And it works well - for a few weeks. That’s usually enough time for some cash to be replenished in the checking account and for some of those late bills to be caught up.

That’s usually when the inevitable relapse happens. You look at your checking account balance and that pile of paid bills and convince yourself that one little splurge is fine. And before you know it, you’re right back in the routine of doing all of the things you did before - the habits that added up to spending more than you should.

This routine is useless. I should know, I did it fairly often during my young adult years. I would get a sense that my financial life was out of whack, make a bunch of superficial changes that would last until I saw that my checking account balance was healthy, and then those changes would go right out the door.

(If you think this sounds a lot like what happens when a person tries to diet, sees a bit of success, then falls off the wagon, you’re right.)

So what actually brought about long-term change for me? It was a mix of things - inspiration for long term change was a big part of the puzzle, but another major factor was the realization that changing specific tactics didn’t really matter if they weren’t also met with internal changes.

In other words, the real question is whether or not you want to make a genuine long-term change to your life or whether you just want to cover the next few bills that come in.

For the longest time, I was perfectly happy to just keep the bills covered, and any money-saving tactics I would use were just enough to put a Band-Aid over the immediate problem. And that was good enough for me. It was no different than a bit of fasting to get down to some “target weight” for a big event - I’d achieve my short-term goal, but there was no motivation or desire for a long term change.

If you find yourself on a regular cycle of “wallet fasts,” only to find yourself time and time again back where you started, it might be time to ask yourself some serious questions about your long term plans and dreams. Is this where you always want to be? Do you have people relying on you who need you to step up to the plate?

Real change in your personal finances doesn’t come from dropping everything “fun” in your life. It comes from serious consideration of what you really want out of life - and then evaluating the choices you make every day with that long term dream in mind.

Perhaps 2009 is the year you can give up wallet fasting and find a new way to live. 

The Simple Dollar chronicles a man's road to recovery from "total financial meltdown." As author Trent Hamm puts it, "The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two." We'll post a couple of entries a week, but you can check out his writing daily at