Women have turned the financial crisis into an opportunity to reduce debt and increase savings, a shift that includes placing more importance on social values.

A national survey released last week by Citi revealed that women, especially young women aged 18 to 39, have reprioritized their finances as a result of the economic downturn. Although these women have admitted their financial situations haven’t changed from six months or a year ago, they are “cautiously optimistic” about the future compared to September of 2009, according to the telephone survey, which was conducted by Hart Research Associates of 2,002 adults nationally from March 15-25, 2010. The survey included 1,010 women and has an overall statistical margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for women.

This “Me Generation” of women, as Citi calls them, is generally more conservative about their future spending than men. Seventy two percent of women say that if they were to receive extra money, they would either save it or use it to pay bills, compared to 65% of men, the survey found. Women are also more likely to hold off on purchasing large items than men, with just 33% of women believing it is a good or excellent time to make a large purchase, compared to 40% of men.

“For many young women, this is the first economic downturn they have lived through and really experienced the stress and hardship that economic cycles can cause,” said Lisa Caputo, Chairman and CEO of Citi’s Women & Co., in a press release on Tuesday. “It’s good to see that many are making smart choices with their money now as they look forward to an anticipated economic recovery. These adjustments are particularly critical for women, who tend to live longer and take more career breaks than men, and therefore need to focus on their financial futures early in their lives.”

But women interviewed for the survey said that while their financial behaviors have changed, they have also learned about the importance of social values. Thirty-three percent say they have learned to value family, friends and quality of life over material goods; 31 percent say they have learned to avoid going deeper into debt; and 31 percent say the lesson they have learned is about living within a smaller budget, according to Citi.

Some additional findings of the survey include: 63% of women say that they are reducing the amount of money they owe, compared to 57% who said this in September 2009. Sixty-seven percent of women today are comfortable with their current level of debt compared to 61 percent in September 2009. Comfort with savings is also on the rise, with 51% of women reporting that they are comfortable with their current level of savings compared to 44% in September 2009. In addition, fewer women report needing to use their savings to pay bills.

“The survey findings show that women overall appear to be well prepared, both mentally and financially, coming out of the depths of a recession,” said Caputo.