I am a firm believer in the idea of limiting debt as much as possible. I would not recommend borrowing money for anything other than a reasonably sized mortgage. As a result, my recommendations are going to be geared toward that goal.
The top priorities for me, then, would be to make sure, first, that we don't have to go further into debt, and second, that we eliminate the debt that we already have as soon as possible.
Here is how I would rate your list:
- Putting together a small emergency fund
A small emergency fund, perhaps $1000 USD, is going to ensure that, while you are funding other things, you don't end up so cash poor that, if something unexpected and urgent comes up, you are forced to add to your credit card debt. Make this small fund your top priority, and it shouldn't take much more than a month or two to do it.
- 401(k) up to the employer match
Getting out of debt is important, but if your employer hands out free money, you have to take it. It is just too good of a deal.
- Paying off credit card debt / car loans / student loans / other consumer debt
Get rid of this debt as fast as possible. When you are done, you'll have more income available to you than you've ever had before.
- Building up your emergency fund
Now that you have just gotten done eliminating your debt as fast as possible, don't stop there. Take the income you had been throwing at your debt, and build up your emergency fund to a few months' worth of your expenses. Finishing this fund up will enable you to withstand a small crisis without borrowing anything.
- Retirement savings: 401(k), IRA, etc.
You are now in a very strong position financially, and can confidently invest. Deciding which type of retirement account is best for you depends on the details of your situation.
- Paying off your mortgage early.
Once you are contributing a healthy amount to your retirement funds, you may want to consider paying off your mortgage early.
As I said before, I recommend getting down to the last step as quickly as possible. Depending on how much debt you actually have, if you sacrifice for a year or two you could be debt free and in a position to keep all of your investment gains. If you take your time paying off debt, like many people do, you could find yourself 10 years from now still making payments on your loans, still making car payments, and still needlessly sending interest to the banks, eating away at the gains you are making in your investments.
If you aren't committed to eliminating your debt quickly, and plan on having payments for a long time, then skip this advice and put retirement savings at the top.