, give you some precious peace of mind.