Re-Evaluating Your Financial Priorities



Note: This is a post from Joan Concilio, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

Since I shared my report from the three-year mark of my battle against debt, I’ve been amazed at the kind words from so many members of the Man Vs. Debt community. From comments to Twitter messages to emails, it’s really reaffirmed my commitment to pushing forward and – even if it’s more eventually than I’d like – ending up debt-free and staying that way for life.

That said, opening up about my slower-than-expected progress has also forced me to re-evaluate where I am, and whether what I’m doing is really in keeping with my truest desires financially and personally.

As I was preparing to write today’s Man Vs. Debt post, I kept finding myself drawn to a post of Baker’s from several years ago, Discovering Your Financial Priorities. I hope you’ll make time to read that, because it’s really the basis for what I’d like to do – and challenge you to do – today.

I need to refocus on what matters most to me. I’m making progress, but sometimes it’s not in the areas that really hit home with me. I’m hustling for extra money, but that cash is just going toward the bills and odds and ends of needs here and there, not really packing the punch I’d like.

I’m doing the right things, but not quite with the right mindset. And from the comments I’ve received since admitting how much I’m struggling, I know that I’m not alone in feeling a little adrift.

So let’s take the first step toward changing that. Let’s set some financial priorities, Man Vs. Debt-style. I’ll list mine, and I hope you’ll be thinking about your own so you can jump in and share in the comments!

1. Keep the bills caught up.

This has not been a problem in years for me, and I’m more happy about that than I can say. HOWEVER. I’ve been there, the juggling-late-bills dance, and I need to be sure not to forget how awful that felt. I need to make sure that this stays an articulated priority, so that I don’t get back to the really behind point. For us, this means not only having enough money to cover our regular expenses, but also having a decent buffer in the checking account for when “paydays” – sometimes irregular in freelancing – don’t line up with due dates.

2. Provide for needs and moderate wants for my family.

For us, most of this comes by way of food. I will tell you flat-out that we spend more on groceries than we “need” to. My husband, Chris, is a vegetarian; I have several food allergies; and we have other dietary considerations for other family members. Some of these are needs, while others are just preferences, but they’re preferences that are my personal priority to meet. This also stretches to include things like our Netflix subscription, occasional restaurant meals and movies, trips to the arcade, and so on. They’re wants – not large-scale ones like a 90-inch TV, but moderate ones that we value enough to include in our budget. Our house is another related area. It’s not the tiniest, but it works for our not-the-tiniest collection of humans and pets, and it’s a priority in our budget to keep it.

3. Have all the healthcare.

I don’t have much to say about this, except that I took a full-time job that pays LESS than I was making freelancing full-time so that I could have health insurance. It’s a priority for me. This also extends out from the needs/moderate wants category; for instance, I choose to spend a relatively small but not insignificant amount of money on fitness, because it’s important to my overall health and well-being.

4. Maintain an emergency fund.

In the past six months, this fund has meant the difference between “yes, we can afford to live in our house” and “no, we really can’t.” It’s vital. And we’ve managed to replenish it every time we’ve knocked it down in the past few years, which is amazing. But it needs to remain a priority that I remind myself of, because it sometimes feels like it’d be so easy to use that cash for something else.

5. Pay down debt and avoid new debt.

Interestingly, when I think about my real feelings about debt, I realize that fifth place is just the right spot on my priority list. It is a priority – but it isn’t THE TOP priority. I sincerely want to become debt-free, and I intend to stay that way for life. At the same time, there are tradeoffs I know I would make. I would go into debt to get medical care for myself or my family (and, actually, that’s the cause of about 90% of the debt I brought into our marriage anyway!) I  would just pay the minimums on my credit cards for a while to keep the bills current. I would take on a car payment temporarily to ensure that I have a working vehicle. At the same time, any money I have once the goals above are met WILL go toward debt repayment, and the end result, no matter how long it takes, is going to be the flexibility that comes from being truly debt-free.

What these priorities have made me realize

Here’s the thing. When I stopped and wrote down what REALLY matters most to me, I’m actually making more progress than I realized!

It turns out that while debt repayment is still a priority for me, it’s not my top priority – and so, while I’ll continue to push at it, I’m going to take a step back and celebrate the fact that, despite a drop in income in our family of more than 50% for the past five months or so, I AM meeting my financial goals!

Because I was hung up on just one goal – the debt-payoff progress, and my frustration that it hasn’t been going faster – I had been feeling defeated. Because I was only “holding steady,” I wasn’t finding anything to celebrate.

Now, I realize how thrilled I am to look back at the past few months and realize, “HEY. I kept food on the table! I kept a roof over our heads. And I did it without increasing my consumer debt!”

I AM making progress.

I AM meeting my financial goals.

I AM living in keeping with what my true priorities are (once I bothered to make them clear to myself!)


What about you? What are your priorities – and once you’ve listed them, are you actually using them as the scale you measure yourself against, or are you trying to compete in a different race?

I’d really love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

91 thoughts on “Re-Evaluating Your Financial Priorities”

  1. Joan. I think you put down an excellent list. You are making progress, that is most important You have a plan. Taking care of your health and fitness is absolutely important. You want your health when out of debt so you can enjoy debt free. Excellent job.

  2. Hi Joan

    I also know how hard it is to keep everything going and priorities in line. I had debt on account of injury from a job. I am now over half done towards being debt free. I have to re assess also because it doesn’t always seem like we are progressing like I should. It is amazing to actually figure out your progress. It feels good. Like you my priorities are different as we have two large dogs, three kids not moved out yet and parents to look after also. Life is a challenge but it’s doable. Sometimes hard but making progress. Keep up the great work Joan


  3. Yes that about sums it all up for me. Needs (rent, food) come first. I don’t even need a phone nowadays so the phone bill is just whatever. I am thinking of getting rid of my smart phone (71 dollars a month) for a phone that takes calls n texts ONLY.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. pt … I did this a few years back and haven’t regretted it once. I have an inexpensive (read: “not smart”) phone, and a pay as you go plan and spend about $100 **A YEAR**
      on cell charges.

  4. Joan … your list is exactly right in my book, as well as the items being in the right PRIORITY order, as your post talks about.

    I really do have to emphasize how important #3 — health insurance — is. As an RN, I saw so many times where hard working folks who had no health insurance (usually since their employers did not provide it), got totally underwater in debt due to an unavoidable health issue.

    I’m curious if you’ve thought any more about going 100% free lance now that the ACA law is in effect. As someone who had to buy insurance on the open market for the past 3 years (since I retired in my late 50’s), once ACA became law, my health insurance coverage became VASTLY better and for VASTLY less cost.

    On the open market, I pretty much bought a level of insurance that covered only the catastrophic stuff. Now, under ACA, I have preventative coverage, MD office visit coverage, drug coverage, as well as the catastrophic stuff —- ER coverage, hospitalization, surgery, etc. And my monthly bill now (for this VASTLY BETTER coverage) is LESS than HALF of what it was when I was buy just the minimal insurance.

    1. Loving that this has worked out for you, but it may not be that way for most. I have no one, not even one single person, who has come out ahead on ACA so wondering what part of the country you hail from, thinking that might be a factor.

      1. Gin … I live in NC. And you are so right, that one’s location affects everything with the ACA law (so crazy).

  5. Joan, I agree whole heartedly with you and it made me realize that since I’ve been following Man vs Debt (along with a few others) I have had so much more control over my money and have been maintaining your items 1 through 5 consistently. Is my debt paid off, no, but it is going down, some months not very much, but others better. So it’s important to have your bills paid, your household taken care of, your own health a priority and then take care of the nasty debt business. I think we are all on the right track!

  6. Joan, I think you’ve done exactly the right thing here. Life is full of trade-offs and tough choices, and by identifying your priorities, you’ll be able to make informed choices. I really like your holistic approach. Good luck!!

  7. I recently read a book by Jerrold Mundis “How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt and Live Prosperously”, and he has the same idea. We are not living for debt, we are people who for various reasons have got into debt, and we should not live for that debt. First, we must take care of ourselves,and only when we are healthy and strong enough, we are able to work harder and think better, and then we can more easily get rid of our debt.

  8. Hi Joan, I really enjoyed reading about your financial priorities, and I was really happy to see that, like you, I’m not as far off as I thought. It’s great to get that validation. For me it helps me to stay on track. Keep up the good work!

  9. I love, love, love this! I am also re-establishing some goals and priorities in my life. I can agree with yours 100%. The only thing I would add is a vacation fund. My hubby and I have spent years without a vacation. I am choosing to make this a priority in our lives. I am choosing to invest in this. This is priority. This even comes before debt repayment. Even if it is day trips…that’s fine. As long as it is time to invest in us.

    Love your writing 🙂

    1. Monique, I agree with you. No matter how much we debt we had, I ALWAYS planned some sort of vacation for the family. Time with family or just hubby is always top priority.

  10. Joan, great points you bring up. It’s too easy to get tunnel visioned on paying off our debt and completely ignore other equally important financial goals like having good health insurance. Like you said, there are somethings that are worth going into debt for and it is important to write out for yourself ahead of time what those are. Health should definitely be one of these.

  11. Thank you so much for this. I have been figuring out how to pay off debt, not add to it, but also accommodate differing viewpoints in my house about how to do all this. I am realizing that I really shouldn’t say we’ll totally stop doing x or y if those are high priorities for others. We can budget for some money to buy small extra that make us happy and still pay on the debt. I will have to think about the priorities specifically, but THANK YOU for this perspective.

    1. Agree with you. You never know when the emergencies will appear and if you don’t have anything like “Emergency fund”, you will feel utterly helpless. It provides massive peace of mind.

  12. Hi Joan, I’ve been checking every day for a new post and your mid month update…love reading your blog. Hope everything is ok!

  13. I so totally needed to read this post – thank you for sharing it! Your priority list echoes mine, and it’s a refreshing change from the more popular view that repaying debt should somehow take precedence over meeting genuine needs that can’t be compromised and moderate wants. One is not a bad person for paying the minimum or only a bit more than the minimum on a debt when it keeps the mortgage paid on time and food on the table.

  14. Hey Adam, since you put your face on this website and have other people write for you can you step up and let the readers know what’s going on? There are people who are concerned and care to know about Joan, seeing your smiling face is not helping.

      1. I wondered what happened. I knew she had a taken on full time work so her hubby could free lance. Sad to see her go. I really enjoyed her post. I liked cheering her on to being debt free!!!!

  15. “Now, I realize how thrilled I am to look back at the past few months and realize, “HEY. I kept food on the table! I kept a roof over our heads. And I did it without increasing my consumer debt!”
    I AM making progress.
    I AM meeting my financial goals.
    I AM living in keeping with what my true priorities are (once I bothered to make them clear to myself!)”

    Just curious, and I realize the internet doesn’t allow much for tone, so please know I’m asking this gently: Were is your husband/family in all this? Why so much use of first person singular? Are you trying to dig out of this hole all by yourself?

  16. Of all these, I feel the emergency cash fund is the most important one. A strong cash position allows you to avoid the mental poverty of living paycheque to paycheque, which is a big impediment to even getting started down the road to being debt free.

  17. Feel proud of all of your achievements. Imagine if you hadn’t started this journey! As for my priorities: debt free, growing my investments, and focusing on my savings account.

  18. So this blog has come to an end, i think. The strange part is that it’s been almost four months since the last post and two and a half since the last debt update and here i am, at least twice per week checking for possible new entries..

    1. Me too 🙁

      It would have been nice for someone to say SOMETHING? Did they drop off the face of the earth, or what?

      1. I think Joan is not allowed to write on here anymore and Baker can’t even take his face off of this website. Shows how much they care about their readers.

      2. Agreed. I hate it they gave up on it, it was one of my favorite sites. I too am on here about twice a week hoping Joan has an update.

  19. Joan,

    This is exactly what has been missing in my plan! I only focused on my debt, and everything else took a backseat. Not only did this cause me stress it also threw off my budget. I now put saving for the inevitable above my debt. Christmas, oil changes, and license renewals aren’t surprises, but I would always use that money toward my debt. I would feel great until the check engine light came on. 🙂

    Thanks a ton for this.

  20. Would love to see an update on this blog or at least a quick notification of the blog’s direction- is it closing or being taken on by someone else? I must say that I have very much enjoyed reading Joan’s blogs and so appreciate all she has shared. Even if the blog is coming to end, I’d still like to say “thank you” for all the excellent information and food for thought that this blog has provided.


  21. Sept 2, 2014, I just looked up Joan Otto on google and she has an “about me” with a resume showing the following timeline of employment with Man vs Debt:

    Man Vs. Debt LLC, Sept. 2011-June 2014 ( Editor and community manager

    So it looks like she has left Man vs Debt in June, 2014. So sorry to hear that, I had been following her from the beginning. It would have been nice to have been notified. I know how open she was with us and seems rather odd to just disappear with her June update. I agree with Mary either way, I enjoyed Joan’s blog and thank her for her openness and desire to help all of us.

  22. Thanks for this, Mary Ann. Over the years, I came to think of Adam, Courtney and even Joan as people I “knew” and cared about. It seems like complete disregard for their readers (people who they *wanted* to care about their journeys, hence the blog) to just pack up their tents and disappear. I asked over at the MMM Forum, but nobody there has any news either. I sincerely hope that no calamity has befallen any of them, but I guess ours is not to know. Sad.

  23. A quick Google does tell me that Joan is now working on a different opportunity. I don’t understand why this wasn’t communicated to anyone. I did wonder and worry about Joan. I guess I will stop coming to this site. It was inspirational while it lasted.

  24. Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” Obviously not.
    Initially I thought that Joan had left the boat because her debt repayment wasn’t going fast enough, and she got very depressed. It happens to the best of us, and that was the reason we read this blog – to support each other in comments, to keep going. Then I started to worry. And now I just don’t know what to think. Things happen, we move on, but was this community really not worth a single explanation?

  25. Becky Barnes-Israel

    I found Joan on Facebook and asked what was going on and this is the response I got:

    Hi Becky! Nice to hear from you! Man Vs. Debt is on hold for now entirely – the Bakers are going through some personal transitions at this time. If it starts up again, I certainly hope to continue contributing, and if not there, I hope to find another venue to keep telling my story! I appreciate you reaching out – and I hope you’re doing well!

    Hope that answers questions!

  26. Thank you so much, everyone, for the information. Adam and Joan, if the blog is closing, it would be much appreciated if you could do a final farewell piece. Hope you guys are ok, and thank you so much for all the help, advice and encouragement of this blog.

  27. This whole way of ending this blog (if indeed is has ended – everything has just been left dangling) has really left a bad taste in my mouth. Kurkela’s quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery was spot on. I fully understand that all things run their course and come to an end, but an official and simple summing up would have been professional and, above all, thoughtful. I have read so many comments here from intelligent and civilized people who are doing their best to improve their finances and their lives, and their struggles and triumphs have, in turn, inspired me. I am really disappointed in how Joan simply dropped this blog without the courtesy of a final farewell to her many readers who supported her. I guess this should be an object lesson on how not to end a blog. Just another example of pretty thoughtless and uncivil behavior.

  28. Thanks for filling us in, Becky. Very cool of you to share this with everyone.

    Frankly, I’m not going to give Joan’s “plight” another thought. The old expression “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” certainly fits here. Not going to be fooled twice, thank you.

    One of the blogs that I have found to be much more helpful and lively is Mr. Money Mustache. His forums are particularly active. You can start your own case study and other readers will chime in with help and suggestions. I highly recommend MMM.

    1. Thanks, Diane, for the info about MMM. I went over there and really enjoyed the format and information. Definitely a good site!

  29. Really liked this article. Some things to consider. I also want to be debt-free very badly, but I think you’re right about it being a priority, but not the top priority. I think taking care of the household, having emergency savings, etc. are just as important. There is definitely a give and take. Thanks!

  30. I rarely find that plans go 100% as expected. It can be frustrating to have progress be slower than expected….but at least there is progress. Without any plan we usually see very little progress and usually the best plans have to be modified along the way. As long as we are trying we never truly fail.

  31. An inspirational article. Thanks for sharing Joan. Keeping the finances in check is certainly a priority. It can be tricky trying to balance out your dreams (such as a flexible freelance schedule) and necessities (such as healthcare). However, I believe that hard work and discipline can make both a plausible reality. Best of luck as you continue your journey!

  32. I think a lot of us have similar financial goals (reducing debt, avoiding new debt, maintaining bills, etc…) but everyone has to run a race that makes sense for them. For instance, I don’t have a family to provide for at the moment but my student loans are currently staring at me from the corner of my desk.

  33. 1. Bills & taxes
    2. Daughter
    3. Travel
    4. Savings

    We don’t have debt and don’t plan on it, so it’s clearly not in our list. We do need to grow our businesses some more though, so it would be no.5 in my list.

  34. My husband and I have used our income tax refund for the past couple of years to pay off credit card debt, but then we ran it back up because we needed it to get through a rough patch, needed it to replace a broken appliance, or because we gave in and bought something we wanted, which is our own stupidity, I know. We are now in more debt than we were before, have a house that is too small for us and our 3 children, a vehicle that’s too small to fit 3 car seats comfortably (and possibly even safely). I don’t know what to do anymore.

    My husband works a full-time job and a part-time job. He’s hardly ever home to the point our children question why he’s home when he’s here. I would work myself (and have worked myself), but daycare is so expensive it wasn’t worth it. I was working full-time and my husband was working the same two jobs, but we still weren’t making it and my husband was basically working that second part-time job to pay for daycare. Even when using daycare, we could only afford to put one of the three in there and were depending on family to help us out with the other two until we got caught up enough to add back the other two. That of course never happened and family got tired of watching our children. So now we are here in more debt than ever before with my husband working two jobs and hardly ever home.

    I guess I am venting more than anything. I know a lot of it is our own fault, but a lot of it is going in to debt to ironically pay off more debt. I am so tired of living paycheck to paycheck and not even having enough to cover what is owed. We too make “too much money” to qualify for any help (Food Stamps, WIC, etc.), but we certainly could use it. It is very stressful and has put strain on our happiness and our marriage. I guess it’s good to see other people in the same shape we are, so we aren’t alone in this.

    Anyway, sorry for using your comment section to vent. I just hope one day we can be in your shoes and making our way out of debt.

    1. I feel ya! That’s a frustrating and depressing situation to be in. What does your husband do? Could he temporarily give up the second job and get some type of schooling/training/certification in the evenings or on weekends that would allow him to make more money? It would mean more debt in the short term, but be worth it in the long run. How old are your kids? Once they start school, you’ll have an opportunity to work. Could you watch an extra child during the day or even for a couple of hours after school to make a little cash? I’m wishing you the best of luck!

  35. Thanks for opening up about your struggles and progress. It was a good reminder for me to look at the big picture. Taking a lower paying job would definitely slow down your debt repayment but it was a huge step towards the more important goal of health care for you and your family. AND it’s also protecting you from creating new healthcare debt in the future. I’m definitely going to write down my priorities and go through this exercise.

  36. Right now we want to aggressively save money. 25% of all our income is instantly saved and then what’s left after paying the bills and taxes. This is the year to be more responsible with our money.

  37. so??? it’s April 2015….what happened? Did you give up? Update us!!! I was thinking about getting a credit card and just putting everything on it. I live debt free (except for the utilities and mortgage) but it’s tempting to just put everything on a card and worry later. I need to apply for a credit card first…

  38. Thanks for the great advice and serious motivation. Agree with your point to have an emergency fund. It helps to cover any of life’s unexpected emergencies.

  39. This is awesome! Good job on your journey so far! It is so important to stay debt-free is at all possible, because it is *so* hard to get out of that hole once it has been dug. Thank you for sharing your story, and for inspiring others to rise to higher standards!

    1. From what I hear over at Mr. Money Mustache – this blog has been abandoned because the principals no longer wanted to run Man vs. Debt (they have new jobs and aren’t interested in the site anymore) and it was a job for Joan Otto. Once she was no longer being paid, the blog ceased.

      I wish Adam and Courtney would have posted that they were moving on to other things and cut off comments, and left this as a “it was good while it lasted” site. Instead, people keep reading and posting, and it feels like they did not care enough about their readers/customers to politely give us the heads up.

  40. Hi Joan,
    Great article and inspiring thoughts! I often get so caught up in the hustle of paying off debt or saving up for future expenses that I tend to forget to step back and look at my priorities and ask myself if I’m doing the right things. When i do that (as rarely as it happens) I find that my priorities tend to shift a little bit over time and some things are not as important as they once were and other things tend to rise in importance. The reminder to regularly take some time to evaluate where you’re at is great advice, advice I plan to take to heart. Keep up the good work!

  41. Thanks for the great post!
    Setting up priorities like this definitely can help. I’d put the debt one 1st though, since I prefer being debt-free more than anything.
    I hope you’re alright though, looking forward to your updates.

  42. I’ve been following this blog for a little while, but an article in The Guardian has me questioning the basic premise of “paying down debt”. It cites a paper from the Bank of England in which “three economists from the Bank’s Monetary Analysis Directorate…stated outright that most common assumptions of how banking works are simply wrong, and that the kind of populist, heterodox positions more ordinarily associated with groups such as Occupy Wall Street are correct.” (

    Is scrimping and saving to pay down debt really just barking up the wrong tree when we should instead be rethinking the underlying assumptions of how debt works?

  43. Hi Joan,
    Personally, my main goals are:

    • Pay my university fees up front/have no university debt
    • Travel as much as possible
    • Maintain an emergency fund of at least $1000 with $2000 of available credit
    • Bring my lunch to work more often
    • Save $1000 a month, to progress closer to purchasing a house

    My goals are fairly reasonable as I try to maintain a level head when going about my finances as I don’t have many living costs and I live at home. It can be really hard making sure I meet these goals because I miss out on a lot of things like buying expensive clothing and having my own car. However, little by little, it all adds up, and I realise that, just like you, “I AM making progress”. I guess it is hard to see the long term goal when you have to suffer short term consequences. I have found that in order for me to be happy, I have to prioritise things and stick to my guns about it. Thanks for the perspective, I feel that once again this is a sign to keep going on my uphill savings battle.

  44. I imagine Joan, that giving up your freelance job to get a ‘real’ job only for the healthcare was a though decision, but believe me it’s worth it. Without healthcare it’s too risky.

  45. Joan, you are TAKING ACTION and that is so far and above what most people do! Congratulations – that light at the end of the tunnel you can see will likely begin shining brightly much sooner than you originally thought. 🙂

  46. Joan you aren’t alone. The process is worth more than you can imagine when you reach your goal but it can often be a GRIND to get there. My wife and I paid off our consumer debts in 2012 and our mortgage in 2014 and there were many days that we wanted to give up.

    Most people fail not because of the numbers but because they feel alone or because they have no one to help hold them “accountable” to their plan. Keep on moving forward!!

  47. I’m also a big fan of writing down goals and keeping up with them for that very same reason–to see my progress and get encouraged to keep going. If there’s no feeling of progress, then motivation can dwindle before you accomplish what you set out to. Great article!

  48. It has been 2.5 years since my earnings have gone stagnant only after experiencing a major leap. I haven’t succeeded in building up a considerable emergency fund. My priorities in life do not seem to comply with my present financial position and getting things back on track seems to be an uphill task. 🙁

  49. Reconsider your entertainment costs, try to say no to friends when they propose traveling to the same place- save that money for exploring a completely new place- speaking from personal experience!

  50. I commend you for your excellent list! Acknowledging that you need priorities is the first step! Most of us muddle through our financial lives, spending to meet the day-to-day expenses that dominate our attention. Unfortunately, that approach risks leaving your most important objectives unfulfilled.

  51. Thanks for sharing such wonderful tips. Getting out of debt is a dream for many and majority of people unfortunately get out of debt very late due to which they are not able to enjoy their life.

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