How to Make A Priority List

When you use a cost and benefit analysis, you can measure the urgency of your priorities and take a pragmatic approach.
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A personal financial priority list helps you to see what you need to do next in order to achieve the desired results. When priorities lack definition or are too vague, they slide off the list altogether or get lost in translation. Weeks of hard work can unravel because the steps you need to accomplish often lack meaning, or what is ranked in first place should rank at the end of the list. In your financial life, an on-point, well-defined priority list keeps you on track to reach short- and long-term financial goals.

Step 1

Draw two equal, vertical columns on a standard 8 1/2-by-11 inch piece of paper. You can also use a word processor program for this exercise. Write "Financial Priorities" on the top of the page. In the left-hand column, label the header "Benefit," and in the right-hand column, label the header "Cost."

Step 2

Write down a key phrase for each task under the benefit column and number each entry. As an example: Item one, "Make more than minimum payment on credit cards," two, "Open retirement account," three, "Create a monthly budget," and four, "Set up automated savings deposits." Populate the list with items specific to your financial needs. This may include re-checking your insurance rates for lower payment options or researching the tax-benefits for a more energy-efficient home. Stay focused on tasks that enhance your financial strategy. Include both short-term -- one month to one year -- and long-term goals of three years or more.

Step 3

Calculate the cost of the failure to complete each task. For instance, paying a credit card bill late incurs a fee of $25. Write that down under the cost heading for the item "Make more than minimum payment on credit card." If you keep your current high-interest credit card, you will pay thousands of dollars more for credit over time -- write this down and approximate a dollar amount. Begin to view your procrastination as the source of the fees you pay that result in a lower standard of living and financial stress.

Step 4

Fine tune your list by renumbering the items in order of importance. It's natural for the sequence to change as you evaluate each item. Consider using clusters of groups to categorize tasks with similar deadlines. For instance, group short-term items under a banking category that have a 30-day deadline at the top of your list, those with a 60-day deadline in second place and so on. Group long-term entries in the same manner under categories with specific deadlines.

Step 5

Copy your list into the calendar software on your computer, cellphone or other mobile device. You can keep the worksheet if you prefer to use as a hard copy. Set up reminder messages for the completion dates on your list. Schedule one day per month to review your priority list and revise as necessary.


Keep the costs and benefits of your priority list tangible. Change vague costs descriptions such as, "I won't be fulfilled," to the concrete: "I need this degree to compete for better pay," or "Paying late fees costs me $120 per year."

Review your financial priority lists every month.

Things You'll Need

  • Note pad

  • Financial statements

  • Calculator


Start small. If you have a history of procrastination, making a list with impossible demands and unrealistic expectations courts disappointment. Get in the habit of small accomplishments first: Save $10 each week from your pocket change.

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