Millennials, as a group, face some tough economic challenges—everything from paying down student loans to affording healthcare to figuring out how to buy a house.

Although many millennials are saving more, as a group they lag behind Gen Xers and baby boomers on a number of financial measures, according the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). The median family net worth for millennials (those under 40) stood at just $16,450 in 2016, compared with $103,130 for Gen Xers and $175,890 for baby boomers at the same stage in life.

Debt is a key reason so many millennials are falling behind financially. A new Bank of America survey found that more than three-quarters of millennials are carrying debt, such as student loans and credit card balances. Of those, 16 percent owe $50,000 or more (not including mortgage debt).

Nearly eight out of 10 of millennials with debt say they can't achieve their personal or financial goals because of it, including buying a house or saving for the future.

"For many millennials, it's essential to find a way to pay down debt and save at the same time," says Marguerita Cheng, a certified financial planner in Gaithersburg, Md.

A Balancing Act

The good news is that many are already doing it. Nearly eight out of 10 of millennials who have debt are also saving, according to the Bank of America study. Nearly 25 percent of those who are saving managed put away $100,000 or more.

More on Saving and Debt

Clearly, those with hefty debt loads will need a long-term plan to pay down those balances. But sticking with a plan over time can lead to success. More than 30 percent of older millennial savers (ages 31 to 41) have $100,000 or more, the study found. 

These successful savers tend to benefit from having access to an employer retirement plan. Middle-income workers are 12 times as likely to save for retirement in a tax-advantaged account if they have access to a plan at work, studies show.

But many millennials have yet to take advantage of these savings opportunities. Although two-thirds of millennials have an employer retirement plan, only about 36 percent contribute, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, a nonprofit group. 

That's not too surprising, because many young adults are focused on other financial goals, such as buying a first home or affording child care, as well as paying down student loans. 

"Millennials are pulled in a lot of different directions, and the notion of retirement is often less important to them than maintaining their standard of living," says Cheng.

As a recent survey by EBRI found, 65 percent of millennials said that other financial goals were more important now than retirement. More than 60 percent also said that preparing for retirement made them feel stressed. Both responses were higher than those for Gen Xers or boomers.

What to Do

It's important not to let stress get in the way of success. Perhaps you may not be able to achieve all of your goals right away, but with the right strategy, you may be able to get there sooner than you think. These guidelines can help.

1. Trim your budget. Take a hard look at where your money is going. You can do this relatively easily with online tools such as Mint (free) or YNAB ($84 per year), which can monitor your transactions. Your bank or credit card website can also track and categorize your transaction for you.

With numbers in hand, look for ways to free up cash. You’ll achieve the biggest impact by tackling big-ticket items, such as housing or transportation. But don't overlook small fixes as well, says Ryan Marshall, a certified financial planner in Wyckoff, N.J. Maybe you don't really need all those meal kit deliveries, or perhaps you can sell unwanted items for extra cash.

2. Prioritize your debt payments.
If you have credit card debt, you may be paying a 17 or 18 percent rate or more. So figure out a plan to tackle those balances as quickly as possible, using the cash flow you have freed up. Use automatic payments to ensure that money goes toward that debt.

Many financial planners suggest targeting the highest-rate card first, but perhaps paying off a smaller balance first will give you confidence to stick with your plan, says Matt Cooley, a certified financial planner in Boise, Idaho. 

3. Devise a student loan strategy. If you have student loan debts, check on the rates and repayment options. (You may find you have more flexibility than you think.) For loans that charge a low rate, such as 3 percent or 4 percent, the problem may be less urgent. That's because you may be able to get a higher investment return on that money than you would save in interest. 

Still, the best strategy depends on your personal goals. "I had a client in her early 20s, an engineer earning about $60,000 a year, with more than $50,000 in debt that was mostly student loans," says Ben Wacek, a certified financial planner in Minneapolis. "She wanted to pay down the debt as soon as possible, because she wanted flexibility to take a lower-paying job or to go back to school or to travel."

She began paying $1,000 a month toward her loans, freeing up the cash by living with friends and keeping her expenses low, which enabled her to wipe out her loans in a few years, says Wacek.

4. Build a rainy fund. Next to paying down debt, amassing an emergency fund is a top priority. If you don't have cash on hand to pay a medical bill or get your car repaired, you're likely to end up putting the amount on a credit card, which means more high-rate debt. 

How much do you need stashed away? Most planners suggest saving enough to pay three to six months of expenses. Once again, setting up automatic payments into your rainy day account will help ensure you reach your goal.

5. Stash cash in your retirement plan.

If you have a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored plan, you may have the benefit of a matching contribution. The most common match is a dollar for dollar up to 6 percent, according to the benefits consultants Alight Solutions. That's free money, so contribute at least enough to get a full match, if you can. Making pretax contributions can also lower your tax bill. (Use a calculator to see the impact of pretax contributions on your take-home pay.)

If you don't have an employer plan, design your own by funneling savings in an IRA or solo 401(k). The plans can let you stash large amounts away while also saving on taxes.

For those with an employer retirement plan, you may have additional benefits in the form of financial wellness offerings. These programs typically offer free or low-cost assistance with budgeting and paying down debt, among other services. Check with your 401(k) provider or benefits department to see what your plan may offer, if you need the help.