Almost a quarter of Americans (24%) consider saving for a vacation as their top financial goal for 2018. That response beat out "paying off credit card debt," which was named by 23% of respondents to a survey of 1,150 U.S. consumers conducted by Credit Sesame.

It's encouraging that paying off credit cards came in second and "improve my credit score" was third with 13%. The winning choice shows that some Americans may not have their financial priorities in order, according to a comment Credit Sesame's CEO Adrian Nazari made to The Motley Fool. 

"Twenty-four percent of survey respondents said planning a vacation is one of their main goals for 2018, but if they have looming debt, they should make that a priority and pay it off, before thinking about an expensive vacation," he wrote.

Two people relax on lounge chairs on the beach.

While you may want a dream vacation, taking one may not be the smart thing to do. Image source: Getty Images.

Why is paying off debt important?

Debt can become a snowball rolling downhill. If left unpaid it can (and generally does) get bigger, while also doing other financial damage to the person holding it.

"Valuing a vacation with once-in-a-lifetime experiences is understandable, but recognizing that existing debt needs to be paid off first is important, so they don't keep adding more debt, paying more in interest, and lowering their debt-to-income ratio (which can lower your credit score)," wrote Nazari.

Women are (slightly) more sensible

Both men and women had the same top two answers. Women, however, slightly favored paying off debt over saving for a vacation. It is, however, worth noting that more women (25%) cited planning and going on a great vacation than men (23.4%), but that was behind the 25.4% who picked paying off credit card debt.

More women (14% versus 10.9%) named improving their credit score as their top goal. In addition, more women cited paying off student loans (10.9%) as their top 2018 financial priority than men (6.4%).

A chart of the answers to the survey.

Data source: Credit Sesame.

Get your house in order

It's important to note that this survey did not factor in whether respondents actually had debt that needs to be paid off. It's possible that some of those who prized saving for a vacation over every other financial goal actually already had their debt paid off.

What should be evident to anyone answering this type of question or survey is that paying off high-interest debt needs to be a top priority. Getting out of credit card debt improves your entire financial picture. It raises your credit card score, lowers what you pay for loans like mortgages or car loans, and generally improves your financial health.

Vacations are valuable too, but not at the expense of your overall finances. It's best to pay off your high-interest debt before planning or taking a dream vacation. That may not be what many people want to hear, but it's an economic reality. And, if you get out of debt, you enable yourself to save for multiple vacations instead of doubling down on debt to pay for one.