How I Set My Financial Priorities | Personal Capital
Must be a valid email address.
Password must be 8-64 characters.
Must be a valid phone number.
Recession incoming? Here’s how you can prepare.
Daily Capital
Home>Daily Capital>Family Life>How I Set My Financial Priorities

How I Set My Financial Priorities

When it comes to your financial game plan, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Perhaps you have debt, but you also need an emergency fund, but you also want to buy a house and save for retirement and go on vacations and pay off student loans — and on and on the list can go.

I’m an amateur personal finance geek.
Your tools have helped me become a smarter investor.


Personal Capital Dashboard User, February 2021

Get Started With Your Free Dashboard

If you think this way, you’re not alone. 

Financial priorities are a big-picture overview of what should happen — and when — with your finances. It can feel overwhelming.

PSA: Financial Priority Zero should be paying your bills. This includes your minimum credit card and loan payments. Before tackling any of the following, I’ve always ensured I can take care of my normal bills first.

Financial Priority #1: The Emergency Fund

A golden rule for an emergency fund is to have 3-6 months living expenses saved, typically hanging out in a high-yield savings account, or a highly secure, liquid and flexible account. These interest rates have declined this year, but may rise again once the economy is on stronger footing. 

Even if you have a mountain of credit card debt, it is commonly recommended to get at least three months of living expenses in your emergency fund before you move on to the other steps. You don’t want to go deeper into debt trying to pay for an emergency. Emergencies happen and some events can’t be paid off with a credit card. People also tend to be in a better mental space when they’ve got at least a little bit of green in the bank.

Financial Priority #2: Pay off High-Interest Debt

High-interest debt includes any credit cards, payday and personal loans you might have. Continuing to pay interest on debt that has over a 7% interest rate can be considered paying high-interest debt (credit cards usually start at 15% interest). We recommend paying off high interest debt before investing, as some high interest rates can outstrip potential market returns. 

Financial Priority #3: Pay Off Low-Interest Debt WHILE Saving for Retirement

Low-interest debt can be considered to be any debt racking up less than 7% in interest (for instance, student loans, car loans and mortgages). You want to be paying that off while also beginning to save for retirement. Low-interest loans for assets like cars and mortgages can take years to pay off. The key is to make sizable monthly payments that don’t impede on the rest of your financial situation. 

With an emergency fund set and higher-interest debt gone, now you can start focusing on paying off lower-interest debt, while saving for retirement or other big life goals. 

Financial Priority #4: Save for the Big Stuff

Once you’re actively investing and paying down your lower-cost debt, start saving for the Big Life Stuff such as a down payment on a car or a house, having kids, getting married, taking a dream vacation, starting a business or retiring early.

If you’re aiming to achieve your goal in 10 years or less, it can be recommended you keep the money you’re saving for these goals in a high-yield savings account or certificate of deposit, instead of investing that money. (A certificate of deposit, or a CD, is a savings account with a higher interest rate, but in exchange, you cannot access your money for a certain period of time.)

An Exception to the Order of Priorities on This List? 

If your employer offers you a match on your 401k or 403(b) retirement savings accounts. 

I’ve always been advised to contribute to these accounts to get the “employer match” before paying off debt, because that is essentially free money. It may make sense for you to take advantage of it, even if it means trumping the order of this list slightly. 

With the current state of the economy, right now is the perfect time to be sorting out your financial priorities. Still feel overwhelmed? Help yourself out by using financial tools like Personal Capital for your finances. Start reducing your bills, avoiding extra charges, tracking your everyday spending and saving for something special. 

Learn About Free Financial Tools


Personal Capital compensates Tori Dunlap (“Author”) for providing the content contained in this blog post. Additionally, in a separate referral arrangement between Author and Personal Capital Corporation (“PCC”), Author is paid $70 and $150 for each person who uses Author’s webpage ( to register with Personal Capital and links at least $100,000 in investable assets to Personal Capital’s Free Financial Dashboard. As a result of these arrangements, Author may financially benefit from referring potential clients to Personal Capital and/or be incentivized to present blog content that is favorable to PCC. No fees or other amounts will be charged to investors by Author or Personal Capital as a result of the Referral Arrangement. Investors that are referred to PCC and subsequently subscribe for investment advisory services provided by PCC’s affiliated adviser, Personal Capital Advisors Corporation (“PCAC”) will not pay increased management fees or other similar compensation to Author, PCC or PCAC as a result of this arrangement. Additional information about PCAC is contained in Form ADV Part 2A available here.

The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money.

Any reference to the advisory services refers to Personal Capital Advisors Corporation, a subsidiary of Personal Capital. Personal Capital Advisors Corporation is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training nor does it imply endorsement by the SEC.

Tori Dunlap is a millennial money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. A Plutus award winner, her work has been featured on Good Morning America, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, and more. An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.
Icon Close

To learn what personal information Personal Capital collects, please see our privacy policy for details.

Let us know…

This year, my top financial priority is:

Building my emergency fund
Paying off high-interest debt
Budgeting better
Saving for a short-term goal, like a vacation or new car
Increasing my investment contributions
Maintaining status quo - I’ve got this under control

Make moves toward your money goals with Personal Capital’s free financial tools.