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Four Ways Millennials are Smarter About Money Than Boomers

To manage your money better, it might be time to take a page or two from millennials' playbook.

Millennials' financial challenges and questionable money decisions have been well documented. Among the noted issues: stagnant wages, mounting student-loan debt, a reluctance to enter the stock market and a tendency to overspend on their social lives.

An employee uses his Iphone as he works on a computer screen displaying the AppGratis blog in the offices of AppGratis company in Paris
REUTERS/Charles Platiau

But millennials are also making a few smart money moves that other generations would do well to emulate, according to TD Ameritrade's Next Generation Research report. The survey compared savings and spending habits of 1,038 boomers and 1,062 millennials.

Here are four millennial money habits you might want to pick up.

Creating a Budget

"Millennials are doing something fantastic when it comes to budgeting," said Matt Sadowsky, director of retirement for TD Ameritrade.

Eight in 10 millennials have a budget, compared with 61 percent of boomers, according to the survey. The younger respondents were also more likely to be following their budget some, most, or all of the time.

"It's surprising it's not the other way around," said Sadowsky.

He said boomers are typically thought of as the more responsible generation, and as they enter retirement, their fixed income makes it even more important to budget carefully.

While just drafting a workable budget is an important step, technology could make it easier to stay on track. Millennials are 10 times as likely as the older generation to use an app to track purchases and monitor spending patterns, the survey found.

Setting Savings Goals

Although millennials may not have much to put aside, they have some smart savings habits. Compared with boomers, the younger respondents were more likely to be saving for a goal other than retirement, more likely to have a written plan for their financial goals independent of meeting with a financial adviser, and more likely to set savings targets before pulling the trigger on an unaffordable purchase.

It's a smart idea to write out your various financial goals and bucket savings so you can track your progress, said certified financial planner Victoria Fillet, founder of Blueprint Financial Planning in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Setting up Recurring Contributions

"Automated savings means consistent savings," she said. "It just happens."

Outside of retirement savings, millennials tend to focus on building emergency funds, said Sadowsky. According to a recent Bankrate survey, 66 million Americans have nothing saved for a rainy day.

That kind of a safety net can give you confidence during market volatility and tough economic times, he said.

"When you think about some of the big mistakes with managing your finances, … we want to buy low and sell high, and so often we do the opposite," he said.

Asking for Help

Asked about eight hypothetical situations — including receiving an inheritance, planning for retirement and buying a home — younger respondents in the survey were more likely on all counts to say they would look for professional advice. The biggest gap: buying a home, which 39 percent of millennials said they would seek help on, compared with only 9 percent of boomers.

An inclination to seek help ahead of a big financial decision is a good thing. Several recent studies have found that consumers give themselves high marks on personal finance knowledge, even as they flunk basic quiz questions on the subject.

Relying on previous decisions can be a costly mistake.

"People view it as, same old, same old," Billy Hensley, senior director of education for the National Endowment for Financial Education, told CNBC.com earlier this year. "In reality, financial life is getting more complicated. The products are more complicated, there are more decisions to make."

Having Flexible Retirement Expectations

Compared with boomers, millennials are much less likely to set their sights on retiring at a particular age — only 36 percent set that as a milestone, versus 52 percent of boomers. Instead, they're more apt to base retirement on having saved a certain amount of money. Millennials were also more likely to say they would retire later to make their retirement savings last longer.

"Boomers still have that union mentality, the bell rings at 65 and I'm out of here," said Fillet.

The younger generation's flexible plans could make a big difference in their retirement readiness and retirement lifestyle — each additional year in the workforce gives them more opportunities to grow their savings.

"They're smart enough to know that retirement in its current format could be 30 years," she said.

Read More From CNBC: Millennials Can Save up $1 Million - But They Don't Want To