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The money mind-set of Generation Z

JGI | Jamie Grill | Blend Images | Getty Images

College loans. Jobs. The economy. Social media.

The mind of a typical member of Generation Z is a crowded place, according to a survey by TD Ameritrade.

Generation Z, defined as those born between 1990 and 1999, is moving toward college and entering the work world. Its members are forming their attitudes about money, and the survey's data suggest they're a mixed group: conservative in certain key areas, but far from savvy in others.

"I definitely think they have a lot of competing priorities," said Carrie Braxdale, managing director of investor services at TD Ameritrade. "This generation may face some challenges that are unique, and the sooner they get started, the better."

No kidding. Gen Z is contending with sky-high college tuition and the prospect of burdensome debt when they graduate–not to mention a job environment that is less than welcoming.

(Read more: Job picture looks bleak for 2013 college grads)

A third of the survey respondents said they are concerned about the job market. This generation is also more worried about debt from student loans than they were a year ago, when TD Ameritrade conducted its first Generation Z survey on these issues.

The survey did find that Gen Z members at least think about saving, and more survey respondents this year than last think saving now is important. A clear majority of respondents said they pay off their credit card balances every month.

(Read more: Credit cards for college kids? Pick your poison)

Also, 47 percent of the respondents said that if they were given a random $500, they would save it for nothing in particular, while 34 percent said they would save it for college. But older members of the group, those aged 20 to 23, were much more likely to say they would spend the windfall to cover living expenses.

Gen Z members are also busy consumers. More than 75 percent of the survey respondents have laptops, and 70 percent have smartphones. A third of them have installed a banking app—but that's less than the 38 percent with a shopping app and less than half the percentage with Facebook or games such as Angry Birds.

Gen Zers have a sort of fallback plan in case the money picture doesn't come together after college, though their parents might say it's flawed: Sixty-three percent believe they could move back home after graduation. And they would be in no rush to leave: On average, they think they could avoid being embarrassed about living with their parents if they move out by age 28.

(Read more: What empty nest? Weak economy means living at home)

Having lived through years of stock market drama, this generation is also somewhat gun-shy when it comes to investing, and 11 percent say no one has helped them with financial education.

"They are showing a reluctance toward investing in the stock market," Braxdale said. "They said the best way to save for retirement is a savings account."

That's a problem, particularly with interest rates as low as they are. "They're obviously not going to meet their retirement needs through a savings account," she said.

With Gen Z so young, there is plenty of time for their thinking and habits to evolve. And it's hard to look at the financial concerns of 14-year-olds, the youngest cohort in Gen Z, in the same light as the those of college graduates. But it's worth knowing if the generation that is emerging into financial independence is truly worried about jobs and debt, wary of the stock market and believes savings accounts are the optimal savings vehicle.

The survey, said Braxdale, is "a really good reminder for parents and financial institutions to make sure we're doing what we should be doing."

—By CNBC's Kelley Holland. Follow her on Twitter @KKelleyHolland.

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