Despite a decade-long economic expansion, 38% of Americans say staying current or getting caught up on the bills is their top financial priority, according to a survey from Bankrate.com.

Chief financial analyst Greg McBride said debt keeps growing because people are having trouble making ends meet. When it comes to prioritizing, he said the priority is making ends meet and not so much on paying down debt.

The survey found that saving money is the second most popular financial priority (29%), followed by paying down debt such as credit cards and student loans (19%) and providing financial assistance to a family member or friend (9%).

Baby Boomers were the generation most likely to be focused on just keeping up or getting current on the bills (44%), said McBride. About 41% of older millennials were most focused on saving more money and younger Millennials have a higher focus on paying down debt, particularly student loans.

Only 55% of Americans track their monthly spending against their budgets, said McBride.

The survey found that Millennials were the only generation to not be tracking their monthly spending against their budgets.

"That was the exception rather than the rule. Every other generation, the majority were in fact tracking their spending," he added.

Also, the propensity to track that spending every month was highest for higher income households and lowest for lower income households. McBride said this was not what was expected when conducting the survey.

McBride said saving more money is best when it happens automatically. If a person waits until the end of the month to put money away, chances are there will be nothing left over.

"So pay yourself first," said McBride. Set up that direct deposit from your paycheck into a dedicated savings account for emergency savings. Fund the retirement account directly through payroll deduction. Set up an automatic monthly transfer from a bank account into something like an IRA, he suggested.

He said save first, then live on what's left over from a paycheck. Then track that spending against the budget. It holds a person accountable on where he or she is spending that money. It also opens up other opportunities where a person is able to save more money or accelerate debt repayment.

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