Reasons to Save First:
1. You can realistically save up enough money to wipe out debt within a year.
If you can see yourself paying off your entire debt load with a certain amount of savings within a year, focus all your efforts on saving up that money and make just the minimum payments for now. Depending on the debt load, one year's worth of interest might be a small price to pay for having all that debt cleared by year's end.
2. You want to preserve your emergency fund.
If you feel more comfortable knowing you have a stash of cash available for emergencies, you'll be better off saving before making big payments on debts. This is really more of an emotional decision rather than a financial one. But the truth is most financial choices are a simple matter of math or what "makes sense" economically. There's no shame in being realistic about your emotional comfort level when you evaluating different financial options.
3. You need access to cash.
If you want your money to be accessible at some point in the near future, such as relocating to a new state, traveling or starting a business, you may want to delay those big debt payments for a while. Instead, preserve your cash cushion and know that you have access to this cash when you'll need it. Remember that your savings account is still one of your assets.
Of course you could realistically do both and get ahead financially. This may seem tricky at first, but it's not really that complicated.
All you need to do is turn some of those debt payments into an expense and then allocate a portion of your income for a savings account. In this case, you won't be using your savings to pay down your debt, but using a percentage of your monthly disposable income instead. Both your savings contributions and your debt payments will be two separate "expenses" each month.
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach®, is a personal finance expert, television and radio personality, and a regular contributor to AARP. You can follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.