I know I've written about the importance of a written priority list before but it is always a good subject to revisit. Most people know we live on a fixed income and after losing a third of the Social Security when our son turned eighteen combined with unexpected medical expenses... there are months we have little or no cash left after paying very basic bills.
Thus, a priority list became essential.
What is a priority list?
It is the budget equivalent of decluttering our house or looking through our Week at a Glance and realizing we need to prioritize our time. We write down a list of needs for when we have the money to make a purchase and then prioritize them as to what goes to the top of the list, what is next most important, etc.
How does a priority list work?
When we receive any income beyond our monthly Social Security Disability check, a little goes into savings and then we look through the Priority List before making purchases. We make the most important purchase, or repair, or maintenance on the house and car. Then we go down the list as far as we can until we come to the smaller needs (like a haircut).
Is the priority list a constant?
It can change all the time. For instance, we were just making purchases from the tax refund this past month (which is why I had a little more thrift shopping funds). A stove had been at the top of our list since only two burners now work on our old stove. About a week before the tax refund was to come in, the desktop computer died... thus, going to the top of the list and making a new stove impossible right now.
Some items have stayed on the list but near the bottom for years... items needed but not essential... or perhaps just wanted and not needed?
Is there any item always on the list?
A priority is always to purchase meat on sale for the freezer and basic pantry items. We can no longer keep as deep a pantry as we used to do but we like having at least one extra of many items (and lots of canned tomatoes!).
Also, essential car and household maintenance take priority over most other purchases. If there is an outstanding bill that has not been paid, it also goes on the list. Since I am uninsured, my doctor's visits can add up so a priority with the tax refund was to pay off that bill.
How do we make certain the money goes where it is budgeted?
One thing we like to do if we have enough money (for instance, when my husband gets a few weeks work at the bookstore seasonally) is to put aside some money for groceries during those months we have no extra from our monthly check. The problem was, it would end up getting used for another need!
Then I came up with the idea of purchasing a grocery store gift card with the budgeted money, either our favorite "neighborhood" grocery store in town or a bigger store like Meijers or Target. By putting around $100 on a card, it gives us budgeted money for items like milk, eggs, salad ingredients, and fresh fruit. Obviously not a lot... but enough.
One could do the same with gasoline gift cards and such.
Do we always agree on what is a priority?
Are any fun items on the list?
Definitely! We try to include having a family dinner "out". If there is a library sale coming up, we often will budget some money for that to find some great books for very little money. With the tax refund, my husband gave me a little money for some thrift shopping.
I no longer shop very many garage sales during the warm weather season. A combination of a small-ish house and thirty years of housekeeping equals... enough. There are a few neighborhood garage sales which happen each year where I do like to go. If possible, I'll set aside a little cash for these sales. I find walking in these neighborhood sales to be relaxing, especially since I'm usually only looking for teacups, Johnson Bros. china (to add to my autumn collection), good children's books, etc.
One thing we found in the extremely lean years was that a family (or individual) has to budget some recreation in their life or they will go absolutely bonkers. During one very bad "year with no income", my dear friends that I met online in the 1990s would send a surprise $10.00 or $20.00 once in awhile... with a message that it must be spent on something fun. Christopher was still young enough that McDonald's was a treat and you'd be surprised how much fun fast food can be when you don't eat it often. :)
I can also assure you the purchase of a great family DVD (which can be enjoyed often) is extremely important if that is a way your family relaxes. For your family it may be a new CD or giving the kids a little money and spending Saturday morning at some garage sales... but do know one must have a little guilt free fun to keep their sanity in very hard times.
Priority Lists and Holidays
One thing I budgeted for with our tax refund was to purchase some candy for an Easter basket for my son this year (who was quite sad we didn't have enough money last year). One never knows what is really important to your kids (even if they are grown up). My sister put together an Easter basket for her daughter until she was married and had her own children.
This is where a gift card to someplace like Target or Wal Mart would come in handy to set aside money for upcoming holiday or birthday treats which can't be kept in the pantry (I've heard some mothers have been known to eat holiday chocolates if they are in the pantry).
Although, of course, such mothers would never admit it. :)
I hope this post about keeping a priority list will inspire your imagination!