University of Illinois Extension

Setting Spending Priorities

Making Your Spending Plan Work

Once you have a spending plan that sets spending amounts for essential family needs and balances spending with your income, you’ll have to stick to it. Writing it down is not enough. You must use the plan to guide your spending.

Keep a record of what you spend in each expense category to be sure you don’t exceed the amount on your spending plan. A family record/expense book can help you list your expenditures and compare them to your spending plan. Or you may want to use the worksheets in By keeping track of what you have spent, it’s easier to control your spending and live within your income.

Managing on a Seasonal or Irregular Income

If you are self-employed, seasonally employed or receive income from tips or commissions, your family income may change monthly. In that case, look ahead and carefully estimate your income. It may be helpful to estimate your income for a whole year so you can see when and how much it changes.

When your income changes from one month to the next, many of your living expenses are the same each month. This mismatch of income and expenses creates uncertainty that can cause feelings of insecurity and increase family tension.

To reduce this uncertainty, establish a monthly family living allowance. Use expenses you identified as part of your spending plan to determine what it costs your family to live each month.

As a family on a seasonal or irregular income, you may want to schedule some major expenses such as insurance premiums, clothing purchases, and non-emergency medical and dental care to coincide with times when you anticipate more income. Avoid the temptation to spend more money in the months when your income is greater.


Whether living on a reduced income may be temporary or prolonged, getting the most from family income during this time requires careful planning and wise spending decisions.

A spending plan based on what you and your family consider to be most important can help you balance your spending with your available income and resources. Keeping track of your spending will help ensure that you have the money for the things your family needs most.

For more practice, visit


Take Control of Your Finances. Learn By Mail Series. University of Illinois Extension. 1995. Revised 2009.

66 Ways to Save Money.  Consumer Literacy Consortium. Save Money, Pueblo, CO 81009, 50 cents each, payable to Superintendent of Documents.

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