The secret to balancing goals

Make long-term targets No.1

Jill Gianola - The family's helper
Gianola Financial Planning, Columbus, Ohio

I start with clients' longest-term goals first - usually retirement - and see what it would take to fund those. Then I work backward. Their second-longest- term goal is often their children's college. The furthest goals are usually the big ones; if you don't start working on them now, you're not going to make it.

People are willing to rearrange their short-term goals - "Okay, we can't buy the house for another couple of years" - but they don't necessarily want to postpone retirement. You have to make progress on several fronts to make sure you get to the finish line.

Start with the minimum. With a 401(k), the minimum is to get the match. For me the minimum on a credit card is what it takes to pay it off in three years. If you have enough to meet both goals, you're good to go.